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Checking in on women's health

By Jenny Wiggins-Smith, DO, OB-GYN

May is Women's Health Month and a great opportunity to check back in on your physical and mental health. As women, it's easy to put the needs of others before yours. Put yourself and your health first this month by making healthier choices, discovering new habits and learning more about women's health topics.

Simple ways to make a huge difference for your physical and mental health include:

  • Scheduling an appointment with your doctor for a health screen and a well-woman checkup.
  • Eating healthier: cut down on processed foods and sugars when possible.
  • Staying active: set aside time each day to get moving. Even five minutes daily can make a difference.
  • Paying attention to your mental health by managing stress levels and getting enough sleep each night.
  • Avoiding or making steps toward cutting out bad habits such as smoking and excessive drinking.

Why is it important?

Having annual visits to an OB-GYN for a gynecological examination and consultation is beneficial for many reasons. A gynecologist can provide scripts for birth control, run tests for sexually transmitted infections, identify irregularities in breast tissue and vaginal function, and discuss preconception and fertility counseling.

Women's health topics can vary on significance to the patient, depending on age, family history and other factors. Staying focused on the topics and examinations that most readily apply to you can help prevent or early-detect health concerns.

Mammograms: These are low-dose x-ray pictures of the breast and the best way to detect early signs of breast cancer. It is recommended that women start getting a mammogram once a year starting at age 40.

Pap smear (or Pap test): These tests help detect cancerous cells or cell changes on the cervix. An instrument is used to collect cells and mucus from the cervix, which is then sent to a lab. Women should get their first Pap smear at age 21; if your doctor sees nothing out of the ordinary, you should be able to drop down to receiving them every three years.

Pelvic exams: In addition to Pap tests, a pelvic exam will be conducted during a gynecological wellness visit. Your health care provider will examine your vulva and internal reproductive organs—the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus. They will also gently press on your stomach to check for tenderness or pain around the uterus.

Endometriosis: The tissue that lines the uterus is called the endometrium. Endometriosis is a condition where this tissue grows in other parts of the body, such as the fallopian tubes; ovaries; and anywhere between the bladder, uterus and vagina. This condition can cause inflammation; pain; and, in some cases, infertility. If you are experiencing these symptoms or have a family history of endometriosis, talk with your doctor about treatments options.

PCOS: Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common hormonal disorder that affects the ovaries in women of reproductive age. Signs and symptoms of PCOS include irregular or nonexistent periods, elevated androgen (a male hormone) levels, and cysts in one or both ovaries. If you are having concerns about your menstrual cycle, schedule a visit with your doctor.

For more information on these topics, or any other health concerns you may have, please call Shannon Clinic OB-GYN at 325-481-2285.

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