Category: Women’s Health

Lady Gaga Reveals Battle with Fibromyalgia

This past week, music sensation Lady Gaga revealed on her Twitter account that she has been battling fibromyalgia, and was recently taken to the hospital for severe pain, leading her to cancel one of her performances. While it may not have been easy to do, Lady Gaga’s decision to open up about her condition sheds an important light on the debilitating condition that is fibromyalgia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fibromyalgia affects about 4 million US adults. It is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain and can include symptoms of fatigue, depression, and headaches that can negatively affect quality of life. While it is unclear what causes fibromyalgia,  some possible risk factors include age, stressful or traumatic experiences, family history, and sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men.

Treatment for fibromyalgia often involves a team of different health professionals, and can be effectively managed with a combination of medication, exercise, and stress management techniques.

Check out the following resources for more information about fibromyalgia and how you can get involved in raising awareness of this condition:

The National Fibromyalgia Association

The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc.

Fibromyalgia | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia | National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases  

Note: Lady Gaga has been working on a documentary entitled “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two,” in which she discusses her battle with fibromyalgia. This film will be available on Netflix on September 22.  

References:

Fibromyalgia. (2017, September 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm

Park, Andrea. (2017, September 13). Lady Gaga opens up about having fibromyalgia. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lady-gaga-opens-up-on-fibromyalgia-on-twitter/

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia. (2014, July). Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Fibromyalgia/default.asp#c

PrEP for HIV Prevention? Here’s what you need to know

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, has changed the way in which we talk about HIV Prevention. After being approved for preventive use by the FDA in 2012, there has been a sharp increase in PrEP prescriptions in the U.S. over the past several years. Currently, the only prescription available for PrEP is Truvada, which also serves as a treatment drug for those who are HIV positive.

Truvada is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or an NRTI. When exposed to HIV, a NRTI works by masking itself as a building block of the virus’s genetic structure. While our own cells are able to recognize and correct for this coding mistake, HIV cannot, and as a result is unable to replicate and mount a widespread infection.

A quick distinction: Truvada as a drug is a form of PrEP, PrEP is a general class of preventive measures. Birth control can be thought of as a form of PrEP, preventing a pregnancy before it occurs. Even sunscreen is a form for PrEP. You apply lotion to prevent sunburn before it occurs.

But PrEP only works if you take it. According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of uptake of PrEP in the United States has been among middle-aged, white, gay men. But the HIV epidemic has shifted, with the CDC noting continuous inequalities in the southern states and among young African Americans.

More concentrated efforts need to happen to ensure that those who can benefit from PrEP are able to access and receive it. Gilead, the company that produces Truvada, has a copay card available, where they pay up to $3600 a year in copays for those living under 500% of the national poverty level. For more information on PrEP, UNC campus health also serves as a great resource on campus, and students can get more information by making a free appointment with Student Wellness by emailing LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu or by calling (919) 962-WELL(9355).

For additional Resources on what to know about PrEP, and how to have a conversation with your provider, please see the resources below for information from the CDC. For those looking for a PrEP friendly provider, here is a list of providers in the State of North Carolina who actively prescribe PrEP.

Sources –

Gilead Copay Card: https://www.gileadadvancingaccess.com/copay-coupon-card

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Information: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html

List of PrEP Providers: https://www.med.unc.edu/ncaidstraining/files/PrEPProvidersforDownload.pdf/view

What’s the Deal with Male Birth Control?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

I have been on many different types of birth control in the past 10+ years, all with varying levels of success and each with a new set of side effects including migraines. It has never been a question of if I should try a new method since no there is no effective reversible male birth control available.

Recently, it has made headlines that a male birth control shot has been found to effectively prevent pregnancy in a newly published study. Unfortunately, participants in the study reported adverse side effects including mood changes, depression, and increased and 20 participants dropped out of the study leading researchers to stop the study earlier than planned.

These reports come very soon after another recently published study that was in the news, which cited that hormonal birth control can cause depression in women.

While this particular study was cut short, it is my hope that research continues to search for a safe and effective method of male birth control. Over 80% of the male participants in the study responded that they would use this method of contraception outside of the study, which is hopeful for the future, and a sign that this method is very much wanted and needed. Both women and men deserve to have reproductive freedom without having to jeopardize their health or mental health.

But for now, until male birth control that is safe and effective is developed and approved, women must bear an unequal burden to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Read more about this interesting topic here.

Could Your Birth Control be Making You Depressed?

depressed

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Could your birth control be making you depressed? A new study was released a few weeks ago claiming just that.

A nationwide study in Denmark was conducted to analyze the potential link between depression and hormonal birth control. What was found was that users hormonal birth control were more likely than non-users to be prescribed anti-depressants, though the risk is very small. The main conclusion of the study found that use of hormonal contraception, was associated with the subsequent use of anti-depressants and a first diagnosis of depression, and the authors of the study concluded that depression might be a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use. Currently, mood swings, and not clinical depression are listed as a potential adverse effect of hormonal birth control.

When this study was first published, I woke up to see news articles about it posted all over my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed. Many of the people posting about this study felt vindicated after not feeling believed about how their birth control was making them feel. I also felt like my past bad experiences with hormonal birth control could potentially be explained by this study. For years, doctors had told me that there was no way that my birth control could be making me depressed, but my doctor’s explanation did not seem consistent with how my friends felt on their birth control or how much better I have felt after discontinuing certain methods in the past.

What I also saw online was great dissent and controversy about the study and the reporting about the study online from various news organizations and outlets.

While I did not agree with some of the comments I read online, I do agree that further research needs to be done on this topic, but I am excited that steps are being taken to further understand women’s health, especially in this context, and hope that this study sparks more research and discussion on this topic.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

What is Domestic Violence? Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. Domestic violence affects individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, or other demographic factors. However, domestic violence is most commonly experienced by  women between the ages of 18-24.

Domestic violence is preventable. Part of domestic violence prevention includes talking about this issue and reducing the stigma associated with it as a community. While all of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the National Network to End Domestic Violence is hosting a week of action from October 16-October 22.

Here are some ways that you can get involved during the week of action and throughout all of October. You can also search for events that may be happening in your community with local organizations.

  • Wear purple for #PurpleThursday on Thursday October 20
  • Speak Out: Talk with a friend, family member, or colleague about domestic violence to help eliminate stigma and show survivors that they are supported.
  • Follow the National Network to End Domestic Violence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and change

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

The Morning After Pill (and more): options for emergency contraception

Plan_b_one_step

Did the condom break? Did you forget to take your pill a few times this month and have unprotected sex? Were you somehow coerced into having unprotected sex? Did you know that you can stop a pregnancy before it starts using emergency contraception? Here’s a quick guide to the available methods listed in order of effectiveness.

Copper IUD (ParaGard IUD)

  • The most effective form of emergency contraception
  • Can be inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex
  • Will lower chance of pregnancy by 99.9%
  • You can keep using this to prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years after insertion

ella

  • Newest form of emergency contraception in the United States
  • Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive
  • Requires a prescription from a doctor or nurse
  • Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and does not decrease in effectiveness over those 5 days
  • After using, use back-back up birth control (such as condoms) for 14 days
  • May not work as well if you need emergency contraception because you made a mistake with your birth control pills

Plan B or Next Choice

  • Available over the counter or online without a prescription
  • Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day
  • Do not use if you have already used ella since your last period

Remember that you cannot use two different kinds of emergency contraceptives at the same time and that you should not take more than one dose of emergency contraception. Also remember that this is emergency contraception, and these methods should not be used as your normal contraceptive method (unless of course you choose to leave the copper IUD in). Also, emergency contraception is intended to prevent a pregnancy before it starts and is not intended to terminate an already existing pregnancy.

Visit the Planned Parenthood website for more information.

Do I have a UTI? How do I get rid of it?

Week 11 Blog

The first time I ever heard of a urinary tract infection (UTI), it was my freshman year of college and my suite mate was doubled over in pain crying. The group girls from our hallway who assembled to help out in her time of need were convinced that we needed to call an ambulance. This was during the dark ages before smartphones and Wi-Fi in our dorm, so after tracking down the graduate student that lived in our hallway, she told us that it was probably a UTI and that our suite mate should go to the doctor or urgent care as soon as possible.

A few years later, when I was experiencing the same symptoms for the first time and was also doubled over in pain, it was only because of that experience that I had any idea of what was happening to me. I knew to get to a doctor immediately even though many of the websites I was frantically searching told me that my UTI could be cured by drinking lots of pure cranberry juice and resting.

My health classes in middle and high school didn’t talk about UTIs at all, and I have heard that same story from others as well. Here are some tips for detecting, treating, and preventing UTIs.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

  • It burns when you pee
  • You feel like you need to urinate constantly, but when you go not much comes out
  • When you do pee it is cloudy, strangely colored, and/or smells bad
  • You feel sleepy and achy

How do I treat a UTI?

  • If you think you may have a UTI, make an appointment with a health care provider right away. They will have you pee in a cup and if you test positive for a UTI, you will soon be on your way home with antibiotics to rest and get better very quickly.
  • Your friend or the internet may tell you that you can cure a UTI at home, but most things like drinking cranberry juice or taking over the counter medicine are either preventative or meant to minimize your symptoms until you are able to see a healthcare provider.

How can I prevent getting a UTI?

  • Pee after sex!
  • Never hold it
  • Always wipe from back to front
  • Keep it clean down there with water in the shower or bath (no soap!)
  • Drink real cranberry juice (with no added sugar) to prevent future UTIs. There are also cranberry pills available at any pharmacy.
  • See a healthcare provider if you are getting frequent UTIs

How to sleep better on your period

 

Sleep_woman

Now that Spring Break is over and the end of the semester is approaching faster than any of us would like, I know that I need to get as much sleep as possible to keep my mind fresh and make it through each overscheduled day. I’ve noticed lately that the week before my period starts that I lie awake and review my growing to-do list over and over again and get a really restless night of sleep. Thirty percent of women reported that their sleep was disturbed during their period and 23% reported that their sleep was disturbed in the week before their period started.

Why do our periods give us insomnia when we would give anything to fall asleep quickly and get some good rest?

  • Your body temperature rises over the course of your menstrual cycle and can make it hard to sleep. An evening drop in temperature is what helps our bodies feel sleepy.
  • Mood swings can make you feel anxious or depressed.
  • Stomach issues, cramps, or headaches can make it hard to sleep.
  • Your cycle does cause insomnia. The drop in progesterone levels is likely a cause as progesterone has a mild sedative effect.

How to fix this

  • Make sure your bedroom is cooled to an optimal temperature.
  • Try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to relax and de-stress before bedtime.
  • Eat a snack that is kind to your stomach before bed.
  • Take an ibuprofen or other pain reliever right before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine for several hours before bed.
  • Keep a period log that includes your sleep patterns in order to be prepared for your next cycle or to show your doctor at your next appointment.
  • Use a hormonal form of birth control to reduce the fluctuation in estrogen and progesterone. In addition to all of the other benefits of hormonal birth control, it can also help you sleep!

Breaking Rural Health Barriers

For those of us that are fortunate to live near hospitals and primary care clinics, that question of rural vs. urban care is unlikely to even cross our minds. But for those living in remote locations, lack of access is a common issue. Unfortunately, what many of us take for granted is another person’s struggle, especially if they are plagued with chronic conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. And in many cases, most folks in this situation often go without treatment.

The National Rural Health Association reports that while a quarter of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, only one-tenth of our nation’s physicians choose to practice in these areas. And while only a third of automobile crashes occur in rural locations, two-thirds of deaths attributed to those accidents occur on rural roads, indicating a shortage in acute trauma care.

These figures certainly give rise to the need for increased access to care within rural communities. Another factor that contributes to this issue is that Medicare reimburses rural hospitals at a lower rate than urban hospitals, resulting in fewer physicians choosing to practice in such locations. Over the last 25 years, nearly 500 hospitals have closed, many of which were located in rural communities.

Fortunately, this is the age of digital know-how. Technology is king, and health care is one of the leading industries taking advantage of such innovation and wisdom. General Electric (GE) is doing its part to improve women’s health in remote areas like Wyoming, where the average woman has to commute 70 miles just to receive a mammogram.

In 2014, the company started the GE healthymagination program, to expedite cancer innovation and improve cancer care to 10 million patients, over the next six years (until 2020). One of the program’s most influential aspects is the GE Mammovan, equipped with mammography technology to provide free mammograms to all women living in remote areas.

GE chose to pilot the program in Wyoming, which has the lowest number of citizens and lowest population density (after Alaska). Many of the women using the van cited it was their first time having ever received a mammogram, stating that travel time or insurance requirements had precluded them from being screened for breast cancer. GE’s website reports that because of Wyoming’s uneven population distribution, a third of women living in that state over age 40 never receive a mammogram.

Since nearly two years ago, the mobile unit has traveled throughout the state, setting up in locations where women can receive a mammogram within an hour, allowing them to avoid the hassles of taking off from work and/or driving long distances. In many ways, the van serves a dual purpose—by eliminating the barriers rural residents previously faced and improving access to preventative care. By detecting breast cancer as early as possible saves the health care industry billions and ultimately, saves lives.

While North Carolina isn’t as rural as Wyoming, you might be surprised to learn that 85 percent of our state’s counties are, in fact, considered to be rural. And with nearly 2 million people receiving Medicaid, access to care is certainly an issue of interest among health care workers and lawmakers. And while mobile units are pricey to create and maintain, the progress the GE Mammovan has made in Wyoming is a good example of how health information technology can work to address some of our most pressing issues that impede quality health for everyone.

To Celebrate Women’s History Month, Protect Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights

March is Women’s History Month! This month, it is important to remember the past contributions of inspiring women, but it is also important to think about how events taking place right now be remembered during Women’s History Months in the future.

As you may know, on March 2, Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt was argued in front of the Supreme Court. The case focuses on a Texas law that is designed to shut down more than 75% of women’s health clinics that provide abortion services in the state. This case will set the precedent on whether or not safe abortion care will be accessible to individuals throughout the United States. While Texas is at the center of the Supreme Court right now, 17 states in 2015 alone passed more than 50 abortion restrictions known as TRAP laws, and 11 states cut funding to Planned Parenthood. These TRAP laws have been enacted under the guise of “protecting women’s health,” but these laws have mostly placed an additional burden on already vulnerable women and also cut access to family planning clinics and services.

In February, Guttmacher released that the US abortion rate had declined to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women from the 1981 peak of 29.3 per 1,000 women. An even more recent study from Guttmacher was just released that demonstrates that the unintended pregnancy rate was reduced by 18% between 2008 and 2011, which is the lowest it has been in 30 years. Additionally, 40% of unintended pregnancies in 2011 ended in aborted compared with 40% in 2008. While the abortion rates remained the same, the number of abortions has declined. These two recent studies demonstrate that the decrease in the abortion rate is attributable to the decrease in unintended pregnancies and not restrictions on abortion access.

If you’re interested learning more and haven’t already seen the video, check out John Oliver talking about this very issue. If you are passionate about this issue learn how to join the conversation on social media to support the Center for Reproductive Rights.