Know your symptoms, when they started, and how they have been affecting your life. A timeline of symptoms is important to a doctor when assessing potential gynae conditions or gynae cancers and keeping a symptom diary will be helpful.
KNOW YOUR CYCLE
Even if your symptoms aren’t period related, periods are often part of a gynae consultation. Know when your last period was, how regular you are, if anything abnormal has happened with your bleeding. If you’re post-menopausal, and you don’t have periods anymore, have the date of your last period to hand, and if you’ve had any bleeding or discharge since that last period. We have tips on tracking your periods and bleeding which can help! And remember: ANY post-menopausal bleeding, from a light pink discharge to a heavy bleed should be checked out. It’s never ‘one last period’ and should always be classed as ‘abnormal vaginal bleeding’.
KNOW YOUR MEDS
If you are taking the contraceptive pill, or using another form of hormonal contraception (for example a coil or implant), or taking any medication, it’s important to share that information with your doctor. Bring a list with you: what the medication is called and how long you have been taking it for. Also know when your last cervical screening appointment was – your GP may not have a record if it was done at another surgery or clinic.
Don’t be afraid to say: Should I be examined / I don’t mind being examined. Suggesting it can make for a better consultation and will signal to the GP that you understand that it may be needed and are comfortable with having a vaginal or pelvic examination.
KNOW THE RIGHT WORDS…
Get clued up on the right vocabulary to explain your problem. A lump on your vagina is very different to a lump on your vulva. Tummy ache is very different to bloating that doesn’t go away. Knowing the names of the different parts of your reproductive anatomy will help you correctly explain your symptoms. It can be difficult for your GP to understand what is going on if you refer to your ‘bits’ or your ‘waterworks’.
Ask about further tests and checkups – knowing when the doctor wants to follow up if your symptoms haven’t improved will help move things forward, ask your doctor when they would like to hear back from you and what would be the next steps e.g. referral, or ultrasound scan. Leave your appointment with a plan of action.
If you can, plan ahead and think about what could make your appointment a bit easier. If you think you might need an examination, a dress or skirt may make you feel more comfortable as you can lift it up rather than be naked from the waist down.
Sometimes it can be tempting to decline an examination if you haven’t waxed or shaved your pubic hair or if you aren’t happy with the appearance of your vulva. We promise that there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to pubic hair, labia size and shape – everyone is different, and a doctor or nurse just wants to help investigate your symptoms that you have recognised as being abnormal for YOU.
Ask for a female doctor if you prefer, or a double appointment if you think you need more time to talk about your health issues. If you would like to have someone with you, do ask when you book your appointment, it may not be possible during the covid pandemic, but rules may change as we ease out of lockdown.
AND ONE LAST THING….
Look for information and advice from expert sources. Dr Google is not to be recommended but there are some trusted sources on gynae symptoms including eveappeal.org.uk, Patient.info and NHS Choices. The Eve Appeal runs a specialist information service called Ask Eve. This is a nurse-led service and provides free, confidential, expert information and signposting. No question is too small or too embarrassing. It’s a taboo-free zone! You can get in touch by telephone or email: email@example.com / freephone: 0808 802 0019
What people are saying
Nicola Leah, who was diagnosed with womb cancer after two years of abnormal bleeding, says: “I presented to the GP surgery on a number of occasions and was given multiple misdiagnoses for my heavy bleeding. I knew right there, in that moment, I had to act, I had to take control of my own health to get listened to. I placed my abnormal blood-stained sanitary towel on my GPs desk and said, “There, you see doctor, this is what I mean”. The rest is a blur from then on, 18 months after my total hysterectomy, radiotherapy and surgical menopause, I am still saddened that I wasn’t listened to and feel anxious at what might have been without my persistence. My advice for any woman is, ‘you know your body’, and my advice for the health service is ‘we want to be heard’”.
Dr Ellie Cannon, GP, says: ‘It’s so important to listen to patients and understand their concerns – particularly in areas that might be more difficult to discuss and where there might be a lack of knowledge about what symptoms might mean. The Get Lippy tips will really help people get the most of out of an appointment.’