A Look at the Latest in Women’s Health
By Mariah Kline
Being a woman is an amazing and dynamic experience. It comes with a set of challenges that are almost too numerous to list, but it also comes with a great deal of power. As women, we have the ability to bring new life into the world and feed humans with our bodies, and statistically, we mostly outlive our male counterparts. Though there are a great deal of health concerns we should have for our bodies, there is also a lot to be optimistic about.
Since so many of our readers are women who care strongly about maintaining their health, we at the Voice-Tribune wanted to learn more about the latest issues and innovations in health care and how women can be more proactive about taking care of themselves. For a comprehensive and informative view, we checked in with a few experts who gave us their insight on the current state of women’s healthcare. These professionals offered some alarming statistics and raised many concerns, but they also informed us on some very promising innovations and developments that women at all stages of life can smile about.
When prompted about the biggest healthcare issues women face today, almost all of our experts immediately brought up obesity. Kentucky has one of the highest rates of obesity in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control. For younger women, experiencing obesity can mean a lifetime of medical problems and hardship, and for older women this can mean a much shorter life expectancy. Across the board, obesity can severely interfere with a woman’s hormones and cause varying difficulties.
“Often times weight can cause problems with your menstrual cycle,” says Beth Bary, a certified nurse midwife with WomanCare in Jeffersonville, who recently delivered her 4,000th baby. “Your body stores estrogen in fat so if you have excess fat you’re going to have excess estrogen. This can cause hair growth on your face, decrease in libido and energy levels, hypertension and a lot of other issues. Then you end up having to be on medications for all of those things, which can cause further problems and it’s just a never-ending cycle.”
“Young girls who are obese often have problems with abnormal bleeding,” says Dr. Tanika Taylor, a physician with All Women OB/GYN. “Pre-menopausal women will also have the abnormal bleeding, plus back pain and joint pain.”
“It’s alarming because obesity affects our joins, our heart, risk of arthritis, even our sleep,” says Dr. Lori Warren, a double board-certified OB/GYN and partner with Women First. “Overweight women are more likely to have sleep apnea, and a lot of studies are showing that obesity is one of the risk factors for breast cancer.”
In addition to obesity, Kentucky has the seventh highest rate of cervical cancer and one of the highest rates of death due to breast cancer. Overall, due to the content of much of the food we eat, we’re also taking in more sugar than ever before.
Overcoming obesity is a task that’s much easier said than done. However, all of our experts agree that starting with a proper diet and exercising regularly can make a monumental difference.
“Once you’ve recognized that you have obesity you can take the steps to combat it,” says Dr. Taylor. “It’s not these fad diets that people go on but making real lifestyle changes that are doable. That’s why Weight Watchers works so well. You can eat normal food but it’s portion controlled.”
Being mindful about the type of food you take in is also of paramount importance.
“You should think about everything you put in your body and you should have a reason for it,” says Bary. “It shouldn’t be blank calories; it should be something that is giving you nutrition that your body needs.”
The addictive sugar that exists in so much of what we eat is a huge culprit for why women cannot lose weight, but eliminating it from our diets doesn’t have to be difficult.
“It’s important to try to avoid sugar altogether,” says Dr. Warren. “But you’ll only miss it for a couple of weeks and then you’ll realize that you don’t miss it eventually and you’ll actually feel better. And once you’re off it awhile, naturally sweetened foods like fruit will start to taste sweeter to you.”
As for exercise, Dr. Warren recommends her patients walk 30 minutes in order to start shedding pounds. If you have joint issues, swimming or using an exercise bike can be a good alternative.
“The 30 minutes is key,” she says. “There have been studies that show that if you do less than 30 minutes, you don’t get the same benefits. If you do more, you still get the benefits but it doesn’t make an exponential difference.”
Dr. Taylor says incorporating exercise into your daily activities and doing two and a half hours of cardiovascular training per week to get your heart rate up is key to losing weight. Walking, stretching and simple yoga can be a great place to start.
As for cervical cancer and other diseases, it’s important to have regular checkups with your physician and don’t delay a doctor visit if you’re feeling unwell. Whether you have a regular physician or not, Planned Parenthood of Kentucky and Indiana offers a full range of women’s health services, including cancer screenings and clinical breast exams.
“We have been doing this work for more than 100 years and are experts in reproductive health,” says PP Director of Communications and Marketing Ali Slocum. “We offer affordable and accessible care, accept many types of insurance and unlike many other providers, we can often see patients on the same day they schedule [an appointment].”
The Good News
There is a lot to worry about when it comes to our health and a lot we must do to take care of ourselves if we want to have long and active lives. Fortunately, great strides have been made in medicine and surgery in the past few decades and today’s women can reap the benefits.
Thanks to advances in 3D mammography, doctors now have a better look at breast tissue than ever before. While it does involve exposure to radiation, the clearer look it offers into the body actually means fewer return visits for further testing and overall less exposure to radiation, according to Dr. Taylor.
Also, access to birth control is now at an all-time high, and currently more than 55 million American women have access to it without a co-payment.
“The ability to plan, prevent and space pregnancies is directly linked to benefits to women, men, children and society, including more educational and economic opportunities, healthier babies, more stable families and a reduced taxpayer burden,” says Melissa St. Onge, a consultant with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.
For those who are starting their families, there’s an entirely different set of health issues to think about. Pregnant women with obesity can experience gestational diabetes and blood clotting disorders. Any expectant mother may have to deliver via cesarean section, and many in the medical community are now realizing that it is not ideal for moms or babies. Fortunately, most doctors are now doing everything they can to help safe, vaginal births take place and not induce labor unless it is absolutely medically necessary. Thankfully, we live in a city that has a number of excellent and experienced healthcare providers, and by this time next year we will also have a new birthing center from WomanCare.
For those who are past their childbearing years and entering menopause, there is a great deal of good news. Women who previously would have had to undergo hysterectomies (which usually means experiencing pain, a long recovery time and a major decrease in libido) now have options for much less invasive surgeries. These include laparoscopic hysterectomies, which only require an overnight hospital stay and don’t leave a c-section-like scar, and endometrial ablation, which cauterizes the uterus to stop a woman’s menstrual cycle and can be performed as a simple, outpatient procedure.
Overall, maintaining our health and visiting the doctor regularly is a habit we can’t afford to give up. Routine mammograms, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, pelvic exams, pap smears, osteoporosis screenings and other vital tests are essential. The benefits of keeping ourselves in shape are immeasurable and will allow us to continue thriving like the strong and powerful beings that we are. VT