How to Protect Yourself If You've Had Unprotected Sex

How to Protect Yourself If You’ve Had Unprotected Sex

Unprotected sex, although typically not planned, can happen. Maybe you missed a day or two taking your birth control pill or you had sex without a condom or barrier of protection. If you or a friend find yourself in a situation like this, the first step would be to call your primary care provider who will help you to find the best solution to reduce your risk of pregnancy. Today, we’ll answer your burning questions about your options after having unprotected sex. 

What are my emergency contraceptive options?

The Morning-After Pill

This is a popular choice after having unprotected sex as it can significantly reduce your risk of pregnancy. It’s a hormone-based medication that can delay ovulation (ovaries releasing eggs which will then be fertilized by a sperm). These are readily available over-the-counter at most pharmacies; you will likely see Plan B which is a popular brand of morning-after pills. There are also more effective pills that may be a better fit for your particular situation but these will most likely require a prescription.

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

The copper IUD is a hormone-free, long-acting reverse contraception. When used as birth control, it can remain effective for up to 12 years but it can also be used as emergency contraception as it prevents your eggs from being implanted in the uterus. If you are interested in having an IUD inserted, give us a call!

How effective are these emergency contraception options?

The copper IUD is the most effective, preventing unplanned pregnancies for 99% of users. If taken within the first 72 hours after having unprotected sex, Plan B is about 75-89% effective but becomes less effective in women who weigh 155 pounds or more. The ‘ella’ morning-after pill can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex and is 85% effective and not dependent on your weight. 

How long after unprotected sex should I use emergency contraception?

The short answer: the sooner, the better. The length of time is completely dependent upon which method you choose but in most cases, emergency contraception is effective if taken within 3 days while ‘ella’ is effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The IUD has the longest grace period with effectiveness up to 7 days after sex. But the sooner you take the contraceptive method of choice the better so don’t delay. 

Will I be able to get pregnant later?

There have been no studies that have produced results that morning-after pills or copper IUDs have negative effects on future pregnancies. You can take them as needed, keeping in mind that, aside from the IUD, they should not be used as a replacement for regular birth control. 

Are there side effects?

The side effects that accompany morning-after pills are similar to those of birth control pills and are typically not something to worry too much about. You may experience some of the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Spotting between periods
  • Heavier bleeding during your period
  • Cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Lightheadedness

These side effects typically go away after a few days but if you experience them consistently after taking emergency contraceptive, speak to your primary care provider. 

Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

Everything You Need to Know About Mammograms

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast that can be used not only to detect breast cancer in women that are showing no signs or symptoms of the disease but also to check for breast cancer in women after a lump or other sign has been found. There are two different types of mammograms: screening and diagnostic. 

What is the difference between screening and diagnostic mammograms?

A screening mammogram is done as a preventative measure in women who have not displayed any signs or symptoms of breast cancer because the x-ray images allow you to detect tumors that a physical screening may not. 

A diagnostic mammogram is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign of breast cancer has been detected. Just like we mentioned in our Breast Cancer Awareness blog post, there are many other signs of breast cancer besides finding a lump. Some of these signs may include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts. These signs can, however, also be related to benign conditions which is why a diagnostic mammogram is important to further evaluate changes that may have been found during a screening mammogram.

Both types of mammograms use the same machine. The major differences between the two are (1) the amount of radiation you will be exposed to is higher in a diagnostic mammogram because more x-ray images are needed to view the breast from multiple angles, and (2) diagnostic mammograms take longer to obtain than screening mammograms. 

What are the benefits of screening mammograms?

Early detection of breast cancer with screening mammography means that treatment can be started earlier, potentially before it can spread. This vastly increases the possibility of overcoming the disease. But we can’t talk about the benefits of screening mammograms without also talking about the risks that can come with them.

What are the potential hazards of mammograms?

Radiation exposure

Mammograms require radiation and, although it is in very small doses and results in low exposure, repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. The benefits of mammography do almost always outweigh the potential harm from radiation exposure, however, you should speak with your health care provider about the need for continued x-rays. You should also be sure to disclose your potential of being pregnant with your health care provider and x-ray technician as radiation can be extremely harmful to a growing fetus.

False-positive results

A false-positive is when a radiologist sees an abnormality that could be a positive on an x-ray picture but there is no cancer present in reality. All mammograms that do find abnormalities should be followed up with additional testing to determine whether or not cancer is truly present. 

False-positive results are most common among younger women, women with dense breasts, women with a family history of breast cancer, women who have had previous breast biopsies, and women who are taking estrogen. 

False-positive mammograms can lead to anxiety and emotional and physical distress and the additional testing required to determine the presence or absence of cancer can be costly, time-consuming, and physically uncomfortable.

False-negative results

A negative result in cancer screening means no abnormality is present. A false-negative result gives the impression that the mammogram is normal despite the fact that breast cancer is present. This occurs most frequently among women who have high breast density and younger women because as women grow older, their breasts become more fatty which makes false-negative results less likely. 

A false-negative result can give a false sense of security and can delay treatment. 

I have breast implants. What can I do about screening mammograms?

While implants can hide some breast tissue and therefore make it difficult for a radiologist to detect an abnormality in the mammogram images, women with breast implants should still get regular mammograms. If you have gotten implants as a result of a mastectomy, ask your doctor whether or not they recommend a mammogram of the reconstructed breast. 

In either case, it is important that you let the mammography facility know that you have breast implants when you are scheduling your mammogram. This will let them know to take the necessary precautions to make sure that as much breast tissue can be seen on the mammogram as possible.

How to perform a breast self-exam

How to Perform a Breast Self-Exam

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam routine is very important.” As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, we are discussing how to do a breast self-exam and why they are an important part of your normal routine. 

The importance of breast self-exams

Regular breast self-exams allow you to notice abnormalities or changes in your breasts that you need to discuss with your gynecologist. Breast self-exams are not, however, a substitute for a breast exam by your doctor or a screening mammogram. Gaining familiarity with the normal look and feel of your breasts can supplement breast cancer screening but it can’t replace it. This will increase the odds of early detection. 

How to perform a breast self-exam

While we will guide you through the techniques to use when performing a breast self-exam, you may find it helpful to ask your gynecologist for a demonstration. 

Choose a time in your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less tender and swollen. Your hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month but are especially high during your menstrual cycle which causes changes in breast tissue. The best time to perform a breast self-exam is usually the week after your menstrual cycle ends and you should try to do a breast self-exam at about the same time each month. 

Visual Examination

Start your breast self-exam by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. During this inspection, you should do the following: 

  • Facing forward, look for puckering, dimpling, or changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
  • Changes in your nipples. This might include inversion or a change in position.
  • Lift each breast to see if the ridges along the bottom are symmetrical.
  • Raise your hands above your head and look for changes in the contour, swelling, or dimpling. 

Physical Examination

There are two common ways to perform the manual part of the breast exam:

#1: In the shower

We recommend performing the breast self-exam in the shower because the moisture on your skin will allow your fingers to glide smoothly over your breasts. Using the pads of your fingers and circular motions about the size of a quarter, move around your entire breasts from the outside to the center checking the entire breast and armpit area. During this process, you are feeling for any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots. 

#2: Lying down

When you’re lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly across the chest wall, making it thinner and an ideal position to perform your breast self-exam. Choose a bed or other flat surface, lie down flat, and place a pillow under the arch of your back. Once again using the pads of your fingers, use your left hand to make small circular motions around your right breast and your right hand to do the same on your left breast, covering the entire area from top to bottom and side to side – from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen and from your armpit to your cleavage. 

Alternate between applying light, medium, and firm pressure depending on the area: use light pressure for the tissue just beneath the skin, medium pressure for the tissue in the middle of your breasts, and firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. 

General tips to bear in mind:

  • Use the pads, not the very tips of your middle three fingers, held flat and together to perform the breast self-exam. 
  • Take your time. This entire process may take several minutes but you want to perform a thorough and not rushed examination. 
  • Follow a pattern to ensure that you are examining the entire breast. 

When should you contact your gynecologist?

You should make an appointment with your gynecologist if you notice any of the following during a breast self-exam:

  • Dimpling, puckering, bulges, or ridges on the skin of your breast
  • A change in your nipple such as inversion or a change in position
  • Nipple discharge especially that which is yellow or blood
  • Changes in the way your breasts look or feel, including thickening
  • A hard lump or knot near your underarm
  • Itching, scales, sores, or rashes
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or pain

While 8 out of 10 times a lump in your breast is not a sign of breast cancer, early detection significantly increases the chance of survival so if you detect any of the above changes, seek professional medical assistance. 

Give us a call at Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care to schedule an appointment: 757-455-8833.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here's What You Should Know

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Here’s What You Should Know

Every year, 245,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, the second most common cancer in women, and more than 40,000 women die from the disease, according to the CDC. While breast cancer is far more common in women – 99% of the cases plaguing the population are in women – it can also affect men. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to ensure that you’re aware of the risk factors that could lead to breast cancer, the symptoms associated with it, and how to decrease your chances of a diagnosis

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease where the cells in the breasts grow out of control. There are different types of breast cancer and the type is dependent upon which cells in the breast become cancerous. 

Where does breast cancer form?

Breast cancer can begin in different parts of the breasts but most commonly it forms in the milk ducts, the tubes that deliver milk to the nipples. Cancer may also form in the lobules, which are the glands that produce the milk. Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. 

Know the symptoms of breast cancer

Different people that are diagnosed with breast cancer may experience different symptoms while some may experience none at all. Some symptoms commonly associated with breast cancer include:

  • Nipple inversion or pain in the nipple area.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk; this includes blood.
  • Changes in the size or shape of the breast.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • A new lump in the breast or armpit.
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast. 
  • Pain in any area of the breast. 

While some of these symptoms could be associated with a condition that is not cancer, if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. 

Reduce your risk for breast cancer

Your risk for breast cancer is due to a combination of factors, where the main ones that increase your risk include being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancers are found in women that are 50 or older while about 10% of new breast cancer cases are found in women younger than 45. Many factors over your lifetime can affect your breast cancer risk, some that you have no control over, your family history or age for example, while you have the ability to lower your risk by taking care of your health.

Breast cancer risk factors you cannot control

  • Aging: The risk of breast cancer increases as you age with most breast cancers diagnosed after the age of 50.
  • Menstrual cycle history: Women whose menstrual cycles started before age 12 and those who started menopause after age 55 have a higher risk of breast cancer because they are exposed to hormones longer. 
  • Family history of breast cancer: The risk for breast cancer is higher if a woman’s mother, sister, or daughter or if multiple distant relatives on either parent’s side have had breast cancer. 
  • Personal history of breast cancer or other non-cancerous breast diseases: Women who have had a history of breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer a second time. 
  • Previous radiation therapy treatment: Women who have had radiation therapy on their breasts or chest before the age of 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life.
  • Having dense breasts: Dense breasts means a woman has more connective tissue than fatty tissue which makes it more difficult to detect tumors on a mammogram. 
  • Genetic mutations: Women who have inherited genetic mutations to certain genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES was a drug given to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage. Women who took it or whose mothers took it while pregnant with them have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Breast cancer risk factors you can control

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, particularly after menopause. 
  • Breastfeeding your children lowers your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis. 
  • Getting pregnant for the first time after age 30, not breastfeeding, and never having a full-term pregnancy can raise breast cancer risk.
  • External hormones like birth control pills, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy have been found to raise breast cancer risk. Ask your doctor about the risks to find the best solution for you. 
  • Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or less. 

Get breast cancer screenings regularly

As we stated earlier, some women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don’t experience any symptoms at all, making it that much more vital that you get regular breast cancer screenings. A breast cancer screening involves checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before signs or symptoms of the disease manifest themselves. It does not prevent breast cancer but it can assist in finding breast cancer early and early detection makes it easier to treat. Talk to your doctor about the best time to start getting regular breast cancer screenings and which test is best for you. 

Living with Incurable STDs

Living with Incurable STDs

Learning that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can certainly be a scary prognosis. Each infection comes with its own symptoms, levels of pain, and treatment options if they are available. Plus there’s always the task of telling your partner that you have a condition that could affect them too. Whether you think you have an STD or your doctor has confirmed it, it’s important that you learn as much as possible about your particular condition and whether or not there are treatment options to lessen or alleviate your symptoms. 

Before we discuss incurable STDs, it’s important to note that any person that is sexually active is at risk of contracting STDs making it that much more pertinent that you educate yourself and practice safe sex every single time. 

Incurable STDs and Treatment Options

There are sexually transmitted diseases that can be cured with antibiotics and medication but here we have compiled a list of those that stay with you for the rest of your life. 

HIV

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is probably the most well-known of all STDs and is a chronic disease that severely attacks the infected person’s immune system. If left untreated, it can develop into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). With the development of AIDS comes a significant decline in your immune system’s ability to fight even the most minor infections, the common cold for example. 

HIV is spread through bodily fluids and can progress and spread quite rapidly through three stages: 

  1. Acute HIV infection: This refers to the first two to four week period after a person has been infected during which he or she is highly contagious exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Some people experience no symptoms at all or assume it is the flu, which is why it’s important that you get tested if you think you’ve been exposed. 
  2. Clinical latency: During this stage, the virus is still present and reproducing at a slow rate which can lead to the person feeling just fine. A person could live in this stage for several decades if he or she is undergoing proper treatment, lowering their chances of infecting someone else.
  3. AIDS: In this last stage, the immune system is so damaged that they’re unable to fight off even the most minor illness. When left untreated, AIDS typically leaves those infected with just three years to live. 

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the best medication to treat HIV and consists of a daily cocktail of several prescription pills. When taken every day, the medication can drastically prolong the life of someone affected by HIV, relieving their symptoms and lowering the chance of infecting others. With the introduction of the medication in the mid-90s, someone with HIV could live nearly as long as someone not affected by the virus. 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis has five different varieties but type B is most commonly spread through sex and results in a liver infection. It’s the primary cause of liver cancer or cirrhosis (liver failure). Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine but patients that contract the chronic infection have it for life. It’s highly contagious and can be transmitted through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine. Protect yourself with the Hep B vaccine and by practicing safe sex. 

Hepatitis B generally goes away on its own in four to eight weeks with symptoms often not manifesting and doctors recommending you rest, eat well, and drink plenty of fluids. However, one in 20 people who get it as adults become carriers, which means they will have chronic hepatitis B and will have the disease for life, although there are medications a doctor can provide to help treat it. 

HPV

While HIV may be the most well-known and feared STD, Human Papillomavirus is the most common. According to the CDC, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected and nearly all sexually active men and women will contract HPV at some point in their lives. The problem with HPV and part of the reason that it’s so widespread is that the virus often goes undetected. Your partner may not show any symptoms and yet they can still pass the virus through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. 

This virus is one of the reasons that your annual exam is so important as abnormal cells in your cervix can indicate HPV or cervical cancer so make sure you’re scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist every year. 

The HPV vaccine is recommended for prevention. If you develop genital warts as a result of the virus, doctors may prescribe topical medicine or you can have them removed. If your doctor has detected cervical precancer as a result of your pap smear, prevention may still be possible if detected in its early stages. 

Herpes

Herpes is another virus that manifests in more than one type: there’s herpes simplex 1 which usually lives in the mouth in the form of cold sores and herpes simplex 2 which lives around the genitals. During an outbreak, fluid-filled blisters will appear and eventually break, causing painful sores for about two weeks. 

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people in the US between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes but over 80% of people with genital herpes are unaware that they have it. Herpes can be contracted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and transmission is possible even without the presence of visible sores. 

If you are pregnant and think you might have been exposed to the herpes virus, you must let your OB-GYN know as soon as possible. The infection could result in a miscarriage, premature delivery, or neonatal herpes which can be fatal. 

Because sores often exist on the skin on and around the genital area, condoms are not 100% effective in protecting a person from contracting herpes, making it extremely important that you get tested. 

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea does respond to medicine, however, there is a fast-growing strain that is resistant to the antibiotic regimen long-used to treat gonorrhea. About 820,000 people get gonorrhea infections in the US each year. A person with gonorrhea may show no signs but symptoms can include discharge from the vagina or penis, vaginal bleeding between periods, painful or swollen testicles, and a painful, burning sensation when urinating. 

If you get tested and discover that you have gonorrhea, your doctor will prescribe a treatment that involves two different drugs to stop the infection. This treatment cannot undo any permanent damage that the disease might have caused up to this point. But as we stated earlier, the CDC says that the new drug-resistant strains threaten the medication’s effectiveness. If you find that your symptoms continue even after receiving treatment, it’s important that you inform your doctor immediately. 

Managing Incurable STDs

In addition to seeking proper treatment, it’s also important to seek proper support. Ignoring a sexually transmitted disease won’t make it go away; in fact, it could cause irreversible damage to your internal organs. In addition to that physical damage, it can also cause a substantial amount of stress. You may want to seek counseling or a support group and you should know there’s no shame in doing either; it’s important that you don’t feel isolated while going through treatment. 

And if you are sexually active and have not been tested recently, you should do so. After all, many STDs don’t have any symptoms and 50% of the population will have contracted one by the time they’re 25

If you potentially have been exposed to an STD, getting tested is the only way to know for sure and take steps to seek treatment. We don’t want you to take any risks when it comes to your health. To schedule your annual appointment with Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, click here.

What You Should Know About Birth Control

What You Should Know About Birth Control

While most women have a basic working knowledge of birth control (meaning they know it’s used for contraception), there are many nuances within each type of birth control that make it the best choice for each individual and the other purposes it serves. So today we want to give you an overview of the most popular birth control methods, how they work, which method may work best for you and your needs, and reasons you might choose to use birth control aside from contraception

What are the most common birth control methods?

Condoms

Due to their easy accessibility, condoms are the most popular type of birth control and a preferred method of contraception for people who are not in monogamous relationships because they are effective at protecting from several sexually transmitted diseases. They are also great for reducing your chances of getting an infection from oral and anal sex. Because of this, condoms are often used in addition to other birth control methods that aren’t as effective in this area. But know that they are not 100% effective in protecting against STDs because they do not cover all vulnerable areas. No other birth control methods in this list will protect against STDs. 

Here are a few steps you should take to ensure that condoms are as effective as possible:

  • Don’t double up. It actually makes them less effective because the friction of the two rubbing together increases the chances of them breaking.
  • Always check the expiration date.
  • Wear the condom from beginning to end, not just when the male ejaculates.
  • Store them at room temperature.

Oral Contraceptives

More commonly known as The Pill, oral contraceptives are another popular and effective means of preventing pregnancy…as long as the woman remembers to take them at the same time every single day. With that being said, the pill may not be the best method for people who are forgetful because forgetting to take it greatly reduces its effectiveness. 

The pill works by preventing ovulation but like we said earlier, the pill is not going to protect you against STDs so it should be used in combination with condoms if you are in a situation where you could be vulnerable to STDs.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

An IUD is a small piece of plastic, resembling a T, that releases hormones into your bloodstream that either prevent ovulation or block sperm from reaching an egg. 

They are a popular birth control method of choice for women who don’t wish to become a mother any time soon (or ever) because they can be inserted without the woman having to worry about birth control for several years. The span of time depends upon the brand of the IUD so you should discuss options with your gynecologist. They are also great for women who know that they won’t be able to remember to take oral contraceptives on a daily basis. 

The Patch

The patch is also a birth control method that controls your hormones and prevents pregnancy by blocking the ovaries from releasing eggs, increasing the thickness of cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg, and causing the lining of the uterus to become porous so that, if fertilization does occur, the egg can’t implant in the uterus. The patch is placed on your skin and must be replaced weekly, available only via prescription. 

Emergency Contraception

More commonly known as “the morning-after pill,” this birth control method must be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex (or some other mishap occurred). The morning-after pill works by temporarily stopping the release of eggs from the ovaries. And if an egg has already been released, the pill can prevent that egg from becoming fertilized by sperm. 

The morning-after pill comes with the common misconception that it is an “abortion pill” but that is not the case; in order for an abortion to occur, a fertilized egg has to attach to the uterus. 

None of the birth control methods that we’ve listed above are 100% failproof. It’s important that along with obtaining birth control, you talk to your gynecologist about your overall health and practicing safe sex. There are side effects that come with hormonal alternatives like most birth control methods that can have adverse effects on your body, particularly if you are taking other medications. 

Besides contraception, what are other reasons that people get on birth control?

Some of the most common reasons women may decide to take birth control include:

Treat Acne

Many women with chronic acne who have tried many different types of face washes, ointments, and acne systems with no results will often turn to birth control. Birth control pills can reduce the production of sebum which in turn can decrease the number of breakouts a woman has. 

Treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that results in irregular periods that can manifest itself in unusually heavy menstruation, pelvic pain, and excessive body hair growth. Taking birth control pills can help to regulate your hormones and prevent these symptoms. 

Migraine Prevention

Migraines can be a premenstrual symptom for some women as they are a result of a drop in estrogen. Birth control pills can help to regulate those hormones and significantly reduce or even eliminate migraines that are related to PMS.

Treat Primary Ovarian Insufficiency

This condition, also known as Primary Ovarian Failure, occurs when a woman doesn’t produce enough estrogen for her ovaries to function properly and can result in irritability, vaginal dryness, and hot flashes in women under 40. The pill can once again help to regulate estrogen levels.

Ease Endometriosis

Endometriosis is when tissue, usually only found inside the uterus, starts growing outside the womb. During a menstrual cycle, that tissue is generally released with your period but if it grows outside of the uterus, it has nowhere to go and can cause immense pain or even infertility. Some contraceptives prevent pain that’s associated with endometriosis by preventing the growth of that tissue. 

Contact Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care for More Information on Birth Control Methods

We are confident that any questions you may have about birth control or other health-related inquiries, we have heard countless times and can help you find a solution for it. We work hard to establish great relationships with every single one of our patients and that starts here. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

So you think you have a UTI? Here's what to do about it

So you think you have a UTI? Here’s what to do about it

It all starts the same way. You go to pee one day and it burrrrnnnss. If you’re a woman, it’s likely that you have a UTI that’s causing this painful sensation. You might be surprised just how common UTIs are for women: about 50-60% of adult women have had a UTI and 1 in 2 women will get at least one in their lifetime. They’re painful, they’re uncomfortable, and you might feel a little weird asking questions about them, which is exactly why we’re bringing this article to you today. Here’s exactly how to handle UTIs, no matter if this is your first or fifth one and how to prevent them in the future. 

What is a UTI?

Let’s start with the basics: UTI stands for Urinary Tract Infection which is the general term for an infection occurring anywhere within your urinary system. Most often they infect the bladder and urethra – the tube that drains the bladder – but they can also happen in the ureters – the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder – and the kidneys themselves. 

What causes UTIs?

You know how you’ve been told from a young age to wipe front to back? Well, UTIs are the primary reason why doing this is so important. The urethra is located close to the anus where bacteria from the large intestine (E. coli, for example) can travel from the anus to the urethra if you’re not careful. They can travel up to the bladder and if it’s not treated there, they can reach and infect the kidneys. Women’s anatomical composition makes them more prone to getting UTIs because they have shorter urethras so the bacteria can more readily access the bladder. 

Having sex is another way in which bacteria can get to the urinary tract. During sex, bacteria tends to travel from the skin toward and into the urethra.

Symptoms of UTIs

The symptoms you’ll most commonly see with a urinary tract infection include:

  • Pain or burning while peeing
  • Frequent or intense need to urinate although little comes out when you do
  • Foul-smelling, cloudy, or bloody urine
  • Pain or pressure in your lower abdomen, just above where your bladder is located
  • Feeling of fatigue or shakiness
  • Fever or chills – this could be a sign that it has reached your kidney

How to treat UTIs

If you think you have a UTI, the first thing you should do is schedule an appointment with your OBGYN or primary care physician. Many women will try to self-treat it, or worse, just hope it goes away on its own. And while some minor UTIs do go away on their own, it’s best to see a doctor and have them diagnose and treat it as the infection can spread to other parts of your body and be dangerous. 

Your doctor will take a urine sample (so make sure to drink plenty of water before your appointment) which will allow them to diagnose it right then and there, meaning you’ll leave the office with an answer and a solution! We’ll choose an antibiotic based on the type of bacteria you have, taking into account other factors like pregnancy, allergies, other medications, and medical history. Now all you have to do is take the full cycle of treatment to make sure the infection is completely gone. 

Does cranberry juice cure UTIs?

Cranberry juice and cranberry extract have been commonly used to treat and prevent UTIs and while cranberry certainly can’t hurt and can help, it’s not a one and done solution for UTIs. There isn’t a common consensus on whether or not cranberry actually reduces the number of UTIs a woman gets as studies have shown both that and the opposite. Don’t expect that cranberry will cure a UTI without antibiotics. But if the pain is unbearable before you can get to the doctor, it can provide some relief. 

The pain has become unbearable. What can you do?

If you either have started taking the antibiotic and it hasn’t kicked in yet or you haven’t gotten to the doctor yet, the pain may still be causing you a lot of discomfort. There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that you can take to relieve the symptoms while you’re waiting for your antibiotic to work its magic. Simply consult with your doctor on which option they recommend and pick it up at your nearest drugstore. 

How to prevent UTIs

  • Empty your bladder frequently as soon as you feel the urge to go and empty it completely.
  • Wipe from front to back.
  • Don’t use scented feminine care products – they just cause irritation.
  • Always pee before and after sex.
  • Wear cotton underwear only and loose-fitting clothing as much as possible. Avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear as they can trap moisture and create an environment that breeds bacteria. 
  • Never stay in a wet swimsuit for too long.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. 
  • Take probiotics and increase your vitamin C intake to boost your immune system.
  • Opt for showers over baths.
  • If you use a diaphragm, unlubricated condoms, or spermicide as a birth control method, you may want to consult your doctor about switching to another option as these have all been known to contribute to UTIs.
What to Expect At A Gynecologist Visit

What to Expect At A Gynecologist Appointment

Let’s start today’s topic off with a firm understanding of what role different doctors play in a woman’s life. A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. Obstetricians care for women during their pregnancy and just after the baby is born; they also deliver babies. An OBGYN, on the other hand, is trained to do all of these things. 

Now, because they deal with such personal and sensitive topics, the thought of visiting an OBGYN may make you feel nervous, embarrassed, and reluctant to discuss your most intimate issues with someone who is essentially a stranger. We get it, it may feel a little uncomfortable. So that’s why we’re here to take the dread out of your annual appointments with some tips on feeling more comfortable with your OBGYN and an idea of what you can expect at your checkups. 

When Should You First Visit the Gyno?

College should not be your first rodeo with a gynecologist. We highly recommend that between the ages of 13 and 15 you touch base with a gynecologist, find out what we do, and tell us a little about your medical history if you feel so inclined. It doesn’t have to be a super long or in-depth visit, but we find that in establishing a relationship with your gyno from a young age, you’re setting yourself up for a much better and more comfortable relationship later. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable disclosing to your gyno, find another provider. You have a choice in the matter because it’s your care. 

Preparing for Your Visit

Avoid having sex or douching within 24 hours of your pending appointment as this can irritate your vagina and impact the results of your Pap test. 

Before you even enter the office, you should be clear on the purpose of the visit. Not all visits require an exam. There are numerous other situations in which an exam is not necessary; for example, the first time you meet your gynecologist which mimics more of a meet and greet than a typical doctor’s office visit. Or maybe you just want to discuss your contraceptive options, family planning, your irregular periods, etc. But one thing is for sure: there shouldn’t be any surprises on either your or your provider’s end going into your appointment. 

What Happens at a Gynecologist Visit

When you get to your appointment, it is your gyno’s job to make sure everyone is on the same page and review how exactly how this exam will go. If an exam is taking place, have them go over the specifics that entails: will there be a breast or pelvic exam? How do these things work? It’s important to remember that nothing should be happening to you during your appointment without your consent or feeling “comfortable” about it. 

Your medical history should and will be discussed thoroughly including (but not limited to) your surgical history, current medications, family history, inquiries into your smoking, drinking, and drug habits, and reviewing medical issues you may have. Even though we’re a gynecologist, we aren’t here just to talk about your sexual history; getting to know you a little more personally in terms of your medical history helps us provide the best care to you that we possibly can. 

Generally, your appointment will start with a health check. The nurse will take your weight and blood pressure; you may also have to provide blood and urine samples. Then you’ll move into the physical exam in which you’ll be asked to undress and change into a gown that opens in the front and a sheet to cover your lap. 

Your OBGYN will ask you questions typically about your personal and family health history, periods and any problems they may cause, if you’re sexually active and how often, birth control options, vaccine history, and any sexually transmitted diseases you’ve had or think you might have. Questions might get personal but it’s important that you provide your doctor with completely honest answers for her/him to provide the best care possible. You should also use this time to ask questions that you might have about any of the above topics or more. You may feel embarrassed asking them but trust us when we say, we’ve heard it all before. 

As a part of your physical exam, the doctor will examine the outside of your vagina for abnormalities and then examine your reproductive organs from the inside. During this exam, your knees will be bent, your feet up in stirrups and the gynecologist will use a speculum to hold the vagina open while she exams it and your cervix. This shouldn’t feel painful, more like pressure. Your gyno will then take a sample of cells from your cervix using a small brush for a Pap test; the cells will then be sent to a lab and checked for abnormalities that could signify cervical cancer or HPV.

If you are sexually active, your doctor will likely test you for sexually transmitted diseases with a cotton swab during your pelvic exam and/or checking your blood test. Your OBGYN might also do a breast exam to check for any lumps or abnormalities.

After your exam, a nurse will follow up with any test results over the phone or by email. 

Your Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care physician and office staff will do everything within our power to make sure you understand the different elements of your exam and feel as comfortable as possible.

Irregular periods

What’s Causing My Irregular Periods?

Abnormal menstrual cycles are a difficult issue to pinpoint as hormones are a tricky subject and can impact a number of different factors and bodily systems. In order to understand how you can regulate menstruation and balance hormones naturally, it’s important to know the potential causes and lifestyle habits that can negatively affect your hormonal levels. 

Having a regular, moderately pain-free period each month is a good indication that your hormones are in balance and the reproductive system is working properly. But the opposite is also true: irregular and missed periods, or very painful, intense PMS symptoms could be a sign that your hormone levels are out of whack — either lacking or too high. 

The 8 Most Common Causes of Irregular or Missed Periods

Besides being pregnant and going through menopause, which both naturally stop a woman from getting her period, here are the other major causes of missed or irregular periods:

Cause #1: High Stress Levels

When you’re under a lot of stress for an extended period of time, your body makes an effort to conserve energy as a sort of fight or flight response. As a result, it will prevent ovulation because this is a process that your body sees as secondary when compared to survival. Several factors could contribute to this — experiencing a traumatic event, restricting your eating, and exercising an excessive amount could cause irregularity (repeated fight or flight). The body gives priority to producing stress hormones that will help you survive in a crisis, so sex hormone production takes a backseat. 

When estrogen level falls below normal, you aren’t able to build up the uterine lining (that you are shedding during your period) so as a result, you don’t get your period. 

Cause #2: A Poor Diet

A diet that’s low in nutrients, antioxidants, and probiotic foods yet high in stimulants takes a toll on the adrenal glands and thyroid. For example, eating a diet that’s high in sugar, hydrogenated fats, and artificial additives is linked with thyroid issues and adrenal fatigue that can raise cortisol. Excess cortisol hinders the function of many other essential hormones, including sex hormones. It also can lead to the breakdown of bones, skin, muscles, and brain tissue if you continue to maintain high levels over a long period of time. If you’re not experiencing regular menstruation, make sure you’re eating enough food and that’s the right kind: foods that are high in antioxidants, nutrient-dense, and with plenty of protein.

Cause #3: Extreme Weight Loss and Low BMI

When your body mass index (BMI) falls below 18 or 19, you may miss your period because of the lack of body fat, which is essential in the creation of estrogen. A diet that’s low in calories and fat can result in nutritional deficiencies that contribute to irregular periods and bone loss. This is not to say that every woman that experiences missed or irregular periods will be underweight or nutritionally deficient. Many are at a normal weight and some are even what is considered “overweight” on the BMI scale. (this might not need to be stated since the article is all about varied reasons periods are irregular)

Cause #4: Over-Exercising

Moderate exercise is essential to heart health, mood regulation, a good sleep schedule, and maintaining a healthy body weight, however, too much exercise can put excess pressure on your adrenal, thyroid, and pituitary glands. Women who start vigorously exercising (for example, you’ve started training for a marathon) can stop getting their period suddenly. The stress hormone, cortisol, will be released in response to a real or perceived stress, physical (like exercise) or emotional. With the societal pressures today for women to stay thin and in shape, some will feel they need to exercise more than a healthy amount. This kind of exertion can increase stress and deplete the body of energy that it needs to regulate and release sex hormones.

Cause #5: Thyroid Disasters

Although this may be an indiscernible problem, your thyroid can cause many issues related to hormonal imbalances. Studies have shown that thyroid disorders may actually be one of the leading causes of missed periods, affecting nearly 15% of amenorrhea patients. The thyroid gland largely controls your metabolism and impacts many sex hormones, therefore, thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can cause widespread symptoms like changes in estrogen and therefore missed periods. (shorten sentence, repetitive)

Cause #6: Change in Birth Control Methods

Some women will stop getting their period, somewhat intentionally, while on birth control and will notice that even when they stop the pill, their period doesn’t return. While we advise that a woman’s period should adjust within a few months of stopping the pill, many women will experience missed or irregular periods for years afterward. 

A woman’s menstrual cycle is composed of rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone, but when taking birth control pills, estrogen levels are sufficiently high to fool the body into thinking it’s pregnant, resulting in irregular periods. When you switch from one birth control method to another or quit birth control altogether, it can take the body many months or even years to return to homeostasis.

 Cause #7: Ongoing Hormonal Imbalances and Disorders

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance in women that negatively impacts ovulation. A woman with PCOS experiences altered levels of sex hormones that can result in abnormal bodily functions including blood sugar problems, abnormal facial body hair growth, weight gain, acne, and irregular menstrual cycles. It can also lead to premature menopause, occurring prior to the age of 40, which can cause missed periods, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. 

Cause #8: Food Allergies and Sensitivities

An undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease – meaning you are not taking medication or monitoring it – can both impact your hormone levels. These conditions can result in nutrient deficiencies, negatively affect gut health, and add chronic stress to your adrenal glands, which have the ability to affect sex hormone production.

While some of these causes are relatively unavoidable, it’s crucial that you are paying honest attention to how each element of your lifestyle affects your health; that way you can make choices to eliminate or tweak aspects that may be causing irregular periods. If you’ve been dealing with missed periods for a while, speak to your doctor about running some important tests that can find hormone imbalances and other issues. Many experts will recommend a three-tier treatment strategy that looks something like this: 1) Make appropriate diet, lifestyle, and stress-reduction changes; 2) Use natural remedies when you need extra support; and 3) Only if you find that those aren’t working, discuss hormonal pills or procedures with your healthcare provider. 

Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care consists of over 30 OB/GYN facilities and 6 Imaging Centers throughout the Hampton Roads community
Corporate Office
757-455-8833

Corporate Office
6353 Center Drive, Suite 100
Norfolk, Virginia 23502

© 2021 Mid-Atlantic Women's Care