Post-Menopausal? Why You Still Need an OB-GYNSeptember 14, 2018
Once women pass their childbearing years, many look forward to skipping their annual OB-GYN appointment. Not so fast. Even after menopause, doctors see great value in regular OB-GYN appointments. Here's why.
- Pelvic Exams — Needed or Not?
The American College of Physicians now says healthy women of any age don't need routine annual pelvic exams. The screening is important, though, if a woman is having symptoms that could be related to a problem with her vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists still recommends annual pelvic exams for all women. So, you should discuss this question, as well as any issues you might be having, with your OB-GYN during your next visit, in order to make the right decision for your particular health needs.
- Pap Smears Are Still Important
While you might decide against an annual pelvic exam, you should still have a Pap smear on a regular basis, even if you are postmenopausal. According to current guidelines, Pap smears are recommended every three years - or a combination of a Pap smear and HPV test every five years - up until age 65. They aren't needed after age 65 if recent tests have been normal. Also, you can skip them if you've had a hysterectomy that included the cervix.
- Other Reasons You Might Need Your OB-GYN
Your body continues to change as you age, and you may experience symptoms your OB-GYN can best address during your postmenopausal years. Postmenopausal treatments exist for many conditions, including:
- Pelvic organ prolapse. This can happen when the muscles and other support holding the bladder, uterus and rectum in place weaken, allowing them to drop down into the vagina. Treatment options include physical therapy, surgery and watchful waiting.
- Irritation of the vulva and vagina. Many women experience itching, burning, dryness or other symptoms as estrogen levels fall. Unfortunately, these symptoms often go untreated despite serious lifestyle impacts, including pain during intercourse and emotional distress. Standard treatment is low-dose estrogen introduced into the vagina using creams, pills or rings.
- Urinary and fecal urgency or incontinence. These symptoms can be experienced alongside the irritation described above. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) calls the combined condition "genitourinary syndrome of menopause" or GSM. This problem can become more complicated if you're a breast cancer survivor and fear that hormone therapy could lead to a cancer recurrence. NAMS urges all postmenopausal women to discuss GSM symptoms and treatment options with their OB-GYN. Breast cancer survivors especially need a personalized approach to the risks and benefits hormone therapy could provide.
Bottom line: Maintaining a relationship with an OB-GYN can be a positive for your postmenopausal health. Also, planning can help make your next OB-GYN appointment more helpful, and we’ve got some tips for your next doctor visit that can help ensure you get your questions answered. If you don’t have an OB-GYN, our guide to finding the right doctor can help.