This week is Women’s Health Week, it’s a great time to spend a moment reflecting on your health and to muster the effort - or courage - to get those check ups you’ve been meaning to have. Make sure you use this valuable time with your doctor to ask some of the (ahem) burning questions you may have on your mind, because sometimes Google doesn’t have the answer!
We spoke to Dr Natasha Andreadis to have some of the most common or daunting questions on our mind answered!
How often should I have a pap test or cervical screening and why are they necessary?
Dr Natasha says “current Australian guidelines recommend routine screening every 5 years. There are exceptions to this and you should check with your GP.”
Some people do need to have more frequent checks for a wide range of reasons, for example family history of cervical cancer, anyone who has had an abnormal test result in the past, or anyone who has had a positive result for HPV are just some examples.
“Cervical screening helps save lives from cervical cancer. The intention is to pick up precancerous changes that can be acted upon before they become cancerous” warns Dr Natasha. So if you have been putting off having your scheduled screening or are sexually active and haven’t had a screening yet - book an appointment this week and give yourself some peace of mind.
Should I be concerned if I have vaginal discharge? What does it mean?
Dr Natasha assures us “all women have vaginal discharge. It is normal. It’s important to know what is normal for you so that if you ever develop an infection it’s obvious to you and you should take this information to your doctor.” Some signifiers of an infection may include a different smell to the norm, a burning or itching sensation or redness and swelling.
“There are many causes of vaginal discharge including sexually and non-sexually transmissible diseases.” But don’t panic before speaking to your doctor, lots of infections can be treated and there are methods to manage more severe infections too. If in doubt - ask!
I've started experiencing incontinence, what should I do?
“There are different types of incontinence, each with different symptoms and potential causes.” Do you often experience leaks when you cough or mid physical activity? This may be stress incontinence. Ever felt the need to go but leaked before actually going? Perhaps you are urge incontinent.
It may be something else, so Dr Natasha recommends to “see your doctor to find out the cause and what you can do about it. There is no need to suffer from incontinence as there are many things that can be done to manage it.”
Why are my periods so heavy?
Everybody’s flow is different. Some people just naturally experience a heavy flow, while others find it can change over time. However, if you’re concerned about how heavy your period is, or you’ve noticed a substantial change, Dr Natasha says “you could have an underlying condition such as endometriosis or adenomyosis, polyps or fibroids and that you should seek advice from your GP. You also may not be ovulating regularly due to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome.” Each of these conditions have a number of symptoms and each are manageable.
Dr Tash also says that “being overweight, bad food choices and certain drugs can also cause heavy periods” so perhaps taking a look at your eating habits or any medications you may be on to see if this helps improve the heaviness of your flow.
I'm feeling anxious and overwhelmed, is it just my hormones?
“Hormones may have a big role to play however they work with other systems in the body such as neurotransmitters. For example, when oestrogen levels are low just before the period, the feel good hormone serotonin and dopamine drop as a consequence. This could partly explain why before a period women often feel low in mood and motivation. Nothing in the body exists in isolation.”
Dr Natasha goes on to say that it may not just be your hormones. “Anxiety and overwhelm could be due to lack of rest, sleep, or excess stress in daily life.” Chat to your doctor to seek advice and help get to the root cause of why you’re feeling low.
If you have any of these questions or others on your mind, we recommend speaking to your GP or women’s health advisor straight away. Make Women’s Health Week your week to get in control of your health and if you haven’t already, sign up to the Jean Hailes mailing list to get tips, tools and advice for women straight to your inbox.
Remember, make yourself a priority. At the end of the day, you are your longest commitment!