Women’s Health FAQs

International Women’s Day is on 8 March. To mark it, Mediclinic Welcare Hospital offers tips on how to stay healthy.

by Explorer Staff

- When should you first see a gynaecologist, and why?  
The American College of OB/GYNs recommends a first PAP smear (smear test) at age 21. A PAP smear is a screening test for cervical cancer which is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV,a sexually transmitted virus. The test does not hurt and is completed in a matter of seconds.   A reason to see the gynaecologist at an earlier age is to get the HPV vaccine. Yes, there is a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer by protecting against HPV. You can get it from the gynaecologist or paediatrician and it is recommended to girls (and boys) from age 9-26 years old.  

-How often should I have a PAP smear?
The smear test is done every 3-5 years depending on your circumstances.  

-Is Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) real, and how can I alleviate the symptoms?  
PMS or premenstrual syndrome is a real condition just like diabetes or high blood pressure. Contrary to what many men think, women can’t just turn their feelings and symptoms on and off. Many women experience sudden mood changes, tension, sadness, decreased interest in usual activities or feel overwhelmed and have difficulty concentrating in the week or so leading up to their period.  

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form affecting 3-8% of women in their reproductive years. In contrast to PMS, PMDD is characterised by more significant premenstrual mood disturbance. The most common symptom is irritability; however, many women also report depressed mood, anxiety or mood swings. These symptoms emerge one to two weeks preceding a period and resolve completely with the onset of their period. Lifestyle changes can help relieve the symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Doctors generally recommend that patients with PMS or PMDD decrease or eliminate the intake of caffeine, sugar and sodium. Decreasing alcohol and smoking as well as getting enough sleep may also help. Also, regular aerobic exercise has been demonstrated to have beneficial effects on both the emotional and physical symptoms of PMS/PMDD.  

Nutritional supplements may also help. A large trial found that 1200 mg of calcium a day significantly reduced both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS. Other studies have demonstrated that Vitamin B6 in doses of 50-100 mg a day can have beneficial effects in women with PMS, but the dose should not be higher than this. Limited evidence suggests that magnesium (200-360 mg a day) and Vitamin E (400 IU a day) can provide modest relief of symptoms.  

-How much period pain is normal?  
Pain during a period is usually a sign of an ovulatory cycle (meaning you have ovulated or produced an egg and are fertile). Some pain is normal but too much pain is not. If your pain is relieved with an over the counter pain reliever then that is normal, but of not then you need to see your doctor as this can be a sign of other problems such as endometriosis.  

-What is a mammogram for?  
A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer. American Congress of OB/GYNs recommends routine mammography starting at age 40. If a first degree relative like your mother had breast cancer, you should start screening 20 years before she was diagnosed. SO if she was 50 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, you should start screening at age 30.  

This information has been provided by Mediclinic Welcare Hospital.

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