Mind + Body, April 2012
Staying healthy: Keeping up with your OB
We all know that women need to be vigilant about their health. One easy way to do that is to establish a regular relationship with an obstetrician/gynecologist.
The OB/GYN field is an area of medicine that continues to develop. An increasing number of young women, for example, are getting vaccinated to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV). “This is exciting, because it will decrease how much cervical cancer we see,” says Dr. Eleanor Friele, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Swedish Medical Center.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s. Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV.
Ovarian cancer screenings are also improving and can now be used to help physicians determine which patients need special cancer surgeons, says Friele. And new techniques such as laparoscopic and robotic surgery make patients’ recoveries easier — and quicker.
“With these procedures, we don’t have to open patients up; they are able to leave the hospital in less than 24 hours,” she says.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that well-woman visits now often include alcohol abuse screenings. The goal is to identify women who drink at unhealthy levels and promote healthy behavior through intervention, education and referring women who may be dependent on alcohol for treatment.
Older women are benefitting from advances in bladder procedures, which are “dramatically better” than they were just a few decades ago, when repairs for eliminating leakage had a 60 percent failure rate, says Friele.
7 ways to take charge of your health
1. Address age-appropriate concerns
“We start seeing women in their 20s, when they are looking at birth control, see them every two years for Pap smears, check for sexually transmitted diseases and make sure they optimize their fertility,” says Friele. Doctors address changes in the body, weight, exercise and sex drive for women in their 30s, and focus on perimenopause and hormonal shifts with women in their 40s.
2. Relieve stress
Just chill — it’s good for you. But you already knew that. The trick is to figure out a way to do it. “The women who do the best learn to take time for themselves, recognize their needs, and find the fine balance between work, family and personal relaxation,” says Friele.
3. Stay active
Dr. Jeanne Cawse-Lucas, a family physician at the University of Washington Medical Center, recommends at least 150 minutes a week — that’s just 30 minutes a day — of physical activity. No exercise machine close by? Try going for a walk. It helps.
4. Eat well
“Well” means five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, says Cawse-Lucas. The American Heart Association advises: Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. Be sure to choose enough foods to get a variety of protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients. And drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
5. Get vaccinated
Get your yearly flu shot — even if you’re pregnant. And stay up to date (check your medical records with your doctor) on your tetanus and diphtheria vaccines, which are generally given every 10 years. The CDC now recommends replacing one dose of the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine with a Tdap combination vaccine, which also includes pertussis.
6. Check your breasts
This means having a clinical breast exam every other year and mammograms starting at age 40 or 50, depending on your risk. “Each woman should have a conversation with her physician about her risks and come up with a screening plan,” said Cawse-Lucas. Breast self-exams are also helpful. “It helps some women feel empowered,” she says. Learn how your own breasts feel. If you think something’s changed, see your physician.
7. Get enough sleep
To get those z’s, try to establish a consistent sleep/wake schedule; come up with a relaxing bedtime routine; make sure your environment is dark, quiet, calm and comfortable; and get rid of bright lights, bright screens and other sleep-stealing distractions.