Starting in our late teens, most women end up seeing their OB-GYN about once a year. While it’s probably not something we look forward to, it is a great time to ask about what we can do to stay in control of our health — especially in terms of preventative care.
Fortunately for the audience at BlogHer Health 2019 in Los Angeles, they didn’t have to wait until their next gynecologist appointment to get honest, accurate information about their sexual, reproductive and breast health. The Wine & Gyn panel, sponsored by Hologic, featured three OB-GYNs — Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Dr. Kelly N. Wright and Dr. Thais Aliabadi — live and in person. The panel discussion, moderated by Reshma Gopaldas, vice president of video at SHE Media, touched on many of the most important topics affecting women’s health.
Prioritizing pelvic health
“You’re the protector of your pelvis, and only you can do what’s best for it,” Shepherd told the audience. Part of that involves getting regular sexually transmitted infection tests — even if you are married or in a long-term relationship. Shepherd explained that undiagnosed STIs can affect not only your pelvic health but also future fertility, so it’s definitely something you’re going to want to keep an eye on.
And, as Aliabadi pointed out, there is a huge difference between STI complications in men and women. For one thing, she explained, the skin on the penis is thick, so it protects much better than the vaginal mucosa, which easily allows bacteria and viruses to pass through. In addition, if a woman becomes pregnant and has an undiagnosed STI, the infection can be passed along to the fetus, potentially resulting in conditions like blindness and deafness, she added.
Paps, periods & pain
Along with regular STI testing, Shepherd also stressed the importance of getting a regular Pap test starting at the age of 21. Between the ages of 30 and 65, she said that women should get their Pap and HPV test to help determine the risk of cervical cancer.
Another aspect of being proactive about your pelvic health is paying attention to your periods. Wright told the audience that a lot of her patients come to see her with heavy periods that they think are normal.
“If your periods are so heavy that it’s preventing you from participating in activities, making you go home from work, preventing you from traveling or causing you so much pain… that is not normal,” she explained.
Wright said that a good metric is that if you soak through more than one menstrual pad an hour, it’s a sign that your flow is too heavy and you should see a doctor about it.
“Your primary care doctor or OB-GYN might tell you that’s normal, and if you’re not comfortable with that answer — if you’re really missing out on life — visit another physician and get another opinion from a doctor that will take you seriously. It’s never wrong to get a second opinion,” Wright added.
In addition to heavy periods, women are also far too likely to dismiss vaginal dryness and pain, Aliabadi said. Before 2014, we were limited to treatments like using lube or taking estrogen to treat vaginal pain, she explained, but now, OB-GYNs have another important tool in their arsenal: the MonaLisa Touch laser treatment.
“It’s amazing,” Aliabadi said. “I love my machine. I have a lot of lasers, but this one is like my baby. It changes people’s lives.” After receiving three of these painless five-minute laser treatments, she said 90 percent of patients say they feel better. In addition to vaginal dryness and painful sex, Shepherd noted that MonaLisa Touch can also be used to treat stress urinary incontinence.
A major mammogram milestone
In addition to your health below the belt, the OB-GYN panelists also discussed breast health — specifically, mammograms. Shepherd and Aliabadi talked about how many women have dense breasts and that traditional two-dimensional mammograms aren’t able to show all potential problematic breast issues.
According to Aliabadi, 40 to 50 percent of women have dense breast tissue, which appears white in 2-D mammograms, making it difficult to spot possible cancerous areas. Fortunately, the Genius 3D mammography exam is able to take a three-dimensional picture of your breast, including images as small as 1 millimeter. This translates to a 25 to 50 percent earlier cancer diagnosis, improving a person’s chances of survival, she explained.
The bottom line is that there are certain aspects of our health care that you can control, and each of the panelists encouraged the audience to do so and seek a second opinion when necessary.