What You Need to Know about Anemia and Your Period

Anemia is a common health condition characterized by low red blood cell count that affects more than 3 million Americans. Having an insufficient amount of red blood cells can be problematic because the body’s cells are unable to get enough oxygen, leading to fatigue and other symptoms.

Anemia and Your Period

Anemia comes in many forms, with many caused by blood loss or iron deficiency. In general, many women experience anemia because of heavy menstrual periods that cause their iron levels to fall. Overall, women are at higher risk of anemia than men. Specific high risk groups include the elderly, Hispanic women, women of color, people with chronic illness, and women of childbearing age. Here we’ll get into the specifics of anemia and the ways in which menstruation can affect and contribute to anemia.

Anemia due to blood loss

Women who suffer from heavy menstrual periods are more prone to forms of anemia where red blood cells are lost to bleeding, which makes sense when you think about it. Women with anemia due to blood loss may be left feeling tired, weak, and possibly even out of breath. One sign that your period is abnormally heavy is if you’re going through a tampon or pad every hour for at least a few hours in a row. Other signs include passing large blood clots and bleeding for more than seven days in a row. If you’re experiencing any of these situations, you should speak with your doctor about getting tested for anemia.

Iron-deficiency anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia comes about when the body is low on iron. Not having enough iron in the body is problematic because it’s needed to produce hemoglobin for red blood cells. While this form of anemia can arise from a number of factors, including diet, menstruation is a common contributor. Women of childbearing age are at a higher risk for this form of anemia due to blood loss during menstruation and the increased demands on blood supply during pregnancy. People suffering from iron-deficiency anemia may experience strange cravings, such as for paper, dirt, or ice.

What are some symptoms of anemia?

Some common symptoms of anemia include lethargy, dizziness, pale skin, abnormally rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, irritability, trouble with concentration, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia. Though these symptoms will vary depending on the form of anemia, its severity, and the cause. It’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing a combination of these symptoms, especially if you’re also suffering from a very heavy menstrual period. Your physician will be able to carry out further testing to determine if you are suffering from anemia. These tests are likely to include a physical exam, medical history, and blood work that assesses your levels of red and white blood cells, hemoglobin, and platelets.

Should I be worried about anemia?
Whether you should worry about anemia depends on the situation. Anemia that develops during pregnancy affects up to 40% of pregnant women and is often seen as normal. For women who are considering becoming pregnant, doctors will usually recommend supplements including iron and folate. And anemias due to blood loss and iron-deficiency can usually be treated with iron supplements and even dietary adjustments. However, some forms of anemia can be much harder to treat and require procedures such as blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants.

If you have any concerns about anemia and want to speak with a knowledgeable physician, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

10 Things to Know Before Your First Gynecologist Appointment

For many teens and women, seeing a gynecologist for the first time can be a daunting and fearful prospect. But the truth is, visiting a gynecologist isn’t actually a bad experience at all. Follow along as we let you know what to expect and answer some common questions related to seeing a gynecologist for the first time.

Female Doctor Meeting With Teenage Patient In Exam Room

What’s a normal age to first see a gynecologist?

Many recommend that girls see a gynecologist for the first time somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15.  But if you’re older and have never seen a gynecologist, don’t let this guideline put you off from making an appointment.

Will the visit be uncomfortable or awkward?

While it’s completely normal to be nervous before your first gynecological exam, there’s really no reason to be. Most likely, the appointment won’t be nearly as awkward or scary as you might expect.

Your doctor will thoroughly explain everything they do, and will likely be friendly and talkative, putting you at ease the entire time. You can expect to talk about things like your health history, your family and their health, your menstrual cycle, whether or not you’re sexually active, whether you consume alcohol, and other personal topics. It’s important to answer honestly so that your doctor is able to get an accurate understanding of your health.

Can I bring someone along for support?

If it makes you feel more comfortable to have a family member or friend by your side, most doctors will allow you to bring someone along to your exam.

What should I expect during my exam?

When you visit the gynecologist, many doctors will want to run a few tests. These exams will vary depending on why you’re there, whether you’re sexually active, and how old you are.  Height, weight, and blood pressure measurements are common, as are external genital exams, pelvic exams, breast exams and pap smears. However, a first visit may simply involve conversing with the doctor, and not include any tests.  For young patients, a doctor may not perform a pelvic exam, and pap smears aren’t performed on women who are under 21.

What to expect during an external genital exam

During an external genital exam, a doctor will take a look at the area around your vaginal opening, which includes the labia, vulva, clitoris, and anus. Your doctor may even use a mirror so you’re able to see what these body parts look like.

What to expect during a pelvic exam and pap smear

A pelvic exam is performed yearly once patients hit age 21 or so. During this quick test that usually lasts little more than ten minutes, your doctor will look for signs of abnormalities and illness. They will look at body parts including the vulva, ovaries, cervix, uterus, and bladder. The doctor will also insert a metal device called a speculum into the vagina. The test may be a little bit uncomfortable and the speculum may feel cold, but it won’t be painful.

Your doctor may also do some other tests during the pelvic exam, such as check for STDs or do a pap smear. A pap smear is a gentle and pain-free test in which your doctor will scrape some cells from your cervix to test for cervical cancer. For women who fall somewhere between 21- and 30-years-old, the test is usually performed every three years. For those above 30, the time period between tests may be longer.

Should I shave or wax before my appointment?

It’s not necessary to shave or wax around the vagina before your first visit to a gynecologist. You will want to be clean though, so be sure to shower that day, using a gentle soap to maintain proper vaginal hygiene.

Will the doctor keep everything confidential?

Conversations that take place during your visit will be kept confidential for patients who are older than 18. For patients younger than 18, some information may be shared with parents or guardians if the doctor feels it is important to do so.

Is it ok to ask questions?

It is definitely ok to ask questions when you visit a gynecologist, in fact it’s encouraged. Keep in mind that no topic is too weird to discuss, so don’t hold back from voicing a concern or seeking an answer just because you think the question may be taboo or embarrassing.

Should I follow up?

If your doctor performs any tests during your visit, you’ll want to follow up about a week later (if you haven’t already heard back) to check on the results. With some doctors you’ll simply call the office, while with others you can check results within an online portal.

If you have any concerns about your first gynecologist visit and want to speak with a knowledgeable physician, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Common Yet Misunderstood

Pelvic organ prolapse is a common yet frequently misunderstood health condition where one of the pelvic organs—the bladder, uterus, rectum, small intestine, or vagina—drops down from its usual position and pushes against the walls of the vagina. Up to one-third of women experience pelvic organ prolapse or a similar pelvic disorder at some point in their lives, and the experience can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and painful.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse image

When pelvic organ prolapse isn’t present, the pelvic floor muscles hold the pelvic organs in place. But in some cases, such as after surgery or childbirth or simply with aging, these muscles weaken and fail to do their job. Instead of holding the pelvic organs in position above the pelvic opening, they allow the organs to drop and bulge into the vagina. Aside from what we’ve already mentioned, some other common causes and risk factors for pelvic organ prolapse are obesity, family history, constipation, a chronic cough, pelvic organ cancer, a past hysterectomy, or another situation where a lot of pressure is placed on the abdomen.

Types of Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Here are a few types of pelvic organ prolapse, each of which corresponds to a different organ involved:

Cystocele: This is the most common form of pelvic organ prolapse and is when the bladder drops down and bulges into the vagina.

Uterine prolapse: Prolapse of the uterus.

Enterocele: Prolapse of the small intestine/small bowel.

Urethrocele: Prolapse of the urethra.

Rectocele: Prolapse of the front wall of the rectum into the vagina.

Vaginal vault prolapse: Prolapse of the upper section of the vagina into the vaginal canal or outside the vagina.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse vary depending which organ has dropped. Here are some common symptoms you may notice:

  • Bulging at the opening of the vagina
  • Vaginal pressure
  • A constant urge to urinate
  • Leaking urine
  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain or pressure
  • Pelvic pain, pressure, or fullness
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting

Treatment

Pelvic organ prolapse can be diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam by your gynecologist, or through other procedures including MRI, ultrasound, pelvic floor strength testing, X-ray, or CT scan. These are a few different ways it can be treated:

Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is a common early treatment used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This usually involves kegel exercises.

A Pessary: A pessary is a removable device that’s inserted into the vagina and used to support organs and prevent them from dropping down. A pessary is usually fitted to the individual, and is may be used in conjunction with physical therapy or on its own if physical therapy is ineffective.

Surgery: If symptoms don’t let up after physical therapy or with use of a pessary, surgery to repair the organ or tissue may be recommended. The exact surgery will vary depending on the organ involved, with some being far more simple or complex than others. If the uterus is the organ involved, a hysterectomy is often recommended. Sometimes a procedure called a sacrocolpopexy is performed on women who are at high risk of experiencing repeated prolapse.

What to do if you suspect you’re experiencing pelvic organ prolapse?

It’s important to see a doctor if you think you’re dealing with pelvic organ prolapse. In most cases, the condition isn’t harmful, but may get worse over time. It can also result in urinary tract infections or other urinary problems when left untreated.

If you have any concerns about pelvic organ prolapse and want to speak with a knowledgeable doctor, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.