In this age of automated reminders, it is fairly easy to keep track of our routine exams. Just like most expert organizations, I recommend my patients have a well-woman exam at least once a year.
Keeping with these routine screenings will go a long way in spotting any serious problems and will help you take ownership of your reproductive health. However, other seemingly minor symptoms can hide urgent problems and are worth seeing your OB/GYN outside of your yearly exam.
When to see a gynecologist? Look out for these 8 symptoms
Often, my patients start an appointment by saying “I am pretty sure it’s nothing, but…” Whenever this happens, my first reaction is to reassure them that they made the right choice by coming.
The symptoms listed below don’t necessarily mean you have a dangerous health condition. However, it is impossible to tell ahead of time. The cost of ignoring them may not be worth it, so they are definitely signs to see a gynecologist – and we can take it from there.
1. Major changes in your period
Changes to your menstrual cycle are the reproductive system equivalent to a “check engine” light.
Now, relatively few people enjoy completely predictable menstruation. If you are already used to the occasional delayed or skipped period, you can wait for a few weeks to see if everything returns to normal.
However, there are three symptoms that you should never ignore:
- A particularly painful period (especially if the pain feels pulsating and affects only one side of your pelvis)
- Abnormally heavy bleeding
- Spotting or bleeding several days before your period is due.
Other common causes include hormonal imbalance, changes in weight, or it could simply be that your birth control pills don’t agree with you. In addition to a pelvic exam, you may need a quick ultrasound scan to find out.
2. Vaginal bleeding after menopause
Transitioning toward menopause can be a long process. For many women, the menstrual cycle often goes erratic before it disappears completely. However, once you have spent 12 months without any menstrual bleeding at all, most gynecologists will agree that you have gone through menopause.
So, what happens if you already passed this milestone, and then begin bleeding out of the blue?
Often, the cause of post-menopausal vaginal bleeding is vaginal or endometrial atrophy: that is, when the tissue inside your vagina or around your uterus becomes thinner and frailer due to lack of estrogen. Vaginal atrophy could open the gate for more bothersome issues later on, such as incontinence, but it also treatable.Occasionally, vaginal bleeding after menopause can point to endometrial cancer. It is of very little use to get scared right away – but you stand to gain a lot from early detection.
3. Painful urination
Whether it’s just a slight burning sensation right after you pass some urine, or full-blown pain and inflammation, painful urination should prompt a thorough check-up.
Most often, the cause will be a urinary tract infection (UTI) – especially if it comes accompanied by pelvic pain, the frequent urge to urinate, or the sensation that your bladder is never fully empty.
UTIs are usually quick and disruptive, making them hard to ignore. If they don’t get treated right away, it may quickly progress into fever and deep malaise.
Milder forms of pain (such as a slight burning in the skin around the vulva) could result from pelvic inflammatory disease, a yeast infection, or a sexually transmitted infection. If you have low immunity or poor luck, either of these can also grow into a UTI. In most cases, STIs will remain localized, but will likely cause problems later on.
4. Unwanted pain during sex
Pain during vaginal intercourse can indicate many different conditions. It all depends on the type of pain you are experiencing, and on the symptoms accompanying it.
Generally speaking, some of the possible causes include:
- Vaginal dryness from low estrogen levels, especially if you are post-menopausal, recently began taking a new form of hormonal birth control, or are breastfeeding.
- If the pain is felt on the outer areas of the vagina, it could be irritation or inflammation caused by a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted disease.
- If the pain is felt deeper inside, it may be due to a tear in the cervix.
- If you can feel the pain “bouncing back” on a different part of your pelvis (“referred pain”), you may have a larger tumor or fibroid.
Investigating the root cause is not something we can do through an online checklist. It is absolutely necessary to contact your OB/GYN if you want to treat it: otherwise, it can quickly rob you of an essential facet of wellness for old and young women alike.
5. Urinary incontinence
Even if it’s just a few droplets of urine whenever you sneeze, urinary incontinence is a common symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD).
Among older women, PFD occurs when lack of estrogen weakens pelvic floor muscles. This makes it harder to coordinate the different contractions that we unconsciously use to start or stop the flow of urine.
PFD can also follow pregnancy or miscarriages, especially if you had any complications during a vaginal delivery.
Sometimes, the cause may be more serious, such as vaginal prolapse. This is when the muscle wall separating the bladder, vagina, and rectum stretches out completely and can no longer hold the different organs inside.
Both PFD and vaginal prolapse can be treated with exercises, medication, or surgery.
6. Changes in odor
Just like painful urination, changes in the scent of vaginal secretions are usually a telltale sign of infection. As a result, this symptom is one that you want to take care of right away, before a full-blown fever develops.
The specific scent you are developing can sometimes help you get near a diagnosis. A yeast infection will smell a lot like fresh or unbaked bread, while most UTIs will smell simply sour or unpleasant. Meanwhile, some STDs, such as trichomoniasis, have particularly distinctive odors and are often accompanied by a yellow or greenish vaginal discharge.
Either way, we will need a swab and a culture in order to know for sure. Without this key piece of information, it would be impossible for us to prescribe the right treatment, and you would be at a higher risk of ending up with a “superbug” that is resistant to bacteria.
7. Bumps, cysts, or lumps
It’s not uncommon to notice small bumps or pimples around the nether areas, especially in the shower or following a waxing session. Sometimes, these pimples are easily recognizable as ingrown hairs.
However, even the simplest zit can get infected, especially in a sensitive area. Common signs of infection include tenderness, itching, or warmth around the bump. If the lump is painless, but feels hard to the touch, it may be a genital wart or a sign of an STI. Either way, you’ll need a specialist to take a good look!
8. When you’re pregnant
First things first – do you see a gynecologist for pregnancy? The answer is yes, but only if your gynecologist is also trained in obstetrics.
As pregnancy progresses, it’s important to get constantly monitored by an OB/GYN, especially as you approach your due date. And while those final weeks are very delicate (and exhausting), a large part of the work is actually done during the start of the pregnancy.
So, when should you see an OB when pregnant? Ideally, the first appointment should be five weeks after the first day of your last period. At this point, we can already begin many nutritional and wellness interventions, which will prevent complications later on. This may feel quick – but it actually gives you a full week after you first miss a period.
Where do I go to see a gynecologist in Los Angeles?
Are you wondering when to see an OB/GYN? If you have noticed any of the symptoms we listed above, just click here to make an appointment with Dr. Aliabadi or call us at (844) 863-6700.
Dr. Thais Aliabadi and her team strive to offer a comfortable and inclusive environment for all our patients. We believe that honest communication is one of the cornerstones of healthcare.
Through long-term partnerships, Dr. Aliabadi takes pride in accompanying women throughout all the major events of their reproductive lives – from the confusing first period to the delicate decisions around contraception, pregnancy, and menopause. At her women’s health clinic, we offer routine pap smears, obstetrics, and specialized hormonal tests, aimed at addressing a wide array of reproductive health concerns.
The gynecology practice of Dr. Thais Aliabadi is conveniently located to patients throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. We are near Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Culver City, Hollywood, Venice, Marina del Rey, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, and Downtown Los Angeles