If you ever have a question for your gyno—no matter how random it may seem—ask it. We should all think of our ob/gyn as an older and wiser sister (or brother) who we can go to for advice that seems too embarrassing to ask our parents. They’ve heard and seen it all, so rest assured, nothing's random or weird or awkward in their eyes. In fact, your doctor will be glad you brought up your concerns—it’s a sign you’re on top of your health, and puts you in a position to catch any potential health issues early.
“A minor symptom may suggest a more major problem,” Sherry A. Ross, M.D., an ob/gyn in Santa Monica, California, and author of she-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells. “If a minor symptom leads to earlier treatment, avoiding a medical catastrophe could be lifesaving,” Ross says. There are also plenty of non life-threatening topics your ob/gyn can help you sort through. Bottom line is that you should never feel embarrassed for calling or setting up a visit to address any concerns.
Here are some (but certainly not all) good reasons to give your gyno a ring ASAP.
Spotting in between periods is normal for many women. It’s a common side effect of the Pill. But if you’re bleeding heavily or it continues for a few days, it’s a good idea to check in with your gyno. Spotting can be a sign of a pelvic infection, cysts, fibroids, polyps, or in rarer cases, gynecological cancer. It’s also common during pregnancy and usually not a big deal—but your doctor will want to know about it to make sure it’s not a worst case scenario: a sign of miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
Everyone’s cramps are different, and it’s normal for many women to feel some pain. But your cramps shouldn’t leave you feeling incapacitated. If they do, it can be a sign of a bigger problem. If you’ve had bad cramps your whole life, chances are it’s less clinically significant. If they start later in life, or the pain worsens or changes over time, that’s more concerning—it could mean you’ve developed a condition (such as a benign tumor called a fibroid) that’s causing your discomfort. Even if there isn’t a serious issue, you’ll be glad you went to see your doc—there’s no reason you need to suffer through debilitating pain once a month.
Pain during intercourse is actually pretty common, and most of the time, can be fixed by changing positions or lubing up. If it’s not, it may be a sign something’s going on internally. Deep pain can mean endometriosis, and a sudden, sharp pain could be a ruptured ovarian cyst. Fibroids or cervicitis, inflammation of the cervix caused by an STI or other infection (like yeast), can also make sex painful. If the pain is more of a burning or stabbing around the opening of the vagina, it could signal a condition called vulvodynia; pain with insertion (or inability to insert anything into the vagina) may be a condition called vaginismus, which causes involuntary muscle spasms. Pelvic inflammatory disease may also cause painful sex, but many times is symptomless.
Vaginal dryness during sex—aka, not being able to get wet—may mean you haven’t had the right amount of foreplay, Ross notes. More foreplay, plus using lube, may do the trick. If not, or if dryness is a daily problem, your ob/gyn can help you figure out what’s causing it. Some hormonal changes (like those that happen during menopause) can cause dryness, as can a few chronic health conditions and dermatological problems.
Regular discharge is mostly odorless. If you notice a slight change in the way your vagina or discharge smells, that’s totally normal. What’s not normal is a sudden foul or fishy odor, especially if it’s accompanied by a change in discharge color, irritation, or itchiness. That’s a good indicator of an infection like bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis (a common STI), or a yeast infection.
“Halting or preventing ovulation can occur through hormonal imbalance, physical or emotional stress, illness, and pregnancy,” Ross notes. While it could also just be a side effect of the Pill or other medications, lack of period can also be a sign of an ovulatory disorder like PCOS or in rare cases, premature ovarian failure (which leads to early menopause).
If the pain only lasts for about 36 hours, you might just be allergic to latex. “Some women have a latex allergy, which can cause vaginal swelling, itching, and pain during and up to 36 hours after sex,” Ross says. Most condoms are made of latex, so if you experience these unwelcomed post-coital symptoms, you might be having a reaction. “If you have a latex allergy you can use the polyurethane condom as an alternative and avoid this allergic painful reaction.” If these symptoms last longer than a day or two, or don’t go away after switching condoms, seeing your doc will help you figure out if an underlying problem, like a vaginal infection, is to blame.
Of course, this isn’t a life-threatening problem, but it can stop you from being intimate with your partner and experiencing pleasure. Ross says you should bring any sexual concerns to your gyno. “We think we’re all supposed to figure it out,” she says. But it’s OK to ask for help in working through intimacy problems, or to learn how to get more comfortable with your body. “We all have to learn about sex and orgasms. It’s a lifelong process, and as you master your sexual appetite, it gets better and better,” Ross says. And rest assured, you’re not the only one. “Up to 20 percent of women don’t get orgasms,” Ross says. The Mayo Clinic notes that most women can’t achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone. Your ob/gyn can help diagnose and treat any underlying conditions that may be keeping you from reaching the big O.
Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a form of severe PMS marked by extreme mood swings—anger, irritability, decreased interest in activities—and physical symptoms like horrible cramps, breast tenderness, bloating, and lethargy. There are options for treating it, such as supplements, diuretics (to manage bloating), and light therapy (for the mood-related symptoms), and your ob/gyn can help you find the best method for you.
If your birth control comes with unsavory side effects or if you always forget to take it, your ob/gyn can talk through all of your options. With so many different methods of contraception out there, there’s no reason to be unhappy with the method you use. If you’re really not feelin’ your current pill or IUD or whatever else you use, it’s time to start chatting with your doc about trying something new.