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LivingHealthInternational Women’s Day: Five health tips from your local OBGYN 

International Women’s Day: Five health tips from your local OBGYN 

Dr. Anca Matei is an obstetrician and gynecologist at Almonte General Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Newborn Care.

This Friday, March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day. We celebrate the girls and women in our lives, and in some countries we specifically celebrate mothers. It’s a time to reflect on the strength, beauty, and resilience of half of the world’s population. Women provide an anchor to their families and communities through caregiving, leadership, creativity and vision. But they can only do so if they are healthy. In the words of Michelle Obama, “Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women.”

There are many ways to make sure that women are – and stay – healthy. Here are five health tips to get you started:

  1. Get a Pap – a Pap (or Papanicolau) test is important in preventing cancer of the cervix. The cervix sits at the very bottom of the uterus and the top of the vagina. Cancer of the cervix is most often due to the human papillomavirus and, unlike many other types of cancer, can most often be prevented through regular screening. If you are over 25 years old and you are sexually active, and you have a cervix, get a Pap every 3 years. If you have certain risk factors you may need it more often. Other things you can do to reduce your risk are to get the HPV vaccine and avoid smoking. You can read more about this at www.hpvinfo.ca and https://www.cancercareontario.ca/en/types-of-cancer/cervical
  1. Get a mammogram – are you between 50 and 74 years of age? Then get a mammogram every 2 years. If you have risk factors, talk to your doctor as you may need to do it yearly and may also need an ultrasound or MRI. Breast cancer screening with regular mammograms is the best way to detect changes in the breast that may be cancerous and to identify cancer early. When breast cancer is diagnosed early, treatments are more successful, and you are likely to survive it for longer. You can read more about the Ontario Breast Screening Program here https://www.cancercareontario.ca/en/cancer-care-ontario/programs/screening-programs/ontario-breast-obsp
  1. Talk about menopause: Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, changes in mood and weight? So much to talk about! Menopause is a time of transition, but sometimes it is really challenging to carry on with regular activities like work, exercise, relationships, or hobbies. If that’s happening to you, talk to your doctor. Some family doctors are well versed in managing menopause, and for those who are not, or if your symptoms are particularly stubborn, ask for a referral to a gynecologist. Sometimes just learning what’s normal can help, but some people may need a more detailed conversation on medications to help with their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
  1. Be honest about pain: Not all painful periods are due to endometriosis, but some are. Endometriosis can cause very severe pain or other symptoms, including bladder or bowel symptoms, or pain with sexual activity. It may be the reason why you or other women in your life are missing school, work, soccer practice or a friend’s birthday. Yet women presenting with painful periods are often dismissed and told it’s normal. Even when someone does talk to their doctor, it may take over 5 years to get a diagnosis. There is so much more we have yet to learn about this underdiagnosed condition that affects at least 1 in 10 Canadians, but in the meantime, there are management options that can make a huge difference. Read more about it here https://endometriosisnetwork.com and talk to your doctor to get the ball rolling. Your family doctor can start with a comprehensive interview of your symptoms and a focused physical examination, as well as some initial tests. Often a referral to a gynecologist is needed in order to diagnose endometriosis, learn more about it and explore management options.
  1. Speak up: Whether you identify as a woman or not, everyone stands to gain from a healthy, happy community of women. Whoever you are, speak up and advocate for the women in your life. You can start by sharing  this article, and think about ways to support women’s health in our community.  For instance, join me in June for the Almonte General Hospital Run for Women’s Health, which raises funds for equipment on the birthing unit. Every bit helps!

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “inspire inclusion” and it prompts us to think about deeply rooted gender inequities in health care. I invite you to reflect on these important themes and #inspireinclusion by encouraging the women and girls in your life to  stay healthy so they can do all the amazing things they set out to do!

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