As a late 20-something female with a demanding work schedule who still wants to have time for social pursuits, I get it: The last thing you want to do in the middle of your crazy life is take a day off and go to the doctor’s office.
However, as an Internal Medicine resident who’s seen too many people wait until they’re already sick and need to be hospitalized to get medical care, I think it’s time for every woman to book an appointment with a doctor today. (And at least every year after that!) Here’s why:
1. To Establish a Good Relationship With Your Physician
If you never see a doctor, you can’t ever have a relationship with one. On the other hand, having a regular physician means having someone who knows the intricacies of your medical history and who will work with you to shape your healthy present and future. Many people I know have had a bad experience with hospitals or doctors and now avoid institutions of health at all costs—including their own health. But while not every doctor is going to be the right one for you, you owe it to yourself to keep looking until you find a practitioner that you like and trust.
2. To Establish Your Health Risk
Does your family have a history of diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, or another significant disease? If so, you may be at risk for these conditions, too—and there are likely things you can do to lower that risk. A doctor can help you find out and work with you to determine which screening tests you need.
3. To Keep Your Body in Check
Do you ever wonder how you went from wearing a size 6 to a size 10 in what seems like the blink of an eye, but what was really over the course of months or years? Many of my new patients who haven’t seen a doctor in years are shocked when they step on the scale and learn that they have gained 20-plus pounds since they were last weighed. And even if you still fit into your skinny jeans, there are other health markers, like heart rate and blood pressure, that should be trended over time. By monitoring basic vital signs, a routine doctor’s visit can be like a system of checks and balances for your body.
4. To Keep Your Mind in Check
Did you know that being a female is an independent risk factor for depression—and that women are more than twice as likely than men to struggle with depression over the course of their lifetime? What’s more, we aren’t always great at noticing the symptoms ourselves. But a having a routine mental health screening by your physician can help identify warning signs—before they go from bad to worse.
5. To Get a Good Night’s Sleep
According to the NIH, 30-40% of Americans report having occasional symptoms of insomnia and 10-15% report chronic difficulty sleeping—with women representing the majority of those affected. While you may think that a poor night’s sleep just means you’ll need an extra cup of coffee in the morning, chronic sleep disorders can actually increase the long-term risk of hypertension, depression, and diabetes. A doctor’s visit can help identify possible underlying causes for your restless nights—and get you the help you need to actually get some zzzs.
6. To Make Sure Your Cervix is Healthy
While I’ll be the first to admit that a trip to the gynecologist’s office isn’t my favorite way to spend an afternoon, annual pelvic exams are a critical part of any woman’s preventative health care. They can help detect vaginal infections, including sexually transmitted diseases (which may not present with any symptoms), and may often include a PAP smear for cervical cancer screening. Although you may have heard about some recent changes to screening recommendations, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force still wants women between the ages of 21 to 65 to get a Papanicolaou test (a.k.a. PAP smear) at least every three years (or more frequently if you’ve ever had abnormal results).
7. Because You May Want a Baby (Eventually)
Even if you aren’t planning a pregnancy in your immediate future, you shouldn’t ignore your fertility and reproductive health. While there are many factors that contribute to fertility—from age to bad habits, such as excessive alcohol and tobacco use—there is one you may not be thinking about: your waistline. It has long been recognized that women with an abnormal body mass index (a.k.a. BMI) have higher rates of infertility. A recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that the eggs of women with an unhealthy BMI (below 20 or above 30) are linked to abnormalities that make them impossible to fertilize, leading to a difficult time getting and staying pregnant. Achieving your ideal BMI takes time, so it’s important to start this conversation with your doctor months—or even years—before you start thinking about pregnancy.
8. To Get Peace of Mind
When we have health questions and concerns, it’s easy to turn to good ol’ WebMD for answers. And even though the Internet can be a wonderful health resource, reading about your health issues online can often lead to unnecessary worry and fear. Remember, you (and every other patient) are unique and deserve a personalized evaluation. So instead of surfing the web for a generic, or even worse, incorrect answer, talk to a doctor in person to get the full picture—and to stop losing sleep over your questions (see reason number 5!).
9. For Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
Does it seem like I am repeating myself? Good! Health protection and prevention is the key to staying healthy for the long haul. From simple blood tests and vaccines now to mammograms and colonoscopies later, your doctor can help you become the healthiest version of you. Although it may seem like a hassle now, one hour in a doctor’s office now can add years of health to your life.
10. To Establish a Good Relationship With Your Physician
I think this one is so important that it bears repeating! I truly believe that a good patient-physician relationship is one of the most unique human experiences we can have—and it is undeniably integral to our health. So, what are you waiting for? Find a doctor you like, and stick with her (or him).