The 10 Medical Questions Most Asked by Women

Have you ever wondered why you need a physical exam? What’s the purpose of knowing your cholesterol? Women tend to ask me the same questions time and time again. It’s as if there’s a list of universally nagging things that no one seems to answer for patients.

So, I’m answering them here. This is my top 10 list of most-asked questions I hear from women in my practice.

1. Should I see my doctor for a cold?

Colds are caused by viruses. There is no treatment for viruses. Antibiotics will not help. In most cases, any OTC (over the counter) medication that helps to treat the symptoms is fine. For example, decongestants or antihistamines can often provide symptomatic relief. The average cold lasts 5-7 days. If you develop a cough, a high fever (greater than 101.5), or facial pain, it could be more than a cold and you should see your doctor.

2. Is all chest pain worrisome?

Most chest pain in young women is benign, that is, not caused by heart or lung disease. Mostly it is a musculoskeletal issue. If the pain comes when you take a deep breath, you feel short of breath with walking, or a feeling of “heaviness” in your chest, you should seek immediate medical attention. Young women are prone to pulmonary emboli (clots in the lungs), especially women who take oral contraceptive pills. A pulmonary embolus causes pain and shortness of breath and can be potentially life threatening. See your doctor immediately or head to the closest emergency room.

3. When do I need a mammogram?

The current recommendations for mammograms are changing but I believe it is necessary for all women to have a screening mammogram at age 35. If there is a family history of breast cancer, then screening should start earlier. Your personal schedule of screening needs to be discussed with your doctor as many factors are involved (age, hormones, family history and breast density).

4. What is the easiest way to lose weight?

There is no magic formula to lose weight. Sorry! The simple answer is: calories in minus calories out. So, if you feel like you would like to take off 5-10 lbs, cut back on your portions, make healthier choices, and increase your physical activity. One helpful hint is to grab a pen and pad and record everything you eat in a day (including a bite of this or a handful of that). It all adds up. Review your entries and make necessary adjustments!

5. How long should I try to get pregnant on my own without seeking medical assistance?

The answer to this question is very personal, based on a lot of factors. For example, a healthy 25-year-old woman might want to give herself a year or more to try naturally. As we age, the chances of conceiving naturally decrease. So, if you are trying to get pregnant with no success and you are approaching 30 or older, you might want to seek assistance after 3-6 months.

6. What causes postpartum depression?

“Baby blues” typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and may last up to two weeks. Some moms experience a more severe, long lasting depression known as postpartum depression. There is no single cause determined but rather a combination of physical changes such as a dramatic drop in estrogen and progesterone and emotional issues like sleep deprivation, anxiety and previous depression combined. There is medication and therapy that is very helpful.

7. Should I worry about my cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a necessary fat-like substance the body needs. Too much cholesterol can clog the arteries and lead to heart disease. Elevated cholesterol is caused by genetic history—do your parents have high cholesterol?—and diet, for example, red meat and fried foods. It is important, even at a young age to “know your numbers.” If your cholesterol is high (greater than 170), diet and weight loss might can help you to prevent future heart disease.

8. How do I retain my young skin?

Sunscreen is the key. Age-related changes to the skin are cumulative over the years. So if you sit in the sun without sunblock summer after summer, your skin will begin to show signs of early aging. In addition, good skincare is key. I recommend cleanser, toner and moisturizer with sunscreen. At night, use an eye cream and night cream and stay out of the sun during the day!

9. Why do I need a yearly pap smear?

Again, as with mammograms, the recommendations for pap smears are changing. Due to the HPV vaccination, there is a steady decline in cervical cancer. Young healthy women with a normal pap smear that is HPV negative can extend their pap smears to once every two years. That does not mean you can skip your yearly visit to the gynecologist, as a pelvic exam is necessary every year to prevent ovarian, cervical and uterine cancer.

10. Why do I need a yearly physical exam?

Many diseases are preventable. Seeing a doctor yearly who knows your body and what is normal for you, helps to be able to identify changes and what might be a problem. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at

Ben Kruger