Is this normal? It’s a question most have asked the internet at some point, especially when presented with a change in menstrual cycle or a new gynecological symptom. Self-diagnosis can sometimes work but not always. And, anyway, the real question is does this problem warrant an ASAP doctor’s appointment or a trip to the ER?
We spoke with four gynecologists about common concerns that are often scarier than they end up being. None of the advice here is intended to dismiss your symptoms in any way. You know your body. If anything is causing discomfort or is truly out of the ordinary, see your gynecologist. They might just put your mind at ease.
“I Have an Ovarian Cyst!”
Some ovarian cysts, such as endometriomas, cause pain. We’re not telling you not to worry about those. But many women only know they have a benign ovarian cyst when it shows up on an ultrasound.
“Simple ovarian cysts are common in reproductive-age women, and they come and go,” says reproductive endocrinologist Erin Lewis, MD. “Some women are more prone to them. Persistent ovarian cysts that are irregular in shape or contour or cause pain or pressure due to a large size need be evaluated by a gynecologist and are something to be concerned about.”
The Tiny Bumps on Your Nipples
“The tiny bumps on the flat part of the nipple, called the areola, often create worry,” says Felice Gersh, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist based in Irvine, California. “These small bumps are completely normal and are called Montgomery glands. Their role is to provide oily lubrication to the tissues.”
“Not all vaginal discharge is bad,” says obstetrician and gynecologist Lanetta Coleman, MD. “Most of the time, discharge is completely normal. Unless it’s discolored, itchy or produces a foul odor, it’s likely you don’t have to call your doctor right away.”
“There’s a Lump on My Breast.”
We all know about the importance of checking our breasts for lumps, but what happens if we find one? Reassuringly, Dr. Erin Lewis says that while self breast exams are important, feeling a lump on your breast doesn’t automatically mean you have cancer.
“Evaluation by your gynecologist or regular primary care physician is warranted,” she emphasizes. “Further workup then might include a breast ultrasound or a mammogram. Benign fibroadenomas account for 68 percent of all breast masses, a majority of biopsied breast lesions. Benign tumors of the breast are more common than cancer.”
“I Stopped Birth Control Two Months Ago but Haven’t Resumed My Normal Period.”
“Sometimes women on hormonal forms of contraception don’t resume normal menses until six months after stopping birth control,” says Dr. Lewis. “If menses haven’t returned in six months after stopping birth control, a woman needs to see her gynecologist for further workup to find out why her period hasn’t returned.”
“My Menstrual Cycle Is Irregular.”
“Your period won’t always come on the same day, and that’s OK,” says Dr. Lanetta Coleman. “Remain calm if your period doesn’t show up on the 28th day—sometimes menstrual cycles are irregular. It can worry people, but if your cycle isn’t always exactly 28 days apart, it isn’t something to stress over.”
“Midcycle spotting is actually quite common,” says Navya Mysore, MD, a women’s health primary care physician. “Your normal vaginal secretions can increase during ovulation, and they can be brownish in tint all the way to some mild spotting.
“I Missed My Annual Smear Test!”
This is not a worrying problem, but many women wonder how frequently they ought to have a Pap smear. This can be of particular concern when you notice irregular bleeding, which can be completely normal but can (rarely) be a symptom of cervical cancer.
“Nowadays we know more about HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer and how slow the changes actually occur,” says Dr. Navya Mysore. “With this data, the guidelines have changed, and we recommend screening for cervical cancer in women age 21 to 65 years with a Pap smear every three years. For women age 30 to 65 years who want to lengthen the screening interval, we recommend screening with a combination of a Pap smear and HPV testing every five years.”
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