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What is preterm labor?

Preterm labor occurs when the contractions begin before the 37th week of pregnancy. Along with contractions, changes in the cervix occur which signal labor is beginning. The cervix begins to thin, a process called effacement, and it starts to dilate so that the baby can enter the birth canal. Normal pregnancies last around 40 weeks, so any labor that starts before then is called early labor or preterm labor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that preterm birth occurred in about one out of every 10 deliveries in the United States in 2014. The rate peaked in 2006 when the rate was nearly 13%, more than one-third higher than the rate had been in the early 1980s. In most cases, no specific cause is known for early labor. Some risk factors have been identified that make a woman more likely to go into labor early. Besides the premature rupture of the amniotic sac, some of these major risk factors identified by the Mayo Clinic include the following:

Maternal factors for preterm labor:

  • Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Chronic medical problems, including diabetes and kidney disease
  • Infections, especially strep, urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and infections of the fetal or placental tissues
  • Abnormal structure of the uterus
  • Cervical incompetence, or a weak cervix that cannot stay closed as the baby grows larger
  • Previous preterm births

What causes normal vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is normal for most women, sometimes every day and other times just under certain circumstances. Many women see increased discharge after exercise, when they use birth control pills, when they are sexually aroused, or when they are under stress.

Normal vaginal discharge consists of cells and fluid from the uterus and vagina. It keeps tissues in the vagina healthy and lubricated, protected from irritation and infections. The consistency and amount of vaginal discharge usually vary throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle.

What does normal vaginal discharge look like?

During most times of the month, vaginal discharge is clear or white and watery or slightly sticky. When a woman ovulates, the discharge may be thicker and more like mucous. These are all normal conditions. Many women also experience bloody-brown or brown vaginal discharge at the end of their periods or right after their menstrual cycle ends. This, too, is normal.

What does abnormal vaginal discharge look like?

Any time vaginal discharge looks or smells different than normal, or if it becomes heavier than usual for no apparent reason, it may indicate an infection or other problem. Sometimes pain, itching or inflammation accompanies a change in vaginal discharge characteristics. The discharge may become thick and white, chunky, yellow, green, or have a foul or fishy odor. Any of these symptoms signal a possible problem and should be assessed by your gynecologist.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur in the United States every year, and nearly half of those infections are in young people ages 15 to 24.

More than half of all people will get an STI at some point in their lifetime, so it is important to take proactive measures against infection and disease transmission. The best way to protect against sexually transmitted infection is to use protection during intercourse and to receive regular STI testing.

What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection?

A sexually transmitted infection is a virus, bacteria or parasite that is transmitted via sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal and oral sex. STIs are highly contagious but many do not usually present with symptoms and frequently go undiagnosed. When an infection does show signs of disease, the condition is diagnosed as the more familiar term, sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Why should I do a monthly self-breast exam?

Woman Holding Pink Breast Cancer Awareness RibbonA monthly self-breast exam (SBE) is part of a three-part breast health arsenal every woman needs to use to be on guard against breast cancer. The SBE is an inspection of your breasts to increase your awareness of how they look and feel when you are in good health so that you can report any changes or concerns to your doctor. Monthly self-exams also let you take action to help protect yourself against cysts, cancers and infections that affect the breasts.

Monthly self-exams let women be more comfortable with their bodies, and able to provide vital information to their doctors at their yearly physical exams. The monthly BSE should be done along with annual clinical breast exams at the doctor’s office and mammograms according to the recommended schedule.

Up to 40 percent of breast cancers are initially detected by women who felt a lump at home during a self-exam, according to Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Clinical breast exams and mammograms help diagnose the nature of lumps and other abnormalities, and they are the other two vital parts of the three-part breast health arsenal.

Women should become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts, and report any changes or concerns immediately to their doctors. Most changes women note at home are eventually determined to be benign, but some changes do indicate something more serious is happening. Early detection of a problem is the key to successful resolution.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the world. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and approximately 14 million new infections occur nationwide every year. In most cases the immune system is able to fight the virus off without lasting side effects or complications, but sometimes HPV can cause serious health problems.

What is HPV?

HPV is not a single virus. There are hundreds of types of Human Papilloma Virus ranging from harmless warts people commonly get on their hands and feet to more dangerous sexually transmitted varieties. Most types of the virus have no outward symptoms with the exception of the HPV type that causes genital warts. Other types of HPV causes no visible symptoms, but cause lesions that can become cancerous.  

Transmission and Risk Factors

Sexually transmitted HPV is spread when a person has vaginal, anal or oral sexual intercourse with a partner who is already infected. Both men and women can contract the disease, and symptoms can take years to become apparent. It is also possible to be infected with more than one type of the virus at a given time. Any person who is sexually active can get HPV, but some factors can increase risk.

2016 Vitals Compassionate Doctor Award, Dr. Joseph Anthony HeitDr. Joseph Anthony Heit of Kansas City ObGyn in Overland Park, KS has earned the prestigious 2016 Vitals Compassionate Doctor Award.

The award recognizes doctors who treat patients - not just conditions - with care and grace. In a recent Vitals Index survey, one of three respondents said that a doctor who “listens and spends time” with them was the most important quality indicator.

Research shows that the better the patient experience, the better the clinical outcome. That’s because patients who trust their doctor are more likely to adhere to a physician’s advice and take prescribed medications according to schedule.

“The doctor-patient relationship is not much different from any other relationship we value,” said Mitch Rothschild, Executive Chairman and Founder of Vitals. “It’s based on mutual respect and fairness, as well as the ability to communicate with one another effectively. Patients who leave doctor ratings and reviews make it easier for everyone to identify these doctors who practice medicine with humanity.”

Compassionate Doctor award winners are chosen based on the number of reviews a doctor receives from patients for the calendar year and minimum rating values. The algorithm also takes into account other quality metrics that the provider must meet. With nearly eight million ratings and reviews, Vitals has the largest collection of crowdsourced data on doctors than any other online site.

Advanced Maternal Age. Geriatric pregnancy. Elderly primigravida. None of these phrases are particularly endearing, but they are all terms used to describe a pregnancy in a woman in her mid-30s and beyond. Of course, women in their 30s and 40s are not old, but the female reproductive system evolved so that women are most fertile in the teens and 20s, and it’s a fact of biology that childbearing pregnancy becomes more complicated with age. This is particularly true for women aged 35 and older, and the medical community uses the term “advanced maternal age” to indicate women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant and may need to consider the risks associated with having a child later in life.

Pregnant Woman in Her 30sHow Does Age Affect Pregnancy?

A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever produce and those cells age along with the rest of her body. By the time a woman enters her 30s her eggs have become more difficult to fertilize and some, over time, are damaged. This resistance to fertilization can delay or impede conception and the possible damage to the egg cells increases the rate of possible birth defects. Furthermore, pregnancy stresses the body, and women who conceive at a later age are more susceptible to having a high-risk pregnancy.

Women who are considered being of “advanced maternal age” may not struggle with pregnancy and it is still absolutely possible for women in this age bracket to have healthy pregnancies. Nevertheless, when considering having children after the age of 35, it is wise to understand the realities of pregnancy later in life and to know what to expect throughout the whole process, from pre-conception to delivery.

What is Amenorrhea?

According to the Mayo Clinic, amenorrhea (pronounced uh-men-o-REE-uh) is the absence of menstruation or missing at least one menstrual period. This includes girls who have not begun having periods by age 15, as well as women who miss at least three periods in a row after having normal menstrual cycles.

Women may be more at risk of amenorrhea if they have a family history of it, if they have an eating disorder, or if they participate in strenuous athletic training. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, pregnancy is the primary cause of amenorrhea. Other normal life events such as breastfeeding and menopause also cause amenorrhea. Approximately three to four percent of women will experience amenorrhea from other cause during their lifetime.

Menstruation Tracking Calendar for Missed Periods

Tubal Ligation is a surgical procedure that permanently prevents pregnancy. It is also casually known as “getting your tubes tied,” and involves the cutting or blocking off of the fallopian tubes.  This stops the egg from traveling from the ovary to the uterus so fertilization and implantation cannot occur.

The Tubal Ligation Procedure  

Tubal ligation is a relatively simple surgery. It can be done at any time, including immediately after giving birth, and many women prefer to have it done as part of a Cesarean section procedure.

During a standard tubal ligation, either general anesthesia or a spinal block is administered. If the operation is not part of a C-section, the surgeon makes two small abdominal incisions and inserts a small camera mounted on the end of a tube called a laparoscope. The abdomen is then inflated with gas, allowing greater visibility and access. The surgeon will then cut or cauterize each of the fallopian tubes and clamp or tie them off.

How do pregnancy tests work?

There are two kinds of pregnancy tests: urine tests, which women can use in the privacy of their homes, and blood tests which must be done by an obstetrician’s office. The urine tests done at home are also run at doctors’ offices. Both home and office tests check for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone in the urine. HCG is produced by cells that eventually form the placenta.

Couple Reads Results of a Positive Pregnancy Test

The hormone first enters a woman’s bloodstream when the fertilized egg implants into the lining of her uterus, sometimes as early as six days after the egg has been fertilized. After that, the levels of HCG increase very rapidly – often doubling every 48 hours for a time. Once the levels are detectable in a woman’s urine, her pregnancy test should show positive.

Eggs take about one week to travel from the ovary to the uterus after ovulation. The egg can be fertilized any time during its travels or once it reaches the uterus. HCG only begins production after the fertilized egg implants. It can be hard to predict exactly when fertilization occurred because sperm cells can live for up to five days inside the woman’s body. For this reason, most home pregnancy tests advise women to wait until they are at least two or three days late for their periods – or approximately 15 to 16 days after ovulation – before they take a pregnancy test.

One of the best things women can do to ensure their health is to get frequent Pap smear tests. A Pap smear is a brief medical procedure that checks for overall cervical health.

Every year, approximately 12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from it. These tragic statistics are even more regrettable because cervical cancer is an essentially preventable disease. Pap smears are the only way to detect precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix, but early detection has very high cure rates. A Pap smear is the main tool for reducing women’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Not Your Mother’s Pap Smear: New Guidelines

Previous medical guidelines advised women get a Pap smear test every year. This was before the link between cervical cancer and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was established. Doctors now know that certain strains of HPV are detected in almost all types of cervical cancers and co-testing for HPV combined with a Pap smear has allowed the guidelines to be modified.