Tag: well-women care

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. 

Pap Smears

Everything You Need to Know About Pap Smears

What is a Pap Smear?

A Pap smear, formally known as the Papanicolaou test, is a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and examined using a microscope. The test is used to detect cell abnormalities that could potentially be a sign of cervical cancer or other conditions, such as infection, HPV, and inflammation. A Pap smear is the best means to discover precancerous conditions and concealed tumors that may lead to cervical cancer. 

So, what exactly happens during a Pap smear? Well, we’re glad you asked. When performing a Pap smear, your gynecologist will insert a speculum into the vagina in order to widen the opening and exam both the cervix and the vagina. The doctor then takes a sample of the cervical cells using either a small spatula or brush. These samples are then placed into a solution, transferred into a small glass slide, and sent to a laboratory for cytological examination. 

Why Should I Get a Pap Smear?

The primary benefit of a Pap smear test is that it screens for cervical cancer and has saved the lives of many women since it’s discovery in the mid-1900s. Cervical cancer occurs when cervical cells become abnormal and expand uncontrollably over time. The cancer cells invade deep into the cervical tissue and, in advanced cases, the cancer cells spread to other organs in the body.

What to Do If Your Pap Smear Is Abnormal

Pap test results can take as long as three weeks. If your test results come back normal, you can wait up to three years before your next Pap smear. 

If a test indicates that something is abnormal, it does not mean that you have cancer, but an abnormal test does mean that the cells of the cervix do not look normal. Because Pap smears are a screening test and not a diagnostic test, it cannot tell for certain that cancer is present. An abnormal test could indicate that there is inflammation or minor cell changes called dysplasia – these cells look abnormal but are not cancerous. 

Whatever the case may be, your doctor will contact you in order to schedule a follow-up. In many cases, immediate treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing, so early detection and following up is critical. 

Most issues that end up being non-cancerous but are still detected in a Pap smear tend to clear up or go back to normal on their own. In order to verify that this is the case, your doctor will probably recommend having a follow-up test within the next few months.

How to Prepare For Your Pap Smear

When Should You Start Getting Screened?

Women should have a Pap smear every two years starting at the age of 21. After age 30, you may choose to receive the HPV test, performed at the same time as your Pap smear. You may also choose to decrease the frequency to every three years if you’re low-risk and have always had normal results up to this age. 

Despite what many women believe, you are never too old for a Pap test. Most women over 65 do not need Pap smears, but it may be necessary if you have had treatment for precancerous or cancerous cells in the past 20 years. However, women that have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years and haven’t had precancerous cells found in the last 20 years should stop cervical cancer screenings. 

Before Getting a Pap Smear

There are certain things that you must avoid doing prior to getting a Pap smear:

  • Having sex
  • Using a tampon
  • Douching
  • Using medicine or cream in your vagina
  • Using spermicidal treatments

You’ll also want to avoid scheduling your Pap smear during your period because although the test can be done during a menstrual cycle, it is best to avoid that if possible. Cervical screening results are not always active and can sometimes show abnormal cells where they are not present. These are all things that can potentially cause a false-negative result due to the presence of inflamed cells. 

Don’t Skip Your Pap Smear

The momentary discomfort of a Pap smear is well worth the lifesaving results that can come from them. Pap smears are one of the most reliable cancer screenings currently available. 

It is important that you are taking your health needs into account that are specific to being a woman and not simply ignoring them. At Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, we want to make sure you are healthy through all the seasons of your life. During your well-woman exam, your provider can screen for health problems and answer any of your questions and concerns.

Gynecologist

Finding Dr. Right: What to Look for in a Gynecologist & Steps to Finding the Perfect One

When it comes to finding the perfect gynecologist, it takes a little more than a recommendation from a friend. Whether you’ve recently moved, are seeing a gynecologist for the first time, or want someone different from your current provider, this is an important decision for your health.

It can be a daunting task to find a healthcare provider of any kind, especially one that you will form such an intimate relationship with and there are several things you’ll want to look for in a gynecologist.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Needs

There are a variety of gynecologic services out there and different gynecologists specialize in different areas under the broad topic of women’s care.

If you’re looking for someone to conduct your annual well-woman exam – which may include breast exams, pelvic exams, evaluation, counseling, Pap Smears, and a host of other services – then a general gynecologist or women’s health specialist would be a good choice for you. 

If you want to get pregnant, we recommend looking for an obstetrician-gynecologist, a doctor that specializes in family planning, pregnancy, and baby delivery. 

If you have specific concerns or conditions you want to address, they will likely fall under one of gynecology’s many subspecialties, which range from gynecologic cancer to infertility to urogynecology and much more. When you bring up these specific concerns with your gynecologist, he or she may send you to a specialist for advanced treatment. 

One of the best things about Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care is that whatever type of care you are seeking, we have high-quality physicians that specialize in it and probably under the same roof. 

Step 2: Make a List & Do Your Research.

To find the perfect gynecologist, you first have to define what “perfect” looks like to you. Every woman has a different interpretation of what is important to her healthcare experience. So before beginning your search, define “perfect” by making a list of traits that are important to you in a gynecologist.

Here are a few factors you should look for in a gynecologist.

  • They come highly recommended. 

One of the best ways to find the perfect gynecologist is to ask women you trust – family, friends, your primary care provider. If they can vouch for the doctor’s experience, bedside manner, and skills, they might be a good fit for you as well.  

  • They accept your insurance. 

Cost is an important consideration when choosing medical services of any kind. If the gynecologist is not within the network that your insurance offers coverage for, you’ll end up paying out-of-pocket for your care, which can quickly add up. 

Give your insurer a call at the start of your search to see which gynecologists in your area are included in your insurance plan. 

  • They receive good reviews.

Once you have the names of a few gynecologists, look up their reviews on medical-rating websites like Healthgrades, Vitals, and Zocdoc. These websites are great because they allow current patients to rate doctors based on qualifications like office environment, staff friendliness, doctor-patient relationships, ease of scheduling appointments, and trustworthiness.

You can also see patient comments and overall ratings. If you see one or two negative reviews among a host of positive reviews, those are not a huge concern. But dozens of negative reviews should be a red flag.

  • They’re experienced and educated.

While you are already searching online, check out the gynecologist’s credentials. The same website from above should offer the doctors bio as well as on the practice’s website.

From these sources, you should be able to find out where the doctor went to medical school and completed their residency, if their board certified by the American Board of obstetrics and gynecology, how many years they’ve practiced, and what their specialties are. 

Just because the doctor has a medical degree doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the perfect gynecologist for you. If you are dealing with a particular condition, find out what experience this doctor has in treating it.

  • You feel comfortable with them.

Remember, this is someone that you are going to cultivate a very intimate relationship with. You need to be completely comfortable with the person that is performing your gynecologic exam and who will be asking you very personal questions about your reproductive health.

There are several things that go into this evaluation but one of the most prevalent is gender. Some women prefer to be seen by a doctor of the same gender, while others have no preference at all. You should factor that into your search.

  • They have similar values to you.

When it comes to topics such as birth control, contraceptives, family planning, and reproductive health, finding a provider who shares your views and values increases the likelihood that you will be a satisfied patient.

This can be hard to judge prior to your appointment. Let’s say you go to a gynecologist seeking contraception and, upon discussing this during your appointment, you discover that your doctor does not believe in birth control. They are, therefore, not able to meet your needs and it’s time to re-evaluate and find a new gynecologist that can.

Step 3: Call the Practice

This is a simple step but we highly recommend calling ahead to a prospective practice to gauge their quality of service based on how they treat you over the phone. 

There’s a lot you can learn about any business from how they treat potential customers over the phone. If they seem unable to answer your questions or unorganized with patient and doctor information, that doesn’t speak to their competency as a practice. If you feel like you’re being treated like just another patient, that will only be more pronounced during an appointment. 

Trust your gut in this scenario and make the best choice for you, even if it means you have to start your search all over again.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Experience Post-Appointment

Bedside manner is important to assess with any doctor but it’s especially important that the doctor who you are trusting your reproductive health with is respectful, competent, and compassionate. Try discussing the topics of sex, contraception, pregnancy, or your overall well-being with someone who seems like s(he) couldn’t care less or worse, is judging every word you say. Oof, no thank you. If they make no effort to ease your discomfort – or heighten it for that matter – they are not the right doctor for you. 

A good doctor won’t make you feel like you’re just another patient taking up time in their busy schedule. They will listen but also engage in dialogue. You should expect that your doctor listens well, hears your questions and concerns, and responds respectfully, explaining his/her course of actions or advice in a way you can understand. 

If you can get anything from this guide, it should be this: Don’t settle. There are physicians out there who want to help and spend time with you.

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