From drug ads to diet books, we hear so much about women’s health that it can be hard to know what’s true. The best thing a woman can do when it comes to healthcare is to follow her intuition. If something doesn’t feel right about your health or your relationship with your healthcare provider, go with your gut, go with your heart. Search for a second opinion or get other advice.
Myth 1: If your mammogram is normal, everything’s OK.
Fact: Mammograms miss 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers. If your mammogram and breast exam are normal but you have pain, nipple discharge or a change in breast size or skin texture, get it checked out. Tests are not 100 percent perfect. Even in the face of a normal mammogram, there are other tests to be done and other diseases to consider.
Myth 2: Sometimes your periods start up again after they’ve stopped.
Fact: Once your periods stop at menopause (between ages 51 and 58), they don’t come back. That’s never normal, and even a small amount of bleeding has to be evaluated. ‘Never normal’ doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, but the possibility must be excluded. Other causes of vaginal bleeding after menopause include polyps, extreme dryness, infections, hormone replacement therapy and precancers. Treatments are available for all these conditions.
Myth 3: Doctors don’t want to know about personal problems.
Fact: No topic — sexuality, domestic violence, alcoholism, depression — is off limits. Don’t be afraid to bring anything up. These conversations are critical. You’re not judged by a doctor, your medical records are secure and it’s very confidential. Even if your doctor can’t help you, he or she can refer you to an expert who can or can point you toward the resources you need.
Myth 4: You can’t get pregnant. If you’re in your 40s
Fact: After teenagers, women in their 40s are the second largest group of women with unplanned pregnancies. Don’t relax just because your periods are few and far between. You can become pregnant until you have gone one full year without a period. Pregnancy is possible unless you and your partner are using birth control. Ask your doctor about the many safe, effective, easy-to-use methods of birth control available. A newer, permanent birth control option for women — hysteroscopic sterilization — requires no incision. It can be performed safely and comfortably in the doctor’s office without general anesthesia and takes 20 to 30 minutes. You can return to activities the following day without restrictions.
Myth 5: Once you’re done having babies, you don’t need regular doctor visits.
Fact: You need regular checkups from a gynecologist, internist, family physician or nurse practitioner throughout your adult life. Don’t neglect your healthcare. You’ll need regular breast exams, Pap smears, and pelvic and rectal exams. A doctor who knows your family history can also recommend lifesaving screenings at the right time. For example, if your mother had colon cancer at age 50, instead of recommending colonoscopy screenings between ages 50 and 55, your doctor will recommend them starting at age 40. Your doctor will also keep track of your blood pressure and weight, and provide wellness counseling.