Planning to schedule your annual checkup? Besides inquiring about your Pap test, there are other questions women of all ages should pose to their physician.
In continuation of Women's History Month, we sought the expertise of sex therapist Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and associate dean for diversity and minority affairs at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Dr. Maiysha Clairborne, a holistic medical doctor and founder of Mind Body Spirit Wellness Inc., to compile a list of 10 things every woman should ask their doctors.
1. Can the sexual activity I'm engaging in put me at high risk for any STDs?
Going in for your annual Pap exam doesn't mean you'll automatically get tested for all STDs. Share with your doctor the sexual acts you engage in so he or she can know what tests to give you.
"There are some sexually transmitted diseases that go beyond a pelvic exam," Hutcherson says. For example, if you're having anal sex, ask for a rectal exam because rectal cancer can be caused by HPV.
2. What is my risk for heart disease?
Few women realize that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Unfortunately, black women have a higher risk, Clairborne says. Obesity, smoking and hypertension put women at risk, a reason why knowing the symptoms are important.
3. What is a healthy weight for me?
Weight charts and body mass index (BMI) can be a little sketchy. That's why, from a medical standpoint, it's important to ask your doctor this.
Obesity increases the risks of ailments like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease and can potentially cause infertility and complications with conception, Hutcherson says. Being underweight also can cause infertility.
4. Am I able to conceive?
The earlier you ask, the better. "Women come to me when they're almost 40 [saying], 'Now, I'm ready to have a baby,' " Hutcherson says. It's true, some women can have their first child in their 40s, but chances are slimmer. Even though "black women tend to be better at having these babies later than Caucasian women," sooner is better than later, she says.
5. Why can't I have an orgasm?
Considering that only 25 percent of women have orgasms through intercourse alone, this is a popular question. "Ask what can make sex more enjoyable for you," Clairborne suggests.
There may be many reasons why, including vaginal dryness, a decreased libido - an issue for a lot of women, particularly for postmenopausal women or after just having children - and your partner not stimulating your clitoris properly... or at all. One thing to remember: A woman's orgasm generally begins in her mind.
6. Do I have fibroids?
The medical community doesn't know how uterine fibroid tumors are created, but Hutcherson says it appears genetics play a role. Estrogen also contributes to their growth.
"Women who we think eat a lot of meat from animals, who eat a lot of protein, have problems with fibroids, [versus] those who have a macrobiotic vegetable-based diet," she says.
Although benign, the tumors can impede conception and give the stomach a bulging appearance. 7. Are there any recommended alternatives to medication?
Most traditional doctors may not know options, but you can ask them to refer you to someone who does, Clairborne says. It's important to tell your doctor about everything you're doing if you go the holistic route. "Be completely transparent, be completely honest. We can make better decisions about your care if we know what you are doing," says Clairborne. 8. What are the symptoms of depression and anxiety?
African-American culture tends to be a little hush-hush when it comes to discussing depression. "There's a stigma around depression in the black community," Clairborne says. Left untreated, depression can affect sexual desire and sleep, and even snowball into suicide.
Your health is your responsibility, so get in the habit of asking your doctor why they're taking a particular action. If your physician makes a diagnosis or prescribes any medication, know the reasons for the decision. Also, don't be afraid to do your own research. "Be curious about your health and that includes medication," Clairborne says. 10. Are there any support groups that could help me with this?
Ask your doctor for resources. "If they say lose weight, ask, 'What resources do you have to help me do that?'" advises Clairborne. They may have resources in their office ready to share, whether it's a handout, groups to call or by simply going online. Are you and your doctor on the same page? Tell us!