Don’t have time to visit your doctor? Or maybe you're too embarrassed to ask. It might be tempting to visit Dr. Google to search around your symptoms, but it’s always better to visit your own GP who knows your medical history for the most accurate advice. To get you started, we’ve answered some of the most common women’s health questions, so you can discuss these issues further with your personal health practitioner.
We know how easy it is to do a quick Google search around your health symptoms. But as soon as you type in your question, you’ll be presented with an endless list of health concerns that might not even apply to you. So to avoid unnecessary worry, we always advise to visit your doctor if you have any symptoms causing you concern.
If you’re worried, shy or embarrassed about talking to them, don’t be. That’s what your doctor is there for! So to help get the conversation flowing, and to tie in with Women’s Health Week, here are some common women’s health questions to ask your doctor, along with some helpful answers, so you can visit your doctor locked and loaded with all the information and questions you need.
1. I have a lump in my breast, is it breast cancer?
First of all don’t panic. Although a lump in the breast is often associated with breast cancer, most lumps are benign or non-cancerous. There are other conditions that can cause lumps in the breast, such as cysts or abscesses, for example.
Common signs to look out for that the lump could be something more sinister include:
- changes in the shape of the nipple
- breast pain that doesn’t go away after your next period
- a new lump that doesn’t go away after your next period
- nipple discharge from one breast that’s clear, red, brown, or yellow
- unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation, itchiness, or rash on the breast
- swelling or a lump around the collarbone or under the arm
If you find a lump, visit your doctor for a more detailed examination.
2. Should I be worried about my vaginal odour?
Vaginas have a natural smell, but if it does have an odour, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong. Vaginal odour is normal, and often you may not even notice it. If, however, you do pick up a scent, it could be because of a number of things, including a change in your hormones, your period, because you’ve had sex, even heat and sweat can change its smell. Generally, if you have vaginal odour without other vaginal symptoms, it's unlikely that your vaginal odour is abnormal. But if it’s fishy, it could mean you have a bacterial infection, or if you detect a bread-like smell, you could have a yeast infection.If you're concerned about an abnormal or persistent vaginal odour, see your doctor for a vaginal exam — especially if you have other signs and symptoms such as itching, burning, irritation or discharge.
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3. Why is my period so heavy?
Periods are different for all women, and they can be affected a number of external factors, like changes to your birth control, stress, hormone imbalances. All of these can cause them to be heavier or lighter than usual. For most women, periods usually last around eight days, but if yours lasts longer than that, you have irregular bleeding throughout the month, or it’s heavier than what is normal, you should consult your doctor for further advice.
A couple of heavy days at the beginning of your period is normal, but if you’re experiencing unusual, painful cramps and heavier blood flow than normal, it could be a sign of something else. For example, you may have fibroids or endometriosis, which can both cause periods to be heavier. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 women around the world suffer from endometriosis — this is when tissue that’s similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. This can cause extreme pain and, potentially, infertility.
You should also talk to your doctor if you have bleeding or spotting in between your periods or if you have severe pain or cramping during your period.
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4. How do I know when menopause starts?
Just like you start your periods when you go through puberty, as you get older, your periods will stop. Menopause is the end of your reproductive years, and this usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. According to Better Health Channel, you’ll know menopause has taken place if you've not had any menstrual bleeding for 12 consecutive months. Some women can go through menopause earlier than this. Menopause before the age of 40 is called ‘premature menopause’, and before the age of 45 it is called ‘early menopause’.
Perimenopause or "menopause transition” can start as early as 8-10 years before menopause. This is when the ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen. It usually starts in a woman's 40s, but can start in the 30s as well. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs completely. In the last one to two years of perimenopause, the drop in oestrogen accelerates. At this stage, many women may experience menopause symptoms. Women still have menstrual cycles during this time, and can get pregnant.
If you notice any irregularity in your periods, visit your GP for further advice.
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5. How do I treat a UTI?
Bladder infections are the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). They’re caused by bacteria and can cause issues like pain in your lower belly and having to pee way more often than usual. They can be extremely painful and over half of all women will experience at least one in their lifetime. What’s even more frustrating, is that often they can keep coming back. They can be caused by a number of factors including poor hygiene, sex, certain birth control options, holding your pee, among others.Luckily, UTIs most commonly occur in the lower tract, and although painful, are easily treatable with antibiotics, and they usually clear up within 1 week. These are the symptoms to look out for:
- burning when you urinate
- needing the toilet more frequently but unable to pass much urine
- cloudy urine
- bloody urine
- urine that has a strong smell
- pelvic pain
If you suffer with any of the symptoms above for longer than two days, or if the symptoms become worse, consult your doctor for further examination. You’ll need to provide a urine sample, then if an infection is detected, your doctor will prescribe you a course of antibiotics to treat the infection. The infection will usually clear up within a week. Your GP will also need to rule out the possibility of an STI, so you they may run further tests to rule out any other potential infections.
Loved our women's health advice? We've got plenty more helpful tips and expert health advice to check out on our Health & Wellness Edit. Can supplements really boost your immune system? Are you suffering from depression or could you have vitamin D deficiency?