Women's Health

Women have many unique health concerns — menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control, menopause — and that's just the beginning. A number of health issues affect only women and others are more common in women. What's more, men and women may have the same condition, but different symptoms. Many diseases affect women differently and may even require distinct treatment.

We tend to think of breast cancer and osteoporosis as women's health diseases, but they also occur in men. Heart disease in a serious concern to both men and women, but risk factors and approaches to prevention are different. Women may also have specific concerns about aging, caregiving, emotional health issues, and skin care.

Women's Health Articles

Air travel health tips

With summer's approach come plans for travel, including flying long distances. But the prospect of a long flight often raises health concerns. Especially in passengers who are older or have certain conditions, air travel and the related stress can have an impact on health. Here are a few trouble areas and some precautions you can take. Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Not all experts agree on an association between DVT (blood clots in the legs) and air travel. Symptoms may not occur for several days, so it's difficult to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. If there is one, it's likely due to prolonged inactivity. Limited airline space can discourage moving about. Dry cabin air may also increase the risk of DVT. Prolonged inactivity slows circulation, allowing small clots to form in the legs and feet. The body's own clot busters kick in for most people, but in people with certain risk factors, the clots can get big enough to block a vein. These include cancer, heart disease, infection, pregnancy, and obesity, as well as recent injury or surgery. Smoking also raises the risk, as do birth control pills, selective estrogen receptor modulators, and postmenopausal hormones. More »

Atrophic vaginitis can cause itching, burning, and sexual discomfort but treatments are available

Inflamed vaginal tissue may not be something most women want to talk about, but it can be painful and life altering for those who have it. Atrophic vaginitis, the medical term for this condition, occurs as a result of deterioration of the vaginal tissue. It's a common condition in postmenopausal women because as estrogen levels drop, the tissue that lines the vagina becomes thinner and more easily damaged. The top layer of cells is often lost entirely, exposing the layer below, which is more vulnerable to inflammation or infection. Vaginal secretions also decline, which can make intercourse painful. Women with atrophic vaginitis may also experience vaginal itching, burning, frequent urination, or vaginal discharge. Women can treat this condition topically with estrogen creams, tablets (Vagifem), or an estrogen-releasing ring placed in the vagina (Estring). Oral estrogen, available with a doctor's prescription, will also restore vaginal tissue. Vaginal lubricants offer an alternative for women wary of using estrogen. Moisturizers such as Replens, Astroglide, and Lubrin can reduce symptoms and make sexual intercourse more comfortable. They are available over the counter. Sexual activity may also help preserve the vaginal epithelium, presumably by increasing blood flow to the area. A study of 52 postmenopausal women found significantly less vaginal atrophy among those who had intercourse more than 3 times a week than among those who had intercourse less than 10 times per year. Sexual activity also helps maintain an acidic vaginal climate, which offers some protection against infection. More »

Doctor's Advice: Treating PMS

Treating PMS:Dr Rigotti's AdviceI generally recommend that a woman suffering from PMS start by paying attention to lifestyle factors. Women spend much of their lives caring for others and need to be reminded how important it is for them to take extra care of themselves, particularly at the time of the month when they feel most vulnerable.This means simple things like getting regular aerobic exercise; avoiding caffeine, alcohol, salt, and concentrated sweets; eating frequent small meals instead of a few large meals a day; and practicing stress reduction techniques such as the relaxation response. Adding a supplement such as vitamin B6 to their diet also helps some women. If several months of following these steps are not enough to control symptoms, I usually recommend trying an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)–type antidepressant medication as the next step. There is clear evidence that these drugs help, especially with mood swings and other psychological symptoms that are often the most troublesome. Nancy Rigotti, MDMassachusetts General HospitalHarvard Medical School More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

When you are alone and have to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), your primary effort should be compressing the chest to help the person's heart pump blood. If there is a second person helping, providing breaths can be done at the same time as compressions are performed. The brief review of CPR on the following pages can help you in an emergency; however, this information should not take the place of a certified course in CPR. Immediate care Assess the situation. Call out for someone to get help or call 911 yourself if the person does not seem to need immediate assistance. You can determine this by gently shaking the person and asking in a loud voice, "“Are you OK?"” If there is no response, begin CPR and continue until help arrives. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Recovery Position

This position helps a semiconscious or unconscious person breathe and permits fluids to drain from the nose and throat so they are not breathed in. If the person is unconscious or semiconscious after you have done everything on the Emergency Checklist, move the person into the recovery position while waiting for help to arrive. Do not use the recovery position if the person has a major injury, such as a back or neck injury More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Pregnancy: 2nd Trimester

How do you feel? Have you had any problems since your last visit? Have you had any vaginal bleeding or spotting? Have you had persistent vomiting? Have you had any pain or uterine cramping? Have you noticed swelling of your face or fingers? Have you had any problems with your vision? Are you getting frequent headaches? Have you had any vaginal discharge? Have you noticed fetal movement? Are you planning to breast-feed or bottle-feed? Blood pressure, weight Abdominal exam including measurement of the height of your fundus (top of the uterus) and using a portable Doppler instrument or stethoscope to measure fetal heart sounds Consider repeat complete blood count Fetal ultrasound Glucose tolerance test Rhogam (Rh-Immunoglobulin), if your blood type is Rh negative (see p. 920)   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Pregnancy: 3rd Trimester

Do you have adequate support at home from family or friends? How do you feel? Have you had any problems since your last visit? Have you had any vaginal bleeding or spotting? Have you had any pain or uterine cramping? Have you had any discharge or leakage of fluid from your vagina? Have you noticed swelling of your face or ankles? Have you had any problems with your vision? Are you getting frequent headaches? Have you noticed a change in the frequency or intensity of fetal movement? Are you planning to breast-feed or bottle-feed? Have you selected a pediatrician for your baby? Are you taking classes on labor and delivery? Have you added health insurance coverage for your new baby? Have you purchased a special car seat to hold your baby when riding in your car? Have you decided on whether the baby will have a circumcision, if a boy? Have you talked with your doctor about the length of your stay in the hospital? Do you know the signs of going into labor so that you can call your doctor when labor begins? (These include uterine contractions and rupture of the membranes). Breasts (to see if your nipples are inverted) Abdominal exam, including measurement of the height of your fundus (top of the uterus) Culture of the vagina and rectum for Group B streptococcus bacteria Fetal ultrasound   More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Vaginitis

How long have you had this vaginal discomfort? Does it itch or burn? Do you have vaginal discharge? Does it have a bad odor? What is the consistency? Are you pregnant? Are you sexually active? Is sexual intercourse painful? Do you have pain or burning with urination? Are you urinating more frequently? Do you have urinary incontinence? Are you post-menopausal? Do you have vaginal dryness? Do you have diabetes? Have you recently taken antibiotics or corticosteroids? Is your immune system suppressed in any way? Do you take birth-control pills? Do you wear tight pants or synthetic fabrics (nylon)? (These are all predisposing factors for yeast infections). Have you or your partner ever had a sexually transmitted disease? Do you have fevers, chills, abdominal pain, joint pain, or a rash? Abdominal examination Pelvic examination Sample of the vaginal discharge to examine under a microscope (wet smear) Cultures of the vaginal discharge   More »