Posts for category: Women's Health Care
The Importance of a Pap Smear
A pap smear, also known as a Pap test or cervical smear, is a routine procedure done at your gynecologist’s office to detect any irregularities in and on the cervix. The name comes from an abbreviation of the inventor’s name, Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou, and this test has been performed since 1923. It is currently the most common form of cervical screening in the United States.
What Are Pap Smears?
Pap smears are procedures done in-office and are performed by a doctor on an exam table. The vaginal opening is expanded with a tool called a speculum, and cells are then collected from the outside of the cervix using a tool called a spatula, which is very different from the one you may have in your kitchen. This procedure only takes a few minutes, and is very important for female health. Some patients report mild cramping during or immediately after the test, but it is usually very brief.
The collected cells are transferred to a glass slide and are examined under a microscope. The reason for this test is to identify any pre-cancerous conditions, most of which are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). These results can usually be used to diagnose other cervical problems and can take a week or two to come back.
A Pap smear is recommended for women to get every three years starting at age 21 until 65, barring any pre-existing conditions or any atypical results; those cases may call for more frequent testing. Regular Pap smears can reduce fatalities caused by cervical cancer very significantly, granted that patients with abnormal results follow their doctors’ treatment recommendations.
Be sure to stay up to date with your Pap smears and call your gynecologist with any questions!
As you might imagine, women’s bones are smaller than men’s, which puts women at a risk for developing osteoporosis, a chronic condition that causes a loss of bone density and can leave women prone to fractures. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 80 percent of Americans with osteoporosis are women and half of women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Why does osteoporosis mostly affect women? During childbearing years, your body produces estrogen, a hormone that is not only implemental in your reproductive and sexual health but also serves to protect your bones; however, as women approach menopause their estrogen production decreases drastically, which makes women prone to fractured and broken bones.
Fortunately, your gynecologist and women’s health team are instrumental in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoporosis. Bone density is influenced by many factors including hormone levels, lifestyle, nutrition, medications, health problems, and genetics. Common risk factors include:
- Family history
- History of broken bones/fractures
- Poor nutrition
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Lack of calcium or other vitamins in your diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low body mass index (BMI) and weight
The good news about osteoporosis is that it can be prevented through proper screenings and medications/therapies used to slow the progress of osteoporosis. Your initial screening will provide the information you need to help you and your gynecological team make an informed decision about the type of treatment options available to you. An X-ray is the most common diagnostic tool for checking the density level of your bones.
Getting an osteoporosis screening is highly recommended for all postmenopausal women (women 65 years old or older). If a woman is at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, she may want to consider getting screened even earlier.
Osteoporosis treatment will include lifestyle changes along with medications/treatments. Simple everyday measures you can take to lessen your chances of bone fractures include:
- Making sure you get enough Vitamin D and calcium in your diet
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Exercise regularly (include both cardio and strength training)
- Quit smoking
There are also a variety of different prescription medications on the market (also known as bisphosphonates) that can aid in preventing bone loss. Along with medications, your gynecologist may also recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which will supply your body with the estrogen it needs to both prevent and treat osteoporosis.
Cycle monitoring is a method used by OBGYNs and fertility specialists to map out a woman's monthly menstrual cycle, in order to determine when ovulation is most likely to occur. Every woman has what is known as a fertile window; the days leading up to and including ovulation. This is the phase of the menstrual cycle when a woman is most likely to get pregnant. Because every woman's cycle is different, with many women experiencing irregular periods which can make it harder to predict ovulation, cycle monitoring is useful for couples trying to conceive, either naturally or with the aid of IVI (Intravaginal insemination) or IVF (Invitro fertilization).
Ovulation and the Menstrual Cycle
A typical menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days, but varies from woman to woman. Ovulation is the monthly process where an egg is released for fertilization by the sperm, and it is the only point in the menstrual cycle when conception is possible. Healthy sperm generally remain viable for up to five days, which is factored into the fertile window when calculating a fertility chart and menstrual cycle for a woman actively trying to conceive.
Many women are unaware of their ovulation schedule, and many myths abound about the length and duration of the fertile window. Because menstrual cycles can vary greatly from one woman to the next, a consultation with an OBGYN can help women determine their ovulation schedule once they have decided they are ready to become pregnant.
Determining Ovulation and the Fertility Cycle
The first step in cycle monitoring is measuring the basal body temperature. Although the variations in temperature can be slight, and OBGYNs have found the effectiveness of basal body temperature measurements in predicting ovulation to be inconclusive, it is still considered a basic step in charting fertility. During ovulation, the body releases elevated levels of the hormone progesterone, which can cause slight fluctuations in temperature. During ovulation, the cervix produces elevated levels of mucus designed to help the sperm make its way to the egg for fertilization. Monitoring mucus levels can help to predict ovulation. The mucus becomes more elastic, clear (resembling the texture and consistency of egg whites) during the fertile window.
The range varies from woman to woman, but days 1-5 are the beginning of the cycle, when menstruation occurs. Days 6-9 are dry with no visible mucus. From days 10-12 the mucus is sticky and thicker than during the fertile window. At the end of the fertile window the mucus becomes thick and sticky again, followed by dryness until the cycle begins again the following month. Measuring the cycle for a few months can help to determine both the duration and ovulation dates for each woman.
Menopause is the end of the menstrual and fertility cycle in women. It can either occur naturally or as a result of surgical intervention that requires the removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This usually as a treatment for cancer or other health conditions like infections or cysts. The ovaries regulate the hormones that control the menstrual cycle and fertility. Once the menstrual cycle permanently ends, either naturally or through the surgical removal of the ovaries, a woman is in menopause. The process varies form woman to woman and begins on average from the mid to late 40s to early 50s. As the production of eggs and hormones begins to decline, many women experience physical changes and symptoms that range in severity and intensity.
In addition to physical symptoms and changes, many women experience emotional and psychological symptoms related to the transition away from the child bearing phase. An OBGYN can help navigate the process and recommend treatment when necessary.
Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Like the menstrual cycle itself, menopause affects every woman differently. Some may experience only mild symptoms and require minimal to no treatment. Others may experience drastic fluctuations in everything from body temperature to moods, and require medication and specialized treatment plans from an OBGYN to help manage symptoms. The most common symptoms are:
- Vaginal dryness and pain during sex
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Irregular/infrequent periods
- Skin problems and hair loss
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood swings and irritability
- Loss of sex drive
Treatment for Menopause
Depending on the range and severity of symptoms, as well as the woman's overall health, an OBGYN may recommend hormone replacement therapy and medication. Many women benefit from lifestyle modifications like dietary supplements and changes to a more balanced and clean diet. Managing anxiety, depression and stress with exercises like yoga and meditation can help regulate moods, as well as provide an opportunity to engage in social activities in a supportive environment. Although fertility declines and eventually ends with menopause, women can still enjoy an active, fulfilling sex life both during and long after menopause.