October, 2011

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HPV infections usually resolve on their own

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

It’s become common practice among some OB-GYNs to test for HPV, the human papilloma virus, due to the association of some strains of this sexually transmitted infection (STI) with cervical cancer.

But testing of women under the age of 30 is inadvisable. Because, although at least half of all sexually active men and women will get genital HPV at some point in their lives, the immune system will fight off and remove most of these infections from the body with no treatment. Seventy percent are gone within a year and 90 percent within two years.

It’s that 10 percent of cases we have to watch for. Some of those will lead to precancerous lesions in the cervix which, if left untreated, can develop into cervical cancer. But this process takes from 15 to 20 years. So, testing women under 30 for HPV leads to false positives, more testing, and perhaps invasive procedures in women who are at little or no risk of developing cervical cancer from HPV.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) therefore recommends that women under 30 not be tested for this STI, and I agree. If a woman under 30 has one of the high risk types of HPV, and if it persists, there will be ample time to find it and treat it. If she has one of the lower risk strains, it will probably be gone with no intervention within a year or two.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

There’s much more to an annual pelvic exam than a Pap smear

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

You might have read that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that most women have Pap smears just once every three years instead of once per year.

Does that mean you can skip the OB-GYN appointment until 2014?

No, no, no, and no.

You must have a pelvic exam every year. Pelvic examinations save lives. A Pap smear, which can help identify cervical cancer, is just one part of that examination. Your OB-GYN does much more during your annual. She also looks for any evidence of ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, myoma (fibroids) and other abnormalities of the reproductive tract.

And while it’s true that cervical cancer is typically a slow-growing cancer that takes an average 10 years to spread, sometimes these cancers “don’t read the books” and spread in a shorter period of time.

In my new health book, INSIDE INFORMATION FOR WOMEN, I tell you in greater detail what to expect when you have a gynecologic examination.

Don’t take risks with your health. Your “annual” is called that for a reason. Make sure you see your OB-GYN for your pelvic examination every year.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

You are what you eat…and so is your baby

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

We’ve all been told how important it is to eat well in order to stay healthy. Now, new research shows that what you eat when you’re pregnant can be as important for your baby as it is for you.

A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows that when mothers-to-be ate healthful foods, such as those that make up the so-called Mediterranean diet, their babies had fewer birth defects such as cleft palates and neural tube defects.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, beans, fruits, grains and fish, and is lower in meat, dairy and “empty” carbs.

Before you panic if you’re reading this while gorging on burgers and fries, no, your baby isn’t going to be born with birth defects just because you’re taking a vacation from your diet. The birth defects researchers looked at in the study are quite rare to begin with. It’s just that they are rarer still among women who eat well.

But the study does hint at something we know: your baby’s development depends, in part, on the nutrients you consume. So, give your little one a head-start on a good future. You’ll be doing a favor for both of you.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Urinary incontinence? Help is available

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Many women are too embarrassed to talk to their doctors about urinary incontinence—which means that they may be suffering needlessly for a common complaint that often has an easy fix.

You’d probably be surprised to learn that about half of all adult women share this problem.

What’s behind urinary incontinence? There are several possibilities, including certain medications, but the two most common culprits are the loss of pelvic floor muscle tone, causing stress incontinence (urine escapes during activities such as exercise, laughing, or coughing), and over-active bladder (you feel the need to “go” more often than normal).

Stress incontinence can often be successfully treated with pelvic floor strengthening techniques called Kegel exercises. These exercises are remarkably simple to do, once you have the hang of it, and you can do them anywhere: sitting in traffic, watching TV, even at your desk.

If incontinence is brought on by an over-active bladder, different re-training exercises, including biofeedback and behavioral therapy, may be helpful. And there are several medicines that your doctor may prescribe, depending on the underlying causes.

What’s most important to know is that help is available, and not just in the Depends aisle of your pharmacy. Remember that you’re not alone in dealing with incontinence. Chances are good that about half of the women you know are dealing with some form of this disorder.

Don’t let embarrassment keep you from discussing this all-too-common issue with your doctor.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH