Before you go
• Record your medical history.
"For an annual exam, take a few minutes to review your 'health story' from the past year," advises Michele Curtis, M.D., M.P.H., a gynecologist in Houston. "Write down anything that's changed, both major things like surgeries and minor things like new vitamins [or herbs] you're taking." Also note any health issues that have come up among your parents, grandparents and siblings, he suggests -- your doctor may recommend steps to help prevent the same problems.
• Get your records.
If you've had gynecologic surgery or a mammogram, request a copy of the procedure records from your surgeon or specialist to bring along (and keep a copy for yourself as well).
• List your concerns.
Write down your top three concerns in order of priority. "Research has shown that the third item patients bring up during a visit is usually what brought them in," Curtis says. "People get embarrassed and want to 'warm us up' first, but time's short, so you should always ask the most important question first."
During the visit
• Write down your "numbers."
If your annual OB-GYN exam is the only checkup you get all year, write down the following stats: blood pressure, cholesterol level, weight and body mass index, and height (if you've shrunk even a millimeter, it can be a sign of bone loss). File the info away to compare with next year's numbers.
• Get tested for STDs.
If you've had unprotected sex even once, ask for chlamydia and gonorrhea checks. These infections can have serious consequences, including infertility. If you've had unprotected sex with a nonmonogamous partner, you should also be screened for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis.
• Request backup.
If your doctor is slammed with appointments and doesn't have time to get into the nitty-gritty of each of your concerns, ask if there's a physician's assistant, nurse practitioner or nurse available (or midwife, if you're pregnant). "They're great sources of advice and often have more time to sit with patients," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.