Health & Fitness

When Should a Woman See a Doctor?

All women should be familiar with the types of illnesses that may be present within their families. These illnesses can range from diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure to fibroids, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Women should also have mammograms and pap smears done based on the discretion of their physician. A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breasts that assists in the early detection of breast cancer. Normally, women begin to have mammograms at the age of 40, but when there is a history of breast cancer within the family, women should have their first mammogram completed at the age of 25. A pap smear is a procedure used to collect cells from the cervix, and is normally completed by a gynaecologist. Women should have a pap smear done at the age of 21, or within three years of becoming sexually active. Once the cervical cells are collected, they are tested for the presence of cancer. Consequently, regular pap smears assist in the prevention of cervical cancer. For those who don’t know, the cervix is the lowest part of your uterus (your womb), and it lies right above the vagina.

Each woman should also seek to get an annual check-up completed by a physician. Like our grandmother’s used to say, “Prevention is better than cure!” An annual physical examination for women entails all the basics of any physical such as looking at vital signs, taking a patient history, listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, along with examining the head, neck, abdomen, arms, legs and muscle strength and reflexes. Additional exams specific to women may also be included such as a breast and a vaginal exam. A vaginal exam allows the doctor to examine several parts of the body like the bladder, ovaries and Fallopian tubes.

Outside of regular or scheduled check-ups and examinations, you should see a physician as soon as possible if one of the following conditions is observed:

  1. A lump is found in your breast.
  2. Your vagina is releasing an abnormal discharge and a foul odor.
  3. Your urine begins to look ‘cloudy’ or ‘milky’.
  4. You have an abnormal menstrual cycle.

A lump is found in your breast.

If a lump is found in one of your breasts, you don’t need to panic, but you do need to visit a physician. A lump can be felt as a hard mass in your breast tissue. According to WebMD, while 20% of breast lumps are actually cancerous, most of them are benign. This means if 10 women visit their doctor concerned about a lump they’ve found in their breasts, two of these women would actually have lumps that are cancerous, and eight would have lumps that are non-cancerous.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day - A Woman's Healing Center
All women 21 years of age or older should perform regular self-breast examinations.

What causes benign breast masses?

Benign breast masses can occur due to changes in the breast tissue related to a recent menstrual cycle or menopausal changes. Woman who are breastfeeding may also experience breast lumps because of bacteria entering their nipples and infecting some of their milk ducts; these lumps are sometimes painful (WebMD).

Whether or not a lump is felt, you should visit your physician if you notice changes in your breasts such as dimpling or redness, or if a ‘liquidy’ discharge begins to drain from your nipples and you’re not breastfeeding.

Your vagina is releasing an abnormal discharge and a foul odor.

If the colour of your vaginal discharge has changed, for example it may be darker or cloudier than you’re used to, and you also have a really bad odour coming from your vagina, you should see your doctor. Abnormal discharge along with a pungent scent can be linked to the following: an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina, bacterial vaginosis or sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and trichomoniasis aka ‘Trich’.

Do not try to mask the scent with heavily-scented soaps or shower gels because you may disrupt the pH balance of your vagina even more, potentially leading to a yeast infection. Instead, book an appointment to see your doctor.

What Is Vaginal Discharge?

Your urine begins to look ‘cloudy’ or ‘milky’.

‘Cloudy’ or ‘milky’ urine could be signs of a urinary tract infection. According to the Urology Care Foundation, 60% of women will have at least one urinary tract infection during the course of their lives. Women are more prone to this type of infection because women have a shorter urinary tract. The urinary tract is the pathway from a person’s bladder to their urethra for the release of urine. Because this tract is so short in women, bacteria can easily travel via the urethra and infect the lower bladder. Cleveland Clinic also mentions that how a female’s body is built allows easy access of bacteria from both the vagina and the anus to enter the urethra; causing a urinary tract infection. The infection often causes some discomfort, and it may also be accompanied with a burning sensation while you pee. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, you should visit your physician.

You have an abnormal menstrual cycle.

Many women may say that they experience some irregularities in their menstrual cycle. For example some women may have ‘periods’ that are a few days late, a few days early, or which skip a day entirely. You don’t need to be alarmed or panicked if you do encounter things like that, but there are some really abnormal changes that can occur that you should be aware of: missing three or more ‘periods’ in a row, experiencing some bleeding or spotting in between your ‘periods’, or having ‘periods’ that last longer than a week. These abnormal changes in your menstrual cycle can be due to intense athletic training, stress, extreme changes in hormonal levels, or even birth control pills. If you notice any of these odd changes, try to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Being healthy is a blessing that we should not take lightly. It is important to be aware of what is going on with our bodies and to identify “red flags” that may signal the need for medical attention. In the words of Tia Mowry-Hardict, “Listen to you and listen to your body!”