How to Know If You’re Normal Down There

If you’ve been wondering if your vagina is “normal” in appearance, you’re definitely not alone—this is a common concern among numerous women. One reason behind this lingering question is that there isn’t much discussion of female sexual anatomy in general day to day life or in medical literature. But many women will find it reassuring to know that no two vaginas are the same and that many shapes, sizes, and variations are healthy. While a “normal” vagina doesn’t exist, there are some common similarities.

woman holding heart shape object in front of her vagina

But before we get into that, it’s important to make sure you understand the basic anatomy. To start, you should know that the vagina is defined as a muscular canal that extends from the cervix to the outside of the body, according to the U.S. government’s Office on Women’s Health. The vagina is technically part of the vulva, which is the part of your genitals that exist outside the body. Many people say vagina when they mean vulva, but the vulva also contains other parts of female sexual anatomy including the clitoris, labia, vaginal opening, and urethra opening.

So, what are some similarities and differences in women’s external sexual anatomy?

Shape
There’s a great amount of diversity when it comes to vaginal shape, and much of this is due to the shape of the labia. The outer lips are known as the labia majora, and the inner lips are the labia minora. Both vary widely in shape and size. Here are some of the different shapes that may describe your vagina or that of another woman:

  • In some cases, the inner lips (labia minora) are long and dangling, with part of them exposed and/or protruding past the outer lips.
  • For some women, the outer lips (labia majora) will completely cover the clitoris and inner lips (labia minora).
  • Sometimes one of the inner lips is longer than another, giving an uneven appearance to the labia.
  • The outer lips may be small and separated a bit, making the inner lips very visible.
  • In some cases, the inner and outer lips are a similar length.
  • For some women, the clitoral hood is visible. This is often the case if the inner and outer lips are on the smaller side.

Size
Vaginal size will vary from woman to woman, but the average depth is just under four inches. However, among some women, the vagina can be as short as two inches or up to seven inches deep. Clitoris size will also vary from one woman to another, ranging from .1 inches to 1.3 inches, and often swelling larger with arousal.

Color
Most women’s vulva appears to be some shade of red, pink, or burgundy, but this will vary from woman to woman depending on skin tone and other factors. The color will often change over time, such as after puberty, following sexual intercourse, or with arousal.

The important takeaway is that female sexual anatomy varies a great deal, and you’re not “supposed” to look any one particular way.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Now’s the Time to Get Your Flu Shot

It’s officially Influenza (flu) season, and most of us probably don’t need any reminders that coming down with the flu is no fun whatsoever. But there is one thing you can do to reduce your odds of getting sick this fall and winter—get a flu shot ASAP.

Vaccination healthcare concept. Hands of doctor or nurse in medical gloves injecting a shot of vaccine to a man patient

For most people, getting a flu shot takes barely any time at all. And by late October, the flu shot will be likely available at local pharmacies, physician’s offices, and even in some workplaces. Sometimes it’s even free. No matter how easy getting a flu shot may be, many people put off the task until their friends, family, and coworkers start to get sick. Unfortunately, by then it could be too late to avoid. Procrastinating your flu shot isn’t the greatest idea because the longer you wait, the longer you’re going without the flu shot’s protection. Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, and the vaccine is known to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of related complications.

Here are some other important details you need to know about the flu shot:

What is the flu?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.” The effects can range from mild to severe, sometimes even leading to death. Flu spreads extremely easily, likely through small droplets released when people sneeze, talk, or cough.

Some common flu symptoms, which you’ve probably experienced at one point or another, include fever, fatigue, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, achiness, headaches, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting.

Is the flu shot effective right away?
Here’s another reason to quit procrastinating that flu shot—following vaccination, It takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies that protect you against the flu.

Can anyone get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone who’s at least six months old should get a flu vaccine each year prior to the start of flu activity in their region, and by the end of October, if possible.

Infants under the age of six months are too young to be vaccinated, but studies show that if the mother is vaccinated during pregnancy, this can offer some protection for the baby for a number of months after birth. Because infants under six months are at high risk, the CDC says it’s important for people who live with or care for infants to be vaccinated.

People with an allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients should avoid the vaccine or at least speak to their doctor to see if getting the flu shot is safe. The CDC recommends that people with the following conditions speak with their healthcare provider to see if vaccination is advised: those with an allergy to eggs or any other ingredient in the vaccine, people who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and people who are not feeling well.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Seven Ways You Can Help Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

A fear of any new parent, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (commonly known as SIDS) is a leading cause of death for infants in their first 12 months of life and occurs when a baby dies (usually in their sleep) without explanation or warning.

SIDS stock photo

Researchers aren’t entirely sure what causes SIDS, but some theorize that it has something to do with defects in the area of an infant’s brain that’s responsible for controlling breathing and waking from sleep. Others believe that in addition to these brain abnormalities, environmental stressors and the infant’s stage of development also play a role.

There’s nothing you can do to fully prevent SIDS, but there are various steps you can take to reduce its risk. Here’s what you can do to help keep your baby safe:

Have your baby sleep on his or her back
Whether it’s naptime or nighttime, the safest sleep position for your baby through age one is on his or her back. While time on the stomach (often referred to as tummy time) is definitely important to your infant’s development, this should happen while your baby is awake rather than during their sleep time.

Be sure not to fall into the belief that it’s ok for your baby to sleep on their stomach once in a while—research shows that babies who typically sleep on their backs but are then positioned to sleep on their stomachs are at a higher risk for SIDS.

Avoid soft sleep surfaces
Couches, sofas, and other soft surfaces are dangerous to your baby’s health while sleeping. Instead, you’ll want to put your baby to sleep on a flat, firm surface specifically designed for infants. If your baby falls asleep in a car seat, infant carrier, or stroller, move them to a firm sleep surface as soon as you can.

Keep bedding and soft objects out of your baby’s sleeping area
Blankets, pillows, and other soft objects in your baby’s sleeping area increase their risk of suffocation. Once your baby reaches age one, these objects are probably ok, but before then it’s far safer for your child to sleep in a space without any soft objects, experts say.

Have your baby sleep in your room
Research shows that babies who share a room with their parents for the first six to 12 months of their lives have a reduced risk of SIDS. But this doesn’t mean you should have your baby share your bed, as this puts infants at risk of suffocation, strangulation, and SIDS.

Don’t smoke around your baby
Exposure to secondhand smoke is a risk factor for SIDS, and so is a mother smoking during pregnancy. You’ll want to keep your baby away from anyone who is smoking, as well as away from areas where people recently have been smoking.

Make sure your baby sleeps at a comfortable temperature
It’s important not to let your baby get too hot while sleeping. Keep an eye on the temperature of the room, making sure it’s not too hot, and avoid overdressing your baby at bedtime. If your baby is sweating or appears hot, remove some of their clothing. 

Give your baby a pacifier
Sleeping with a pacifier may reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS. But since objects in your baby’s sleeping area can be dangerous, make sure the pacifier isn’t attached to a string, cord, stuffed animal, or anything else. If you’re breastfeeding, wait about a month before giving your baby a pacifier.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Understanding Breast Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment & Risk Factors

As the second most common type of cancer among women in the United States, breast cancer affects somewhere around one in eight women (12%) at some point in their lifetime. Though the death rates for this disease have fallen over the past few decades thanks to improved treatment and detection, the death rates are still higher than for any other cancer besides lung cancer.

Breast Cancer stock photo

Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the breast tissue. Some people do not experience any signs of breast cancer at all, but here are some common signs you will want to keep in mind:

  • Discharge from the nipple that isn’t breastmilk.
  • A new lump in your breast or armpit.
  • Pain within any part of your breast, including the nipple.
  • Irritation of the skin on your breast and/or dimpling of the breast skin.
  • Pulling in of the nipple.
  • Redness or flaking skin around the nipple
  • Changes to your breast’s shape or size.

Detecting Breast Cancer
On their own, none of the signs or symptoms we just mentioned indicate that you have breast cancer. But if you notice any of these signs or have any concerns about your health, it’s important to see a physician as soon as possible for further testing and information.

Some of the most common tests doctors use in diagnosing breast cancer include physical exams and health histories, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), clinical breast exams, breast ultrasounds, mammograms, and biopsies. Detection is extremely important in finding breast cancer early and being able to treat it before the cancer has a chance to spread or become incurable.

According to the CDC, the two most common types of breast cancer are:

  • Invasive ductal carcinoma: Where the cancer cells form in the breast ducts (the part of the breast that carries milk to the nipple) and then grow outside that area into other parts of the breast tissue, in some cases spreading beyond the breasts into other parts of the body.
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma: Where the cancer cells spread from the breast lobules (the breast glands that produce milk) into nearby breast tissues and sometimes into other parts of the body.

Treating Breast Cancer
Doctors treat breast cancer in many ways, and specific treatment varies from person to person depending on the type of cancer, the extent to which it spreads throughout the body (which is something called metastasis), and how the individual responds to treatment.

Some common treatments are surgery, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. Many other forms of treatment are tested in clinical trials.

The Risk Factors
Some people are at a higher risk for breast cancer than others. You may be at increased risk if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, or if you have inherited mutations in your BRCA genes that make them more likely to divide and change in ways that could potentially lead to cancer.

In some cases, people who are at high risk for breast cancer will have surgery to reduce their risk. This could be a mastectomy, where the breast tissue is removed, or a salpingo-oophorectomy, where the ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed.

Aside from family history and genetic mutations, other risk factors for breast cancer include aging (most breast cancer cases are diagnosed in women older than 50), early menstrual periods (before age 12) and late menopause (after age 55), having dense breasts, a personal history of breast cancer, and having radiation therapy to the chest or breast region in the past.

All of these factors are out of your control, but you do have control over a few risk factors. Lack of physical activity and exercise, taking certain oral contraceptives and hormones, being overweight or obese after menopause, and high alcohol consumption all put you at an increased risk for breast cancer.

So what exactly can you do to lower your risk? Exercise, maintain a healthy weight, keeping your alcohol consumption to one drink each day or less, and consult with your physician about the risks related to some oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. All of these may help lower your risk of getting breast cancer.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Ovarian Cancer

Rates of ovarian cancer diagnoses have fallen over the past 20 years, but it’s still the most deadly cancer of the female reproductive system. The disease is expected to kill nearly 14,000 women this year, while more than 22,000 will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

woman consults with her gynecologist in the gynecologist's office

But it doesn’t affect all age groups the same. Ovarian cancer is most common among women between the ages of 50 and 60, and rare among women who are under 40. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Bloating
  • Feeling full quickly or having trouble eating
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
  • Frequent need to urinate

The American Cancer Society explains that these symptoms often appear for reasons aside from ovarian cancer, but that when caused by ovarian cancer they will be persistent (such as more than 12 times each month) and also outside of the norm for you. Other ovarian cancer symptoms include back pain, fatigue, pain during sexual intercourse, abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially after menopause), abnormal vaginal discharge, constipation, upset stomach, and menstrual cycle changes.

Researchers don’t fully know or understand what causes ovarian cancer, but they do know some of the risk factors associated with it. These include: aging, being obese or overweight, having your first full-term pregnancy after age 35, never having a full-term pregnancy, having in vitro fertilization (IVF), inherited gene mutations, taking estrogen after menopause, and a family history of ovarian cancer. But it’s important to understand that the presence of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll get the disease, nor do these risk factors need to be present in order for someone to get the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, around 94% of patients with ovarian cancer live more than five years after being diagnosed if the diagnosis is made early, yet only around 20% of ovarian cancers are detected at an early stage. Most of the time, ovarian cancer isn’t detected until it’s spread beyond the ovaries into the pelvis and abdomen—a point at which it’s more difficult to treat.

Some of the best ways to work toward early detection and treatment include: yearly women’s health exams that include a pelvic exam, screening tests if you’re a high risk patient for this illness, seeing a doctor if you experience the signs and symptoms outlined above, and discussing your risk factors with a physician, particularly if you have a family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer.

Most ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of surgery (to remove the cancer tissue) and chemotherapy (to kill or shrink the cancer), but the specific treatment will vary from person to person according to their illness and the stage at which it was detected. If you have a family history of this illness, are experiencing any of its signs and symptoms, or have any concerns about ovarian cancer, it’s important to speak with a knowledgeable doctor.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

12 Important Facts About Breastfeeding

Deciding whether or not to breastfeed is highly personal choice that depends on many social, cultural, personal, and environmental factors. That said, breastfeeding is one of the most effective things a mother can do to protect the health of her baby and herself. Given that it’s national breastfeeding month, we wanted to present you with 12 important facts about breastfeeding.

Mother breastfeeding baby son in bedroom, they enjoy in this moment together

  1. To help your baby achieve optimal development, growth, and health in the months after birth, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives.
  2. Breast milk contains many important nutrients that are crucial to helping an infant grow and fight illness. Breast milk also protects the infant against type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as being overweight or obese during childhood. Additionally, the skin-to-skin contact helps you and your infant bond.
  3. Breastfeeding carries many health benefits for the mother, including reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, quicker loss of pregnancy weight, and a possible reduction in uterine bleeding following birth.
  4. Problems with breastfeeding are not uncommon. A few signs of potential issues include: breastfeeding sessions that are shorter than 10 minutes or longer than 50 minutes, severe pain that interferes with breastfeeding, the infant appearing hungry after a majority of feedings, and the infant being under their birth weight by two weeks of age. It’s important to consult with your physician if you experience these or any other problems related to breastfeeding.
  5. Breastfeeding rates vary geographically. Infants in urban areas, for example, are more likely to be breastfed than those living in rural areas. And infants who live in the southeast are less likely to be breastfed at six months of age compared to infants who live in other parts of the United States.
  6. Mothers older than 30 are more likely to breastfeed than mothers between the ages of 20 and 29. One study found that younger women were just as likely to start breastfeeding as older women, but were twice as likely to no longer breastfeed by the time the infant reached six months of age.
  7. Somewhere around 84 percent of new mothers start out breastfeeding, but by the time their infant is six months old, the number of mothers exclusively breastfeeding drops to 25%, despite various recommendations from top health organizations to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of an infant’s life. Likewise, statistics from the Office of the Surgeon General show that more than 66 percent of breastfeeding mothers begin to use formula by the time their infant is three months old.
  8. Women stop breastfeeding for a number of reasons. Some of the most common include: concerns about the baby’s weight and/or nutrition, problems with latching and lactation, embarrassment and cultural constraints, lack of family support, unsupportive workplace policies, lack of parental leave after the baby is born, unsupportive hospital policies and practices, lack of education, and concerns about taking medication while breastfeeding.
  9. Non-Hispanic black infants are less likely to be breastfed than Hispanic infants and non-Hispanic white infants, according to the CDC. Statistics show that 58 percent of African-American babies breastfeed upon birth, but only 28 percent breastfeed at all at six months, and only eight percent exclusively breastfeed at six months.
  10. 68 percent of respondents in a survey of public opinions toward breastfeeding said they believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public spaces, and 66 percent believe that public buildings should have a room where women can breastfeed and pump milk.
  11. Breast milk stays fresh for up to four days in the refrigerator, and for up to four hours at room temperature (following pumping).
  12. Breast milk may be easier for your infant to digest than formula (which is commonly made from cow’s milk). This is particularly true for babies who are born prematurely,

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Cord Blood: What You Need to Know

July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to learn more about cord blood. Umbilical cord blood, commonly referred to as cord blood, is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby has been delivered. In the past, cord blood was frequently discarded, but parents now often choose to have it collected soon after delivery so that it can either be saved and stored for future use within their family or donated to a public cord blood bank where it might be used by others in need, or for research.

Cord Blood Awareness

If you’re not familiar with cord blood, at this point you’re probably wondering why a new parent would want to save or donate it. The answer is that cord blood is rich in stem cells and can be used at a later date in a stem cell transplant to help someone who is sick with a blood cancer or some other form of malignancy. Essentially, a stem cell transplant can be used to replenish the sick person’s blood with healthy cells, in many cases saving their life. Most frequently, cord blood is used in stem cell transplants for sick babies and children. To date, thousands of lives have been saved with cord blood that’s been used in stem cell transplants after being donated to public cord blood banks.

How should someone consider when deciding what to do with their cord blood?
Many people choose to donate their cord blood. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that people donate cord blood to public cord blood banks in most situations.

“Most parents will never need cord blood for their own family’s use, but they can donate this precious life-saving gift to benefit others,” they said in a statement.

Donating cord blood is free at participating facilities and it has immense potential to help sick people in the future. Even if you choose to donate your cord blood, there’s still a chance you can use it in the future should a need arise, though the chances of it being available decrease over time.

Of course, parents can also choose to store cord blood in a private cord blood bank so that it can be saved for their family’s personal use in the future. However, there are a few considerations here. The first consideration is cost, as the charges for collection and private storage of the cord blood can be quite expensive. In addition to the initial fees, you will continue to be charged annually over time. The next factor you’ll want to consider is that there is no guarantee that the cord blood you store privately will be suitable for use in a transplant if the need arises. Lastly, there’s only a slim chance you will ever use the banked blood.

Can a family decide what to do with cord blood at the time of delivery?
It’s important that a family to decides in advance if they want to save their cord blood. You’ll need to register ahead of time so that the supplies needed for storing cord blood are present at the time of delivery, otherwise, it won’t be an option. Because of this, it’s really important to speak with a physician about cord blood donation or storage well in advance of delivery.

Is it safe to save cord blood?
Saving cord blood, whether for donation or potential personal use, is safe and won’t interfere with the delivery of your baby in any way, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

The Top 5 Female Bladder Problems

Bladder issues are extremely common among women, but for some reason they’re not talked about all that much. Some women find it embarrassing to talk about bladder conditions, and thus shy away from talking about what they’re experiencing with their physician or among other women.

Bladder Problems

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, many bladder problems are associated with all sorts of problematic issues, like a decrease in physical activity, social isolation, falls, fractures, poor adherence to blood pressure medications, and more. Because bladder problems are so common yet infrequently talked about, we’re rounding up some common conditions to help you learn more, realize you’re not alone, and encourage you to seek treatment. Here are the top bladder conditions you may experience:

Urinary incontinence
Have you ever accidentally leaked urine? If so, you may be experiencing urinary incontinence. This is a condition that leads you to lose control of your bladder. It can be provoked by something as simple as a sneeze or cough, and can also come on suddenly with a strong and intense urge. Urinary incontinence is more common as people age, but certainly not inevitable, and can often be treated with medication or small lifestyle changes. If you experience urinary incontinence, you’ll want to see a doctor to address the condition and also to make sure you’re not dealing with another serious, underlying condition that’s contributing to your incontinence.

Frequent Urination
Frequent urination is a condition in which you urinate more than normal. It’s extremely common and impacts somewhere around 33 million Americans. The specific number of times per day that defines frequent urination can be hard to define, but may be somewhere around eight or more times per day, or more than once per night. Typically, you will want to speak with your doctor about frequent urination if it feels like it’s interfering with your life or causing you anxiety when you’re not nearby a restroom.

Urinary Urgency
If you experience instances where you suddenly develop a strong and overwhelming need to urinate, possibly alongside pain or general discomfort in your urinary tract or bladder, you may be dealing with urinary urgency. This condition often occurs alongside frequent urination.

The most common cause of urinary urgency is a urinary tract infection, but it can also be caused by consuming caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, drinking too much liquid over a short period of time, pregnancy, anxiety, diabetes, chronic bladder infection, vaginal infection, and more. Other less common causes include tumor, nervous system disorders, and bladder cancer. If you’re having issues with urinary urgency where it’s interfering with your life (such as not being able to make it to the bathroom in time), you’ll want to see your doctor.

Nocturia
Do you feel like you’re constantly getting up at night to use the bathroom? If you need to urinate multiple times each night, you could be suffering from nocturia. This is a condition that leads you to wake up in the night to urinate. It can happen at any age, but is more common in adults who are over 60. The cause can be simple—simply consuming too many liquids, or it can occur for more complex reasons, including diabetes, sleep disorders, congestive heart failure, bladder obstruction, bladder inflammation, or as a side effect of a medication you’re taking.

Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and then multiplies within the bladder. The infection can exist in any part of the urinary system, which includes your bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. UTIs are very common, so much so that if you haven’t had one yourself, you likely know someone who has. In fact, statistics show that one in three women will have a UTI by age 24, and around half of women will have one at some point in their lifetime. When contained to the bladder, UTIs can be very painful, irritating, and uncomfortable. But when left untreated, the infection can travel to the kidneys, which carries more serious health risks and consequences.

Some common UTI symptoms include burning and irritation while urinating, an intense need to urinate, feelings of lethargy or shakiness, fever and chills, pressure and pain in the back or lower portion of the abdomen, passing only small amounts of urine despite feeling an urgent need to use the bathroom, and cloudy, bloody, dark-colored, or strange-smelling urine. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor to treat the infection before it has the chance to spread.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

How Gut Health Affects Your Entire Body

Contrary to what you may believe, the health of your gut impacts the body in ways that extend far beyond the gut itself. Wondering how that’s possible? To start, you’ll need to understand that the human gut (or digestive tract) contains trillions of bacteria that are commonly referred to as gut flora or gut microbiota. They’re also part of something called the gut microbiome, which has tremendous impacts on the health of our entire body. These gut microbes are important for so many reasons—they help us digest and obtain energy from food, but they also help out in many other ways, impacting our brains, hearts, immune systems, and more.

Gut Health

Here are some ways your gut bacteria can impact your health:

Digestive Health
Many of the microbes in your gut are forms of good bacteria that help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and more. But when the gut’s bacteria fall out of balance, you can experience various gastrointestinal problems, including irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Obesity, Weight Gain, and Diabetes
Gut bacteria plays a role in the body’s metabolism, and researchers believe there could be an increased risk of diabetes and obesity when gut bacteria levels become imbalanced. They’re also looking into how signals from the gut might affect metabolism and eventually contribute to problematic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes.

Brain Health
The brain and the gut have a strong connection, which is probably obvious to anyone who’s ever felt sick to their stomach in a stressful situation or upon hearing bad news. In fact, the brain and the gut send signals to one another all the time. For this reason, problems with your gut or gut bacteria can contribute to anxiety, depression, or stress. But at the same time, these sorts of conditions can also cause problems in the gut. Some researchers believe that the gut also may have an impact on chronic pain and possibly even mood and behavior.

Heart Health
Researchers have found that when we consume foods like eggs and red meat, certain types of gut bacteria convert a nutrient called choline that’s found in these products into a problematic substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO, for short). Unfortunately, elevated levels of TMAO can contribute to a higher risk of stroke, blood clots, and other conditions.

Another study on lab mice found that gut microbes may play a role in helping repair damage from heart attacks by regenerating tissues, but this needs further research before we have a better understanding of whether this may be consistent in humans.

The Immune System
The gut helps build and boost the body’s immune system and even helps protect against infection by communicating with the cells of the immune system. A study from 2018 found that a baby’s gut bacteria varies depending on whether they are breast or formula fed, and that these bacteria can then impact their immunity. Babies who were breastfed tend to have healthy gut microbiota and may be more resistant to some adverse health conditions. Researchers believe there may even be a connection between a healthy infant gut microbiota and the ability to protect against health conditions like obesity and diabetes later in life.

There are many ways to improve your gut microbiome, including eating a wide variety of vegetables, high-fiber foods, and fermented foods. Taking probiotics and limiting antibiotics can also be beneficial.

A lot of research is happening in this area and much more remains before definitive conclusions can be made on many of these topics. Although, the connection between gut health and human health is clear, and researchers are constantly learning new ways how gut health is influencing the health of other parts of our bodies.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What to Expect During Each Stage of Menopause

Many women think of menopause as a change that sets in quickly when a woman reaches her late forties or fifties. But the truth is, there’s actually a long transitional phase leading up to menopause called perimenopause, and another phase that follows called post menopause. Some women also experience early menopause if they experience certain health conditions and procedures. In this piece you’ll learn all about what differentiates these important stages, and what you can expect in each.

Menopause

Perimenopause
Perimenopause is essentially a transition into menopause when a woman’s body starts to produce less estrogen. This phase usually begins when a woman is in her mid-forties, though it can begin when a woman is in her thirties or even earlier.

During perimenopause, your menstrual cycle will become irregular, but you can still get pregnant. You may experience spotting, skip a few periods, notice that your period is longer or shorter than usual, or experience bleeding that’s heavier or lighter than your normal. Other common signs of perimenopause include night sweats and hot flashes, mood changes, dryness during sex, decreased libido, decreased bone mass, and changes in cholesterol levels.

Typically, perimenopause lasts three or four years, but the duration will vary from person to person, which is the case with most aspects of perimenopause. Overall, this phase and the other stages of menopause are highly variable from one woman to another. If you’re curious about perimenopause and want to learn more about how it affects your body and your period, you might find these blog posts interesting.

Early Menopause
For many women, menopause occurs naturally as part of the aging process. But it can also set in earlier than usual for women who’ve experienced certain medical procedures and situations including chemotherapy, hysterectomy, and oophorectomy. Women who have their uterus removed in a hysterectomy will experience early menopause that comes on gradually, whereas women who have their ovaries removed in an oophorectomy will experience an immediate onset of menopause.

Menopause
During menopause, you’ll continue to experience some of the symptoms that you may have dealt with during perimenopause (hot flashes, insomnia, mood changes, and more) but the notable difference about this stage is that it’s when you’ll have your last menstrual period and can no longer become pregnant.

Most women experience menopause somewhere between the age of 45 and 58, with the average being at age 52. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, menopause can happen earlier among women who never had children and among those who smoke.

Post Menopause
The phase known as post menopause begins a year after a woman’s last menstrual cycle. During this phase, you may continue to experience symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia and other sleep problems, mood changes such as depression and anxiety, increased heart rate, night sweats, and discomfort during intercourse due to vaginal dryness. Bleeding shouldn’t occur after you’ve had your last menstrual period,, so you’ll need to see a doctor if you experience any vaginal bleeding during post menopause.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert and Chandler.