Perimenopause is the time of irregular periods before your periods stop. So if you're having irregular periods, hot flashes or night sweats that are bothersome, it's time to bring that up. If symptoms are interfering with your sleep or your function at work, and if it's a problem for you that you might want to do something about, then it's time to talk to the gynecologist.
Try to schedule routine exams for about the middle of a cycle, usually two weeks after a period starts. If you're having some vaginal discharge or irritation, we need to know that before we do the speculum exam. If you are having any bleeding, or if you've had recent intercourse or put vaginal medicines in the vagina, it may affect the quality of the Pap smear, which is a test to detect cancer or pre-cancerous changes, sexually transmitted diseases or other infections. So basically, it's best to have nothing in the vagina for several days prior to your routine visit. And don't douche, because that washes out cells and other things that we need to see.
I think it's a good idea for every woman to write down when she has periods, so she knows what her cycle length is: how long from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. I think it's important to be sure you write down symptoms and bring them up at the beginning of the appointment rather than after the exam. If you're preparing for your yearly checkup, it's good to write down if you're having any questions. It's very common to get into the doctor's office and kind of forget the little things that you were also needing to bring up. It's not uncommon for somebody to have their exam, be dressed and say, "Oh, I forgot to ask you about.."
The other is to find out how you're going to get the results. What's the practice of the office that you're visiting? Do they always call you with the results? Do they mail you results? Should you call them? If you should call for the results, you should know what time frame to make sure you get the results. Every office is a little bit different, but you want to make sure you understand what to expect.
It's also important to be realistic about what you can take care of at your yearly checkup. You may want to have a separate visit to deal with bigger issues and not try to squeeze it into your yearly checkup.
Christine Haran has been a health journalist for more than seven years, and her work has appeared in Woman's Day, MAMM Magazine, Bride's Magazine, Publishers Weekly and other publications. In 2003, she received an Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award from the Society for Women's Health Research. Haran has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Skidmore College.
Copyright © Christine Haran. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.