Awareness: The Right First Step

Dr.JaccarinoDr. Frederick Jaccarino, M.D.

September is “Women’s gynecology awareness month.” Though it may seem that men would be disinterested in the topic, it would truly be a mitzvah (good deed) for a son or nephew to remind their loved ones that gynecological awareness doesn’t end when reproduction is no longer an option.
The changes of menopause are every bit as challenging to an adult woman as the difficulties of a teen experiencing the changes of puberty. The first time a female should be discussing their gynecologic concerns with a nurse or doctor will vary due to variability in physical maturation as well as cultural mores. A pediatrician who knows her or his patient will decide the appropriate time for such discussions and exams.
Sometimes the subject comes up quite early for girls prone to urinary infections, though the usual ages for opening Ob-Gyn conversations are for girls between ten and 12 years of age. A doctor visit may include several minutes discussing bodily functions, hygiene, and the changes wrought by the impending onset of puberty. Certainly many girls have gotten most of the info from their moms already; the M.D.’s role is to give a stamp of approval to the right way to prevent illnesses, and to dispel various urban myths propagated by the preteen grapevine.
The healthcare provider will likely also convey new and current information that mom may not be aware of. The highlights of the preteen gynecologic education should include handling the symptoms of menstruation and ovulation, prevention of infections such as UTI’s, and some coaching about setting healthy boundaries in one’s social life.
Once a girl starts having more intimate relationships, sex education should include open and thorough discussions with the doctor. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses can be life changers, and cervical-cancer deaths have declined in incidence only because the Pap test works for early detection. Unless the cervix itself has been removed, cervical cancer remains a risk into menopause; why not remember to get checked routinely?
While you are there the doctor will ask about other gender-specific health concerns such as irregular bleeding, breast health, and possible screening for ovarian or uterine diseases. As menopause imposes itself on the adult woman, the question of hormone-replacement therapy usually arises. Because the consensus regarding safety seems to change every few years, the decision often falls to a personal mind-meld between the patient and her healthcare provider. Awareness is your best first step.
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