Dr. Cary Mantell, RWJ Center for Women’s Health

Concerned about your health? Experts from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton are ready to answer readers’ questions. Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.edu

How can I tell if my gynecological symptoms are normal vs. more serious?

It can be difficult for women to determine what is “normal” and when to make an appointment with a gynecologist—especially since your body goes through changes by the day, week, month and year.

One rule of thumb to maintain good reproductive and sexual health is to see your gynecologist annually. At that time, your doctor will likely ask questions about your sexual activity and menstrual cycle and complete a physical exam of your breasts and genitals. You may also discuss personal and family medical history, safe sex, birth control counseling and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

It’s the perfect time to ask questions and express concerns, so bring a list of symptoms with you. For your annual exam—or any visit to your gynecologist—be sure to know the date of your last period and how long they typically last. You should abstain from sexual intercourse and oral sex for about two days before the appointment, because sexual activity may irritate the vaginal tissue and increase the chance of incorrect Pap test results. These exams and tests are indicators of your gynecological health.

Outside of your annual visit, make an appointment for unusual symptoms such as bleeding between periods; frequent and urgent need to urinate, or burning sensation during urination; abnormal vaginal bleeding, particularly during or after intercourse; pain or pressure in your pelvis that differs from menstrual cramps; itching, swelling, redness or soreness in the vaginal area; sores or bumps in the genital area; vaginal discharge with an unpleasant or unusual odor, or of an unusual color; increased vaginal discharge; pain or discomfort during intercourse; any changes in your breasts (i.e. lumps, nipple discharge, pain) or vaginal bleeding after onset of menopause.

Your gynecologist can determine the best treatment for your concerns.

—Dr. Cary Mantell, RWJ Center for Women’s Health

This content is intended to encourage a healthy lifestyle. For medical advice and treatment, see a physician. Concerned about your health? Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org