Gyno Visits, UTIs, and Other Women’s Health Issues We Need To Be Talking About

Every woman’s health is important. This statement sounds like a no-brainer, and yet when you actually stop and think about it, many women don’t prioritize their health as much as they should. As college students, it’s so easy to push our health to the side because we’re too busy. For example, my roomie once put off going to the doctor for two weeks hoping a nasty cold would go away on its own. She finally caved and went to Quick Care – turns out it was bronchitis (surprised quick care diagnosed it right?).

Aside from not making health a priority, there are some women’s health issues that are straight-up not talked about (or at least not talked about enough) because they’re associated with some kind of stigma or shame. They’re things almost every woman goes through at some point, and yet they’re taboo. Talking about them can seem anywhere from uncomfortable to embarrassing, which leads many women to not ask the necessary questions. So without further ado, here’s what you need to know about some of the most common health issues that affect college women.

 

UTIs

If you’re a woman and you’re sexually active, you’re at risk for a UTI (urinary tract infection). A UTI occurs when bacteria that’s usually found in the digestive system gets into the urinary tract and works its way up into the bladder. The most common symptoms are a burning feeling when you pee and peeing often.

UTIs are easy to diagnose and to treat, usually with a short round of antibiotics. However, do not put off being treated for a UTI hoping that it will go away on its own. If you wait, the bacteria could work its way up into your kidneys and turn into a kidney infection, which is even less fun than a UTI. (I know someone who did this. She was in so much pain that she could hardly walk. Just don’t do it).

UTIs are super common in women because of how our bodies are built. We’re 14 times more likely to get them than men. However, they can also easily be prevented by simply peeing after sex. It seems like a small thing, but it can save you pain (literally) and the hassle of a hundred dollar Student Health/Quick Care trip. Trust me – it’s worth it.

 

Gyno Visits – From Pap Smears to STD Tests

I googled at what age women should start having regular pelvic exams, and the Internet gave me a HUGE range, from 13 all the way up to 30. My go-to doctor back home told me the typical age to start doing them is 21. Long story short: ask your doctor if you haven’t had one and aren’t sure when you should start.

Pelvic exams are done regularly (usually every 1-3 years) for women age ~21-65 for lots of good reasons. They are a chance for the doctor to check and make sure everything about your reproductive system – ovaries, cervix, etc. – seems normal and healthy. They’re also a chance to do a pap smear, which tests for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually affects women between the ages of 35–44, but catching it early gives you a greater chance of beating it, so it’s always good for women outside that age range to get tested. And don't worry - they aren't really that bad. 

Last but not least, pelvic exams can be used as a chance to routinely check for STDs. At my gyno, it’s standard practice to test for gonorrhea and chlamydia every time they do a pelvic exam if that woman is sexually active. Yay for #safesex!

Bonus: My doctor also taught me how to do a self-breast exam after my pelvic exam. Even though rates of breast cancer are low in women under 40, it’s possible for women to get breast cancer as young as 20, especially if there’s a family history of it, and especially if that family history is on your mother’s side. It’s super quick and easy to do, and even if it may seem weird at first, it won’t seem so weird if it ends up saving your life.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Of course, we have to consider mental health here, too.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD for short, the most appropriate acronym to ever exist) is a type of depression that occurs due to a change in seasons. SAD is most common during winter, usually caused by a lack of sunlight, although it is possible for it to occur during the summer.

SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Young adults and people who live far from the equator where there’s less sunshine are especially at risk. Basically, college-aged women in Iowa in November fit literally every single one of these risk factors.

Since SAD is caused by lack of sunlight, it’s treated with light therapy, which uses a bright light that resembles an iPad to simulate sunshine. The University of Iowa actually has light therapy boxes that students can check out for free. (Fun fact: I actually tried them for my first ever Her Campus article. 10/10 would recommend).

These are all things women shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about, and yet we often do. So here’s my challenge to you: make your health a priority, and talk about women’s health issues just like you would any other health issue – shame-free.

 

Image Credit: Picture 1, Picture 2