The North Northwestern Specialists for Women
Top Women's Health Myths Debunked
Dr. Seema Venkatachalam, OBGYN with the Northwestern Specialists for Women and clinical instructor in obstetrics and gynecology at the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, clears up misconceptions and demystifies some of the most common women's health myths:
Women should not use the birth control pill to skip their monthly cycles: FALSE
Studies have repeatedly shown that is not harmful for women to use oral contraceptives to skip their monthly cycles. Continuous birth control dosing has long been used as a treatment for particular gynecological disorders, including menstrual migraines, endometriosis, and abnormal uterine bleeding. The risks of continuous dosing of birth control pills pose no increased risks over traditional dosing for birth controls, which include blood clots, heart attack, and stroke, especially if one is a smoker. If you suffer from abnormal menstrual side effects such as extreme headaches, cramping, painful periods, heavy bleeding, or severe PMS, you should talk to your physician about ways to lessen these conditions with birth control.
Birth defects in unborn babies cannot be prevented: FALSE
There are a number of steps that a woman can take to prevent birth defects, particularly those that occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. This trimester is when the growing embryo is most susceptible to external influences that can affect the development of organs.
Most importantly, a woman and her partner should get a preconception checkup with their OBGYN. Counseling and testing can be done at this time to detect conditions their children may be at risk for, especially if there is a family history of birth defects or gene disorders. This visit is also important to ensure a woman's general health, as conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and seizure disorders are known risk factors for birth defects.
Next, a woman should make sure her vaccinations are up to date. For example, Rubella is a known cause for birth defects, and if a woman isn't sure if she's been vaccinated, there are tests that can be done to check. Vaccinations should be administered at least one month prior to trying to get pregnant.
Finally, women should start taking a prenatal vitamin with adequate folic acid (a B vitamin often found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes) at least 2-3 months prior to trying to conceive, Folic acid is important to nurture proper cell growth, and deficiencies in folic acid are a known risk factor for birth defects associated with the spinal cord. Avoiding alcohol and large doses of caffeine in the first trimester are also important to decrease the risk of deformities. Avoiding raw or undercooked meats and fish which contain high levels of mercury can also decrease the risk of birth defects.
If you are pregnant, you should not take any form of medicine: FALSE
Despite popular belief, there are a whole host of medications Ã¢ including over-the-counter medicines - women can take while pregnant. There are antibiotics that are safe to take to treat all sorts of infections, including urinary tract infections, sinus infections, and yeast. There are pain analgesics that should be taken at times of fever to decrease the risk to the fetus. There are also medications that are safe for constipation, headaches, nausea, and anxiety that can be taken without harming your baby. Your OBGYN should be able to provide you with a list of medications that are safe to take throughout your pregnancy and during breastfeeding. Always check with your health care provider if you are taking medications for a specific condition as soon as you know you are pregnant to make sure it's safe in pregnancy. Remember, women aren't supposed to suffer through pregnancy!
Prevention of osteoporosis should begin at menopause: FALSE
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bone strength and density over time, and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and lack of calcium in the diet. While some risk factors cannot be avoided (such as race, family history or being female), there are steps women can take to reduce risk. Prevention of osteoporosis should start as a teenager and continue throughout one's lifetime. To combat osteoporosis, it's important to have your daily recommended intake of calcium and vitamin D (this will vary depending on age), maintain a healthy weight and engage in regular exercise. It's also important to avoid smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and conduct regular bone density tests. For menopausal and post menopausal women, early consultation with your health care provider about the various forms of therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, including hormone replacement therapy and bisphosphanates, is important.
Hormone replacement therapy is not safe for women going through menopause: FALSE
This question has been contested many times over the years. It is now recommended by the International Menopause Society as well as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, based on appropriate research that shows hormone therapy can be beneficial to treat certain menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and osteoporosis. Hormone therapy should always be used as an overall strategy including lifestyle recommendations to improve the health and quality of life of the menopausal woman. Ideally, hormone therapy should be used for the shortest period possible and at the lowest dose in order to increase the safety and effectiveness of the treatment. The type of hormone therapy a woman initiates should be tailored her symptoms, family history, and need for prevention of certain conditions. It is also clear that the timing of the initiation of hormone therapy (early vs. late menopause) is crucial in determining the risks associated with therapy, including blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, and breast cancer.
Dr. Seema Venkatachalam graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Biology and French Literature. She received her Masters in Public Health from the George Washington University in Washington D.C., specializing in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. After earning her MD from the University of Tennessee, Memphis, she completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at New York University. Dr. Venkatachalam is a Junior Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the Association of Professors of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She has spent time abroad providing prenatal care in developing countries. She is fluent in Spanish and proficient in French. Prior to joining Obstetric and Gynecologic Specialists of Northwestern in 2007, she served on faculty at Emory University, acting as a residency coordinator in addition to providing outstanding patient care. She is currently a Clinical Instructor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University's affiliate medical school, The Feinberg School of Medicine. While interested in all aspects of general obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Venkatachalam's particular obstetrical interest is in high risk pregnancies, particularly those complicated by diabetes, hypertensive, cardiac, and hematological disorders, and has presented research at the regional and national levels. She is also adept at minimally invasive surgery, particularly in new modalities to treat abnormal uterine bleeding, fibroids, and providing permanent sterilization.