Does the thought of a gyno visit when you’re on your period skeeve you out? You’re not alone. But your once-a-year pelvic exam could literally save your life by identifying cancer in the earliest stage. Do you need to go to the hassle of rescheduling? (No doubt your calendar is already bursting at the seams.)
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Ob/Gyn Ashley Brant, DO, MPH, clears up the confusion of whether it’s OK to visit your provider if your monthly visitor arrives at an inopportune time.
Q. Am I OK to keep my OB/GYN visit if I’m menstruating?
A. Women are often nervous about being examined during their time of the month. Many feel it’s “gross.” But remember that your provider is used to examining women who are bleeding or who have complaints of discharge. Things that you think are embarrassing are not embarrassing to your provider. Since it can be so challenging for women who “do it all” to reschedule, I usually encourage them to keep the appointment.
There are even times when being on your period is a good thing. It’s ideal to insert an IUD if you’re menstruating — though it’s not necessary. And if you want to start a prescription birth control method or get a birth control injection for the first time, it’s best to do that at the beginning of the menstrual cycle since you know you aren’t pregnant.
Q: Doctors used to tell women to reschedule the appointment. What’s changed?
A. Gynecologists often told women to reschedule their pelvic exams because of the way Pap tests work. Before now, the presence of blood could make it harder to interpret Pap results. But technology has improved so much that it’s rarely a concern anymore. Because of the sophisticated tests we have, I rarely recommend someone skips this lifesaving appointment.
Q. Should I go with the flow even if I have extremely heavy periods?
A. If you’re having very heavy bleeding (i.e. soaking through a pad or tampon every hour) or passing clots, this might be the time when I recommend rescheduling. That degree of bleeding could make it challenging to do an effective exam. However, you should definitely talk to your gynecologist if you have that much bleeding.
Q. I have menstrual cramping — should I let my OB/GYN poke around?
A. Cramping won’t affect the exam in most cases, so the only concern is if the woman is too uncomfortable. In this situation, I’d recommend she take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen before her appointment to minimize discomfort.
Q. Should I tell you I’m bleeding? Or let you figure it out when you get down there?
A. When the nurse or medical assistant brings you into the room, I’d recommend you let her know you’re menstruating. They can put something on the exam table to absorb the blood. You can either ask to use the restroom to remove a tampon or take it out and dispose of it when you’re undressing and putting on a gown.
Q. Why is it so important to have a pelvic exam?
A. We use your yearly exam to screen for health problems and perform recommended tests. For example, the Pap test helps us diagnose cervical changes that could lead to cancer. We also offer sexually transmitted infection screening, perform a breast exam, offer vaccines you may need and discuss routine health maintenance topics. Don’t let a little menstrual blood stand in the way of your gynecologic health!