Secrets to Stress-Free Doctors' Visits

By , By Madonna Behen, of Woman's Day

Easier Doctors’ Appointments

You've been putting off scheduling your gyno appointment for weeks. The flimsy gown, the matter how many times you've gone, you still feel vulnerable. As tempting as it is, delaying regular medical exams won't make them any better, since timely checkups can catch problems in their earliest stages when they're easiest to treat.

Fortunately there are ways to make exams more comfortable. The first step is to call the doctor's office before your appointment and speak to a nurse or physician's assistant. "Often, it's the fear of the unknown that prevents people from scheduling a test like a colonoscopy, so ask for an overview of what to expect," says Sandra Cialfi, nurse manager of the endoscopy center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "We're more than happy to answer all of your questions in advance because it makes our job easier once you're here," she says. Knowledge is power, and that's particularly true when it comes to these often anxiety-producing health screenings. Top medical insiders explain how to navigate four of the most common.


Your Gynecology Exam

Ask about estrogen cream. "If you're having vaginal dryness, which can make an internal exam especially uncomfortable, ask your doctor about applying an estrogen cream for a few weeks before your appointment," suggests Lauren Streicher, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Because the prescription cream increases lubrication, it can make the exam much more tolerable," she says.

Relax your muscles. "During a pelvic exam, a natural inclination is to clench your pelvic and buttock muscles, which can make the procedure more uncomfortable," says Dr. Streicher. Just before the exam starts, take a few deep breaths (close your eyes if it helps) and relax your buttock muscles. "Focus on dropping your rear so it's touching the exam table," Dr. Streicher says.

Speak up. If you're extremely uncomfortable—and definitely if you're in pain—during the exam, tell the doctor right away. She may be able to try a smaller speculum (the instrument that allows her to see inside your vagina). "I tell my patients they can say 'stop' at any point, and I will do so immediately to figure out how I can make the exam more comfortable—whether that means proceeding very slowly or going more quickly to get it over with," says Dr. Streicher.

Bring your own robe. "There's no law that says you have to wear the super-thin gown given out at the doctor's office, which can be very uncomfortable, especially if it doesn't fit you very well," Dr. Streicher says. Bringing your own roomy, soft robe from home will go a long way toward making you feel less self-conscious and more at ease.


A Dental Checkup

If just the thought of going to the dentist gives you a toothache, know that you're not alone. Surveys estimate that up to 15% of Americans avoid the dentist due to anxiety or fear. But the longer you delay the cleaning, the more uncomfortable it's likely to be when you do go. "The more plaque buildup you have, the more scraping the hygienist needs to do," says Sonya Mitchell, DMD, associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. Not to mention that the longer you have a cavity, the more painful it becomes.

Ask the dentist to explain what she's doing every step of the way. Knowing what's coming next and why—whether it's two minutes of drilling to fill a cavity, a squirt of water to flush out filling debris or a dose of novocaine—may help you feel more in control and less anxious.

Find out ahead of time what accommodations the office can make. "Many offices have built-in features to help you relax, like piped-in music, TV screens in the exam room or soft 'stress balls' to squeeze while you're getting anesthesia," says Dr. Mitchell. If the office doesn't offer any of these aids, ask if you can bring your MP3 player to listen to music. Seeing how sensitive (or not) the office is to your concerns can give you a clue as to whether this dentist is right for you before you walk in the door.

Be honest about your pain tolerance. There are now so many options to relieve discomfort—including novocaine or nitrous oxide gas (a sedative that you inhale)—that dentists can eliminate pain from most procedures, says Dr. Mitchell. So don't worry about being brave—let your dentist know how sensitive you are. After giving you novocaine, she should make sure you're comfortable before starting the procedure. And if you feel pain at any point during the procedure, alert your dentist ASAP.

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Haven't been to a GYN in 10 years...too embarassed because I'm fat.... Report
What can my doctor tell me about my body and its workings that I don't know. I really mean this. I can figure my body composition, but what knowledge do they have that I don't? Can my blood, fmri, or ekg tell me something about how best to work my body? What personal info about how best to work MY body can a doctor give me? Report
Wow did the title hit me hard. I have been putting off scheduling mine for months now. I guess it is time to just do it. Report
Great tips! Thank you. Report
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