What does women’s health mean 365 days a year?

By Candice

For 17 years, the US Department of Women’s Health has recognized Women’s health week in early May. The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority. But when we refer to health, many don’t realize that the term goes beyond occasional visits to the doctor’s office or a trip to the park once a month.  It means taking care of your mental and physical state all the time throughout all stages of your life.

Part of your physical care falls under seeking medical care when needed. Statistics show 26%, or 1 in 4 women delayed or did not seek health care due to costs1. By delaying care, annual screenings, STD testing, prenatal treatment and other medical services go untreated or diagnosed, leading to lower qualities of life. More affordable health plans through employers, federal and private insurance companies as well as accessible education on plans can hopefully reduce the amount of women not getting the care they deserve and need.

wordcloud

Another part of taking care of your health is developing and strengthening positive behaviors. Smoking, texting while driving, healthy diets, and not getting enough physical activity/exercise are concerns that many women struggle with. Body types, mobility, chronic disease (think obesity, arthritis, diabetes) all factor into what women are able to complete in regards to exercise, but lower rates of smoking, healthier diets (and access to healthy food options) and not texting while driving are all steps women can take on at any time of their life. Mental health is a huge deal as well. It is estimated that 1 in 5 women deals with mental health problems such as PTSD, eating disorders or depression2. Seeking diagnosis/treatment and taking time to do things you love (with people or pets you also love) helps to recharge your batteries.

Check out US Women’s Health to get tips, resources and more info on self-care, self-love and self-efficacy. Taking care of your health goes beyond a week or a month—it’s a lifetime commitment.

1Women and Health Care in the Early Years of the ACA: Key Findings from the 2013 Kaiser Women’s Health Survey
2SAMHSA, Past Year Mental Disorders among Adults in the United States: Results from the 2008-2012 Mental Health Surveillance Study

SCG–Uh Oh Get the Penicillin!

By Candice

Pop Quiz! Of the almost 20 million new cases of STDs each year1, what percentage is from people under 25?

  1. a) 80%                  b) 50%                       c) 33%

If you guessed C (50%), you are correct! When you compare folks 15-24 years old with the rest of the country, they have the highest risk for getting STDs AND not being treated. When you do the math that’s almost 10 million cases each year, with many who don’t even know it! Today’s focus is on some of the most common, yet treatable STDs: Syphilis, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea (shortened to SCG for this post). Let’s talk about why people don’t get tested, what happens during testing and treatment, and how to prevent yourself from getting these STDs.

Gonorrhea in USA, 2014                                Chlamydia in USA, 2014

chlam 2014gon 2014

From the CDC 2014 National Data for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis

Barriers to Treatment: Time is Money

Think about your average workday. You wake up, make your breakfast, commute to work, spend 8-9 hours on the clock, commute home, eat, and sleep. Rinse and repeat. For many, our daily work schedules make it hard to set up appointments for dentists, therapists, and – most important to our conversation—healthcare providers. Flexible hours, openings on weekend, and transport access are all important factors that determine if people will make it in to their health center or not.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurance companies are reducing the out-of-pocket costs for many patients. Screenings for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all available and may be fully covered, based on your insurance plan. If you don’t have an insurance plan that covers STD screenings, many public health agencies offer low or no-cost screenings.

Testing and Treatment: What Actually Happens?

Chlamydia and Gonorrhea: A doctor or nurse can test for these with a urine sample. Sometimes they might take a sample from the vagina or penis. If your test comes back positive, a doctor will give you antibiotics and information for treatment and give advice on talking with your current or recent sex partners.

Syphilis: Some folks might have rapid responses to a syphilis infection, but not everyone. The longer syphilis goes undiagnosed, the more damage it can have on your body, especially if you’re pregnant. A doctor or nurse can test for this with a blood, body fluid, or tissue sample test. Once a case is confirmed, treatment (penicillin) begins, but it doesn’t undo damage already done, so it’s important to get treated as early as possible.

It can be scary to think about getting tested  but the process  is pretty simple once you break it down and luckily, if you test positive for SCG, they can all be cured with antibiotics. Women under 25 should get tested once a year and women over the age of 25 should get tested with each new sex partner or if you have more than one partner. Men (gay, bisexual, and heterosexual) should also get tested for SCG annually, especially if they have unprotected sex, multiple new partners, or both.

Prevention

The best way to avoid a sexually transmitted infection is through prevention! Using condoms and dental dams during vaginal, anal, or oral sex reduces the risk of getting STDs or passing them to your partner(s). Having frank discussions with your partners, friends, and other loved ones increases the likelihood that people will take care of their own health. And as always, your local Planned Parenthood health center and education teams are here to answer your questions and concerns!

Sources

1 CDC, National Surveillance Report, 2014

Breaking Down BV: Bacterial Vaginosis

By Candice

Today, we have a special topic on Bacterial Vaginosis, also known as BV. Before we get into BV, we need to learn more about the umbrella it falls under, known as Vaginitis. Vaginitis or ‘inflammation of the vulva or vagina’ encompasses the variety of irritations that can happen to the vagina outside of STDs. Causes of vaginitis include:

  • yeast infection
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • trichomoniasis
  • allergies and irritants
  • lack of the hormone estrogen

And sometimes multiple factors are at play. When it comes to BV specifically, this is caused by an imbalance of the different bacteria that naturally inhabit the vagina. Causes of the imbalance can come from douching, engaging in vaginal sex with a new sex partner, or with having multiple partners. BV is the most common infection for those between the ages of 15-441, but the good news is it’s also one of the most treatable. While some folks might not display symptoms, doctors recommend looking out for greyish discharge, unusual odor (especially after sex), itching or pain while urinating. It’s especially important to make note of these signs if you’re pregnant as BV can affect premature delivery as well as birth weight2. Ignoring symptoms can also increase the risk for pelvic inflammatory disease and miscarriage. Knowing what your normal vaginal fluids are like also helps when it comes to detection of infections.

(Click to enlarge)

Talking with your doctor if you display symptoms leads to swifter treatment. Your medical provider will prescribe antibiotics or direct you to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, which should be completed, even when symptoms may lessen or disappear. Additionally, treatment will reduce your risk for contracting other STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea – which is more likely when you have BV. Open communication with your partner about using barrier methods, like internal or external condoms also reduces the risk for BV. As always, if you are concerned, contact your local Planned Parenthood to get back on your way to a healthy, happy vagina!

1 CDC, Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet, 2016
2 Ibid