The Unmentionables: Gynecological Symptoms You Can’t Ignore
Women experience changes in their bodies throughout their entire lives. Some of these changes are due to aging. Others are the result of hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause or menstrual cycles. While it may feel awkward to mention unusual symptoms in “unmentionable” places to your provider, these changes often provide important clues to your health. If you notice any unusual changes in your body, talk with your provider to make sure that what you’re experiencing isn’t serious.
CHANGES DURING MENOPAUSE
Menopause is the natural end to a woman’s childbearing years. You are in menopause after completing 12 months without a period. For some women, this transition is uneventful. However, up to 40 percent of women experience one or more disruptive symptoms.
• Vaginal burning, itching or dryness
• Decreased libido during sex
• Painful intercourse
• Bleeding after sex
• More frequent vaginal or urinary tract infections
• Frequent urination
If you are a pre- or post-menopausal woman and are experiencing any of the above uncomfortable changes in your body, schedule a consultation at the Allegan Pelvic Wellness Center by calling (269) 686-4355. There are many healthy ways to address menopausal symptoms. If you are experiencing additional gynecological concerns such as vaginal bleeding post menopause, talk to your provider.
Every woman is different, so it’s important to know what is normal for you so you can recognize changes that may signal a possible health problem. Click here to learn more about a few gynecological symptoms you should not ignore.
Count on your Health
There are four key measurements of health you should know and track. They are early warning signs for heart disease and diabetes. Since these two diseases have few noticeable symptoms, you may not even realize you are ill — or at risk for becoming ill — until it’s too late. Keeping these numbers within a healthy range can help prevent a medical emergency, such as a heart attack.
- Blood Cholesterol
- Blood Pressure
- Blood Sugar
Click here to download our free fact sheet to learn more about these four important key health measurements.
The dangers of cigarettes and other tobacco products have had health professionals sending up smoke signals for years. Although smoking rates have declined, nearly 18 percent of people 18 and older in the U.S. still currently smoke, and nearly half a million Americans die every year from smoking-related disease. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
Did you know?
- Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 are known to cause cancer.
- On average, cigarette smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
- Smoking is directly responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths.
- For every person who dies from smoking, at least 30 (more than 16 million Americans) are living with a smoking-related illness.
- Secondhand smoke causes ear infections, asthma attacks, and respiratory symptoms and infections in children and raises their risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In adults, secondhand smoke causes heart disease, lung cancer and stroke. In fact, living with a smoker increases nonsmokers’ chance of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent by exposing them to many of the toxic chemicals released from burning tobacco products and exhaled smoke.
- Smoking raises blood pressure and stresses the heart, increasing your risk for heart disease.
- Health experts are concerned that electronic cigarettes are “a gateway to nicotine addiction and, ultimately, smoking, particularly for young people.” Electronic cigarettes pose a risk to unborn babies whose mothers smoke (or vape) and increase nonsmokers’ exposure to nicotine and other toxins, according to a report by the World Health Organization.
- More people are addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes than to any other drug. Nicotine may be as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.
Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to improve the length and quality of your life. It’s never too late to quit! In fact, you cut your risk for heart disease in half just one year after quitting. Even quitting at age 50 reduces your risk of dying from a smoking-related disease by 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although many people quit on their own, it generally takes multiple tries. Download our free fact sheet “Smoke Signals” for information on proven quit-smoking resources that are available.
A New Wrinkle
If you are caring for elderly parents, you are not alone. More than 43 million people in the U.S. care for someone 50 or older, and nearly 15 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. Caring for an aging parent can be a richly rewarding yet stressful, emotional experience. The key to minimizing the stress and anxiety (for yourself, your parents and your siblings) is open, respectful communication — early and often.
AARP recommends that adult children talk to their parents about “developing contingency plans for adapting to aging-induced changes” long before parents begin to experience mental or physical impairments. Contingency plans spell out parents’ preferences, such as end-of-life wishes and where they might like to live if they can no longer safely care for themselves. These plans should also cover legal matters, including a power of attorney for financial and healthcare decisions
It’s not always easy to discuss these topics with your parents. They may struggle with giving up control and dealing with the losses that come with aging. Your siblings may have different ideas and expectations than you do about what is best for your parents and who should do what. Family meetings will help you clarify goals and expectations and work out conflicts. A trained facilitator can help if your family is struggling.
Click here to view our “A New Wrinkle” fact sheet, which provides tools and online resources available to help you navigate the challenges of caring for your parents.
You’re Born with Your Birthday Suit
Your skin. We often call it (affectionately, of course) your birthday suit. It’s your body’s largest organ, weighing in at roughly eight pounds and covering about 22 square feet. Your skin serves many life-sustaining functions, including protecting you from the outside world and maintaining your body temperature. Each square inch of skin contains millions of nerves that allow you feel touch, pain and pressure.
Many skin changes are just a normal part of the aging process. However, others can signal health problems. It pays to know what is normal and what is not.
Normal signs of aging. As you age, your skin becomes thinner and more brittle. It loses strength and elasticity. Because the skin produces less oil, it becomes drier, leading to wrinkles and tiny lines. You may develop new skin growths or pigment spots, especially in sun-exposed areas. Tiny blood vessels in the skin become more fragile, so you may experience bruising or bleeding under the skin.
Warning Signs. Unexplained skin changes can be a sign of skin cancer or some other illness. Become familiar with YOUR skin so you can recognize potential warning signs.
- Learn where your moles are and what they look and feel like.
- Be alert for new moles (especially if they look different from your other moles).
- Notice any changes in existing moles or recent skin abnormalities, such as a raised flaky patch, a sore that does not heal or a new, flesh-colored, firm bump.
These changes may indicate skin cancer. Although skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, it’s also easily treatable if caught early.
Other unrelated diseases can also cause skin changes, especially as you age. In fact, about 90 percent of older people have some type of skin disease due to an underlying illness, such as heart or liver disease or diabetes, according to the National Library of Medicine. Poor nutrition, obesity and stress can also change your skin.
Protect Yourself. You only get one birthday suit, so take care of it. Click here to learn tips to prevent damage, premature aging or cancers of the skin.
The Great Eight
Sleep. We all need it. But few of us consistently sleep as long — or as restfully — as we should for optimum health. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 35 percent of adults regularly get less than seven hours of sleep. Although sleep recommendations vary somewhat, most health experts agree that a solid eight hours for adults is a good night’s sleep.
Despite what you may believe, you are definitely not idle when you’re sleeping! Sleep is a complex biological process that supports brain function and helps keep you healthy.
8 facts to know about sleep
- You cycle through five distinct stages during the night, including a stage called rapid eye movement (REM). Some phases help you feel rested and energetic, and others help you learn new information and form memories, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- Sleep improves your cognitive abilities, such as learning and problem-solving skills.
- Studies show that sleep deficiency harms driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk.
- Sleep heals and repairs your heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep regularly may increase your risk for heart disease, obesity, stroke and diabetes.
- People who get even small amounts of regular physical activity are one-third less likely to report sleep problems and half as likely to report daytime tiredness, according to a survey by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- While you sleep, your body “takes out the trash,” removing waste products and toxins from your brain. Some of these toxins are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.
- Snoring is generally harmless, but for some people, it can be a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious problem that causes to you briefly stop breathing. Sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems.
- Some studies suggest an association between short sleep duration and weight gain, in part because of changes to hunger-related hormones. And of course, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to make less healthy food choices.
Click here to view our “The Great Eight” fact sheet and learn eight tips to help you get eight hours of sleep a night.
When was the last time you laughed? Laughing actually produces positive physical changes in your body that boost your health immediately and over the long term, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, laughing:
- Releases endorphins and dopamine, which are feel-good hormones
- Relieves stress and helps you cope with it
- Stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles thanks to the sudden increase in oxygen levels
- Reduces pain
- Lessens depression, anxiety and tension
- Increases creativity and cognitive abilities
- Improves your immune system
- Improves relationships, creating happier marriages and bonding among group members
- Helps you shift the way you view situations and allows you to see them from a different perspective
Best of all, laughter is free, easy and readily available to everyone. Click here to learn ways you can bring more laughter into your life.
Impact family health through meal planning and prep. You may not consider yourself a gourmet cook or fine food aficionado, but what you eat and how you prepare food for yourself and your family can keep you healthy and help prevent serious disease. It can also help you and your family maintain a healthy weight, prevent chronic disease and boost your energy levels.
Eating is one of the great pleasures of life and a key component of many of our social interactions. However, many of us consume more calories than we actually need. That’s why nearly 69 percent of U.S. adults 20 and older are overweight or obese. Being obese increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
The key to healthy eating is to consume the right amount of calories from the right kinds of foods to support your activity level. It’s easier than you might think. Start by focusing on “real foods” and how you prepare them. Food writer Michael Pollan (author of “In Defense of Food and Food Rules”) says real foods are what our ancestors ate before science started “improving them” (think: processed foods).
If you’re ready to become a healthy foodie, click here to download our free fact sheet with some tips to get you started.
Quit the Sit
Don’t be a sitting duck. Sitting ducks are an easy target for many serious health conditions. Did you know that too much sitting is harmful — even if you exercise regularly? Research shows that being sedentary outside of purposeful physical activity (for example, running or going to the gym) raises your risk of developing many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. It also shortens your life expectancy.
When you think about it, it’s easy to understand how we’ve become so sedentary. We can hit the drive-through at the bank or Starbucks, or take the elevator rather than walk up the steps. The airport has motorized walkways to transport us from one place to another. Many of us spend hours in front of a computer during the workday and a TV screen in the evening. In fact, the average person today spends at least nine hours per day sitting. That’s more than half of your waking hours!
The data suggests that we should ALL increase our standing and walking time during the day. In fact, if you are overweight, you should try to increase the amount of time you spend in non-exercise physical activity by two and a half hours a day. While that may sound a bit overwhelming at first, when you break it down into short intervals throughout the day, it’s really not. Taking frequent standing and moving breaks can quickly add up.
It may help to know that you burn 30 percent more calories when you stand versus when you sit. And the accumulation of muscle contractions required to move throughout the day actually uses more energy than a continuous period of dedicated physical exercise.
Download our free fact sheet “Quit the Sit” for helpful tips on ways you can quit the sit.
Breaking Bad Habits
We all have habits. Some are good (for example, brushing your teeth before bed), while others can be annoying or even harmful, such as biting your nails or mindlessly eating a pint of ice cream when you feel stressed. Individuals create habits by repeating certain behaviors until they become automatic. Habits free your brain to focus on more important decisions and activities.
All habits, good and bad, develop essentially the same way. There is a cue, or something that triggers a behavior, the routine (the behavior itself) and the reward, which is the most important part.
When a behavior triggers the brain’s reward center, it releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. This is why it’s easy to develop bad habits. In the short term, the behavior makes you feel good. Over time, however, the bad behavior becomes hardwired into your brain, and then you can’t easily stop doing it.
It’s important to recognize when bad habits cross the line and become an addiction. Addictions aren’t just about drugs and alcohol; people also become addicted to caffeine, gambling, anger, food, the internet, sex, work and nicotine. Addiction is a disease, just like heart disease. If left untreated, an addiction can disrupt your life, work and relationships and cause long-term physical effects. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for addictions.
Download our free fact sheet “Breaking Bad Habits” for helpful tips for breaking bad habits.
There’s no place like home! After spending time in the hospital, the last thing you want to do is go back. Unfortunately, one in five patients is readmitted within 30 days of being discharged. Despite being so common, readmission is usually avoidable, so it is important for you to take charge of your health by being an active participant in your own recovery.
Download our free fact sheet “Learn Not to Return” to learn more about the steps to help you on your personal path to wellness.
Connect the Dots
When someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease, it can be confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming, not only for the patient, but also for the entire family. But the more information you have about the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the more you can do to connect the dots for a treatment plan and help slow down the progression of the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, as the sixth leading cause of death for American adults. If you notice that a loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, contact a doctor right away. They can provide a complete medical assessment, including a physical and neurological exam, blood tests, mental status tests, and brain imaging to help you determine whether or not he or she may have Alzheimer’s disease. An early diagnosis will allow for the maximum benefit from any available treatments and will give you time to create a care plan.
Download our free fact sheet to learn more.
Do you scramble to the Internet every time you get the sniffles or feel a twinge? What you really may have is a bad case of “searchachondria.”
Eighty percent of Internet users utilize the Web to answer health questions and self-diagnose when they don’t feel well. The Internet is an incredibly rich source of information, so this may sound like a good idea; however, studies show that using the Internet to self-diagnose is leading to an entirely new problem called “cyberchondria,” which is anxiety for one’s personal wellness caused by health-related online searches. Letting your searchachondria stress you out enough to give you cyberchondria can actually turn your well-meaning search into a health hazard. So don’t stress yourself! Make an appointment to talk with your doctor about what is bothering you. If you can’t stay away from the Internet in the meantime, use credible medical websites to search for signs and symptoms — NOT a diagnosis — so that you will have a comprehensive list to take to your doctor.
Click here to download our free factsheet to learn more about Searchachondria.
Walking down the makeup and personal care aisles at the grocery or department store can be an overwhelming experience due to the wide array of products all claiming multiple benefits. With recent reports warning of high chemical content in personal care products, consumers are wondering how to make healthy choices when it comes to makeup and beauty products.
Click here to download our free factsheet “Glowing Review” for information on how you can learn more about the danger of buying beauty knockoffs, SPF in makeup, toxins in personal care products, makeup expiration dates, and whether antiaging products actually work.
Are you seeing spots? The average person has between 10 and 40 moles, though the number can vary drastically. The number of moles you have can change throughout your life, as new moles can develop and some may disappear as you age. You can develop moles almost anywhere on your body, including your scalp and underneath your fingernails. But what exactly are they, and where do they come from?
Moles are small, colored spots made of melanocytes, which are cells that make the pigment of your skin. Usually these cells are evenly distributed across your skin, but moles appear when these cells occur in clusters, causing small areas of your skin to darken. Though most moles are harmless, it is important to keep an eye on them in case they develop into abnormal moles, called dysplastic nevi, that have the possibility of becoming cancerous. Download our factsheet Mole Mystery to learn how to sharpen your skin-detective skills and solve your own mole mystery.
Does your partner keep you up half the night sounding like a bulldozer or a freight train? You aren’t alone. Almost half of adults snore occasionally, and 25% snore regularly. Occasional snoring is not dangerous, but chronic snoring may require medical attention.
Snoring can be stressful on a relationship and leave a bed partner fatigued, but it can also be an indication of a more serious problem. Snoring disrupts normal sleeping patterns, leaving the snorer, and often their partner, without an adequate amount of rest. Other possible health consequences of snoring include headache, stroke, heart disease, arrhythmia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), injury due to increased daytime sleepiness, mental health issues, reduced sexual satisfaction, fetal complications, nocturia (needing to get up to use the bathroom two or more times per night), and sleep apnea.
To learn more about how to create a health and wellness plan for the chronic snorer in your life, download our free factsheet.
Shock to the Heart
Heart rhythm problems, or arrhythmias, occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeat don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. A heartbeat that is too fast is called a tachycardia and one that is too slow is called a bradycardia. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an arrhythmia with an irregular and often rapid heartbeat that causes decreased blood flow to the body. During AF, the atria (the heart’s two upper chambers) beat out of sync with the ventricles (the heart’s two lower chambers).
Though most arrhythmias are harmless, some can be life-threatening. During an arrhythmia, the heart may not pump enough blood through the body, which can cause damage to the heart, brain and other organs. Although AF is not usually immediately life-threatening, it is a significant medical issue that requires prompt medical attention, evaluation and diagnostic workup.
Download our free factsheet to help you learn about symptoms and treatment plans for arrhythmias.
The aorta is the main artery of the body, that supplies oxygenated blood to your heart, lungs and brain. This artery runs from the heart through the center of the chest and abdomen. An aortic aneurysm is an enlargement of this main artery, that occurs in a weakened portion of the artery’s wall.
An aneurysm occurs when a segment of the vessel becomes weakened and expands. The bulge usually starts small and grows as the pressure continues. An aneurysm may occasionally cause pain which is a sign of impending rupture. When the rupture occurs, it causes internal bleeding.
Because the abdominal aorta is such a large vessel, a ruptured abdominal aneurysm is a life-threatening event. Most aortic aneurysms do not show symptoms until they are large and develop a complication. When one arises, the patient usually experiences severe pain. Do not remain silent if you experience the following symptoms. Call your healthcare provider, or call 911 if you experience:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain in the jaw, back or upper neck
- Difficulty breathing (this maybe affected by position)
- Trouble swallowing
- Abnormal changes in heartbeat or murmurs
Download our free factsheet to learn about the symptoms and treatment options for aortic aneurysms. It is a great starting point for discussing and creating a health and wellness plan with your physician.
The Right Fit
Your life is not one-size-fits-all, so why should your workout be? It is practically impossible to escape advertising for a seemingly endless number of fitness trends, but just because a workout is popular or works for someone else does not necessarily mean it is the best fit for you.
When starting a fitness routine, it is important to focus on what fits your unique lifestyle, interests, and fitness level. The first step to starting any new exercise program is to consult your doctor. A healthcare professional can help you determine what forms of exercise are safe for you and can help you reach your personal fitness goals.
Download our free factsheet to learn more about finding a fitness routine that is the right fit for you.
It’s in the Bag
Brown bag it! Bringing your own lunch or meals “to go” can help to cut costs and keep you and your family healthy. Though it’s easy to run to restaurants, fast-food joints, or cafeterias, the portion sizes and extras (like French fries) are incredibly fattening. Eating this kind of fare routinely can be unhealthy and expensive. Lunch can cost upwards of $10 per day, while that morning latte can be $4 or more, and it adds up quickly. Packing your own food gives you control over ingredients, portions, and your budget.
One of the most daunting aspects of packing your own food is deciding what to make. The best lunch would consist of equal portions of lean protein, whole grain, veggies, and fruit, with a single serving of low-fat dairy. Low-fat protein and fiber from whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables will help to give you the energy you need to get through the day and keep you full until dinner. As you shop, try to buy foods that are as close to their original form and have as few ingredients as possible. Processed foods are often changed dramatically from their natural form and tend to be high in sugars and fats, contain artificial ingredients and chemicals, and lack important vitamins and nutrients.
Are you ready to break out of your worst eating habits? Talk to your doctor about creating a nutrition plan, or get a referral for a nutrition specialist to begin planning healthy meals for the whole family!
Download our free factsheet for ideas on packing your brown bag meal.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Heart
A healthy diet is important to managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. How much of what you’re eating is just as important as what you’re eating. Being able to recognize portion sizes and monitor intake is essential to a heart-healthy diet.
Control your portions by measurement cups or scales, or if you don’t have any of those tools on hand, compare what you’re eating to common objects:
– One serving, or 2-3 ounces, of meat, fish or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards
If you need help designing a healthy eating program, contact your healthcare provider, who can direct you to a nutritionist who can design a plan customized to your particular healthcare needs.
Download our free factsheet to learn about portion sizes and which foods are best for your heart health. It is also a great starting point for discussing and creating a health and wellness plan with your physician.
In Sickness & in Health
It is no surprise that being in love can make you happier, but did you know that it can also make you healthier? Numerous studies have shown that married couples enjoy multiple health benefits that their unmarried counterparts do not. Tying the knot could reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack, improve your overall mental and physical health, and even help you live longer!
Experts say that married individuals are less likely to engage in risky behavior and substance abuse, and that having a constant source of
social connection through their spouses helps them to avoid neglecting their health.
Talk to your partner about keeping each other accountable for good health habits. Start by making sure that your significant other makes — and keeps — an appointment with a healthcare professional for an annual checkup.
Download our free factsheet to learn how you and your partner can stay well together.
In Case of Emergency
Heart attacks strike Americans about once every 34 seconds, and most victims aren’t even aware they’re having one until it’s too late. Each year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. It’s important to be able to spot a heart attack or stroke, and treat it in a timely manner. Knowing the signs of these conditions and how to treat them can save a life. Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Uncomfortable pressure, tightness or pain in the center of the chest, lasting longer than a few minutes
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
Although your first reaction may be to drive a patient with symptoms of a heart attack or stroke to the hospital yourself, it’s best to call 911 first. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are able to provide treatment on the way to the hospital and are trained to revive a person if he or she is experiencing heart failure.
Download our free fact sheet “In Case of Emergency“ to learn how to recognize the signs of a heart attack or stroke and how to help someone who may be having one.
Don’t get fever phobia! It’s hard to see your child suffer through a fever, and it can be difficult to determine whether your child requires a doctor’s visit or even a trip to the emergency room. Fevers themselves are generally not dangerous or harmful, but what causes high temperatures in kids may be.
Fever is the immune system’s natural response to fight infections, but can also be caused by heat exhaustion, severe sunburn, and some immunizations. Signs of fever include sweating, shivering, headache, muscle aches and weakness, loss of appetite, and dehydration. Very high fevers can lead to confusion, hallucinations, and convulsions; if your child has these fever symptoms, seek medical attention right away. If you are ever in doubt about whether or not your child needs to see a healthcare professional, call his or her doctor. The doctor can help determine whether the fever is cause for concern by asking whether your child is eating, playing, alert, or dehydrated.
Download our free fact sheet “Temperature Tantrum” to learn more.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Fat!
If you want to be healthy, you don’t have time for the serious health consequences associated with being overweight. With a sharp rise in prevalence in recent years, obesity is perhaps the most talked about health condition in the United States… but why? More than a third of American adults are obese. Obesity contributes to several serious health conditions, including sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, abnormal menstruation, infertility, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, liver and gall bladder disease, and even certain types of cancer. Behavior, environment, and genetic factors all contribute to obesity. Childhood obesity, which has almost tripled in the past 30 years, is also a large indicator for adult obesity and includes the same health risks as adult obesity.
Download our free fact sheet “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for the Fat” to learn more about the causes and risk factors for obesity and to learn tips to help prevent or manage obesity for you and your family.
Many women only see their doctors when they are sick or injured, forming a negative connotation with doctor’s visits; however, scheduling a yearly well-woman visit with your doctor is imperative in helping prevent and recognize disease, identify health issues, establish wellness goals, and build a relationship with your physician.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recognizes the well-woman visit as a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and wellness. Scheduling an appointment annually when you are not sick gives you time with your physician dedicated to maintaining your overall health by providing services based on your age, risk factors, and individual needs. So don’t wait until you get sick! See your doctor regularly to help prevent illness and disease instead of just treating it.
Download our fact sheet “Well, Yes!” to learn what a well-woman visit is and what you can expect during this appointment!