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Women's Health: Your Doctor's Examination

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Your internal organ systems are screened by your general doctor with a physical every or every other year if you are without risks. This includes the doctor's examination of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and skin; blood pressure and pulse measurements; blood tests to establish liver and kidney functions, blood cell count, iron levels, and cholesterol levels; and discussion of your lifestyle, disease risks, and health prevention techniques that are most effective. If you have any disease risk factors or take any regular medications, you might need to see your doctor more often than every year or two. As a woman, you should also see your gynecologist once a year for a Pap test and breast and pelvic examinations. Seeing your doctor regularly is an important step to preventing health problems.

You might be referred to a specialist after a routine screening exam. There are medical specialists, who train in internal medicine and then continue with a specialty in their area or expertise, and surgical specialists, who train in surgery and go on to surgical specialties. Because medicine and surgery are so complex, you might need to see more than one specialist for the best care. For muscle, bone, or joint problems, you will likely be referred to an orthopedist, physiatrist, or sports medicine specialist. The following tables list different areas of speciality.

Medical Specialties and Their Areas of Expertise

Cardiology Heart and blood vessels
Dermatology Skin
Gastroenterology Stomach, intestines, colon
Gynecology Women's reproductive systems
Hematology Blood
Hepatology Liver diseases
Neurology Brain and nerves
Oncology Cancer
Pediatrics Children, adolescents
Physiatry Muscles, nerves, bones; injury recovery
Pulmonology Lungs and breathing
Rheumatology Immune system, joints
Urology Bladder, kidneys

Surgical Specialties and Their Areas of Expertise

Cardiothoracic Heart and lungs
Neurosurgery Brain and spinal cord
Obstetric and gynecologic Women's reproductive organs
Oncology Cancer removal
Orthopedic Bones/joints
Plastic Skin

It is wise to proceed with any referrals and follow up with doctors or health-care providers as recommended. Return visits are extremely important to establish that treatment is working without undesirable side effects, measure any progression of the problem, and fine-tune methods to cure and prevent further disease processes. Many diseases can be prevented, at least from becoming life-threatening—they just need to be identified and treated early. Remember: Prevention is the best medicine.

Internal Systems
Heart and Lungs
Heart and lung disease is a concern to women as much as to men. Hopefully, you already know if you have any heart or lung trouble, as this can be established during your physical examination. Blood pressure and pulse measurements are very easy ways to rule out some serious heart and blood vessel diseases. Because heart and lung disease can be life-threatening, it is helpful to know the signs and symptoms. The heart pumps blood to and from the lungs and into the body to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Because the heart and lungs are so closely connected and essential to life and movement, problems with either heart or lungs may cause similar symptoms.

Heart diseases can cause trouble with exertion, shortness of breath, swelling in your legs, chest pains, chest tightness, arm or shoulder pain or numbness, breathing trouble, lightheadedness, passing out, decreased energy, or decreased ability to exercise as efficiently. Symptoms more specific to the lungs include breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, tightness, chest pains, and blue lips or nails. Anxiety or feelings of doom are also recognized symptoms of possible heart or lung problems. These are all symptoms for which you should call your doctor immediately; if your doctor is unavailable, go to an emergency room.

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From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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