Women’s Health

Cervical cancer screening update: Not your mother’s Pap smear

Andrea Chisholm, MD
Andrea Chisholm, MD, Contributor

Recent research supports the theory the human papilloma virus (HPV) plays a critical role in the development of abnormal cervical cells and cervical cancers. Based on this knowledge, experts believe that many women are being over-screened and treated for abnormal cells that are unlikely to ever become cancerous. Testing for strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer, along with the Pap smear, may do a better job preventing cervical cancer than the Pap smear alone. Guidelines are evolving and that yearly Pap smear may be unnecessary for many women.

The health advantages of marriage

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

People who are married tend to be in better overall health than people who are not, but the reasons for this are not clear. Researchers believe there are a number of possible factors that influence this association, including cortisol levels, mental health, and better health habits.

Your mom was right: “Morning sickness” means a lower chance of miscarriage

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A majority of women experience some sort of nausea (morning sickness) during pregnancy. Many have speculated that nausea is a good sign that indicates a healthy pregnancy. Until recently, there was little solid evidence to support this belief, but a recent study suggests there is some truth to this old wives’ tale.

Can hormonal birth control trigger depression?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

Research from Denmark found an association between the use of hormonal birth control and an increased likelihood of depression. While the risk of depression among women using hormonal forms of birth control was clearly increased, the overall number of women affected was small and was found to be highest in women under 20.

Staying active at “that time of the month”

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The belief that women should avoid exercise or athletics during their menstrual periods, because it can affect performance or increase the risk of injury, is not necessarily true. Good training may reduce the risks of injury and enhance performance much more than trying to time exercise around one’s periods.

Genital herpes: The painful facts about a tricky virus

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

While most people know that genital herpes is transmitted through sexual contact, many people don’t realize that it’s possible to carry the virus and infect others without showing outward symptoms or even being aware that they have it. A person with confirmed genital herpes can take medication to help decrease the chances of spreading the virus. However, it’s no guarantee, so it’s best to have a frank conversation with a new sexual partner.

Birth control right after having a baby: Why it’s important, why it should be covered

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Many women may plan to start using birth control at their six-week postpartum checkup, but as many as 40% of women do not go to a follow-up appointment. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocates for offering women the option of long-acting, implantable contraceptives in the period immediately following giving birth, before leaving the hospital. It’s safe, effective, and eliminates the need for an outpatient visit during a hectic time. Making postpartum contraception easily available and a covered benefit is essential to reduce unintended pregnancy and rapid, repeat pregnancy rates.

Female athlete triad: Protecting the health and bones of active young women

Elizabeth Matzkin, MD
Elizabeth Matzkin, MD, Contributor

Women who are especially active may be susceptible to a spectrum disorder known as the female athlete triad, a combination of symptoms rooted in inadequate nutrition that can ultimately lead to a greater risk of osteoporosis.

Quitting smoking during the second half of the menstrual cycle may help women kick the habit

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Studies have shown that not only do women have a harder time quitting than men, but they also experience more severe health consequences from smoking. However, new research suggests that it may be easier for women to quit smoking during the second half of their menstrual cycle. During this time, the hormone progesterone is higher, and this appears to aid in quitting and avoiding relapse.

Progesterone supplements don’t help prevent miscarriage

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Miscarriages can be devastating — especially for women who experience recurrent miscarriage, defined as three or more in a row. Doctors used to give these women supplements of progesterone, a hormone that helps maintain a healthy pregnancy. However, a recent study has confirmed that these supplements don’t improve pregnancy outcomes. For those who experience recurrent miscarriage, the best solution may be to simply keep trying.