Women’s Health concerns often first arise during the college years. It is during this time that a young woman may experience for the first time a problem related to her reproductive health. She also may have her first significant sexual experience during this time. These situations raise questions and concerns and she needs reliable, nonjudgmental information from a trusted source. Student Health Services physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide comprehensive women’s health services to address the many reproductive health questions and situations that may arise.
One of the most common reasons college age women seek women’s health services is related to contraception, or prevention of pregnancy. There are many options available to effectively prevent pregnancy. Some do not require a visit to a medical provider. These include male and female condoms and spermicides. To be optimally effective, the couple must use them with every sexual encounter and know how to use them correctly. These barrier methods also reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomonas, Syphilis and HIV.
There are many prescription forms of contraception. These include hormonal birth control pills, patches and injections, intrauterine devices (IUD) and subdermal implants. All of these have various risks and side effects along with benefits beyond just preventing pregnancy. There are many myths and misconceptions about birth control so women are encouraged to meet with a women’s health professional to learn more about the options available so they can make an informed decision. Birth control pills, patches, injections, IUDs and implants do not prevent the transmission of infections. Barrier methods should be used in conjunction with the prescription contraceptives to reduce STIs.
Other common concerns are related to changes in menstrual bleeding (skipping periods, periods coming too often, periods heavier or lighter than usual, periods that are very painful), vaginal symptoms (irritation, itching, change in discharge) and sexual concerns. All of these issues are routinely evaluated and managed by women’s health providers. Changes in menstrual periods are very common when a woman’s life circumstances change-and starting college is a significant life change! Vaginal symptoms are also very common when a woman changes her living situation, diet or exercise program. Changes in vaginal discharge are not always associated with infections, so evaluation with a healthcare provider is essential to determine the correct management. If you are sexually active, it is important that you screen for sexually transmitted infections regularly. Many women have questions about sex. They wonder what is “normal” and whether what they are experiencing is “okay”. Most young women have not had the opportunity to discuss these very personal experiences with anyone prior to starting college. College health professionals are uniquely qualified to provide the environment that supports these types of very personal conversations. If you experience a change in your cycle or any other women’s health concern, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. Worrying about what might be wrong is worse than the process of seeing a healthcare provider for it!
Many women are fearful of the pelvic exam that is sometimes needed to evaluate a women’s health problem. The good news is that many women’s health concerns do not require this exam-in fact you may not need to undress at all for the appointment! Frequently, the history you provide-what is happening and when it started-is enough to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendation. So don’t let fear keep you from addressing a women’s health concern.