Do you need to see a gynecologist?

Read on for great tips on when or why you should to see a gynecologist, how to find one, or if you even need to see one at all.

By Robin Heron

How your family doctor can help you
From birth control to menopause and beyond, for many of us a trip to the family physician or nurse practitioner is all it takes to maintain our basic reproductive health. However, there can come a time when you might require the specialized skills of a gynecologist, and it's important to know how they differ from your regular doctor and when you might need to see one.

What your family doctor can do for you
For everyday concerns about your sexual, reproductive or post-menopausal health, your primary healthcare provider is well equipped to provide the necessary care, says Toronto-based sexual health educator Lyba Spring.

"A woman does not have to see a gynecologist to have her internal exam," she says. "Any GP or nurse practitioner can do it. In fact, at some Public Health Unit sexual health clinics, nurses are trained to perform what is called an expanded role and are able to do the internal exam."

Your regular family caregiver can also provide birth control counselling, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening, breast exams, and address any concerns you may have about things like PMS and irregular periods.

To ensure your appointment goes smoothly, arrive prepared with a list of any health questions you may have, any medications you are currently on, write down the first day of your last period and record any unusual symptoms. Also, be sure to bring up any concerns you might have early in the visit so there is enough time for you doctor to address them thoroughly.

How often should I go?
According to the Canadian Women's Health Network it's important to start having regular Pap tests within three years of any sexual activity or by age 18 if you are not sexually active.

The Pap test is usually done as part of a routine pelvic exam and is used to detect any changes in the cells of the cervix, which over time could develop into cancer.

Once a woman has had three yearly negative Pap results, she can start screening every two years, says Spring. However, she recommends that women see their doctor more often if they have had unprotected sexual activity with a new partner so they can be screened for STIs. Women should also schedule an appointment if they are having any unusual symptoms such as bleeding between periods or after sex, or abnormal discharge.

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