Sara Waterman, MD

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Love is in the Air

Love is in the air

PacMed doctor encourages best practices for women’s reproductive and sexual health

Posted on NorthwestMilitary.com on February 14, 2019.

February is the month for romance: Hallmark movies galore, heart-shaped balloons and candy boxes, and fine-dining reservations surge in popularity as declarations and expressions of love are celebrated. In honor of Valentine's Day, Pacific Medical Centers' Primary Care Physician Sara Waterman, MD, who specializes in Family Medicine with Obstetrics, is here to inform female readers of proper precautions, birth control options, and things to be on the lookout for pertaining to women's health so ladies can enjoy the holiday responsibly.

February is a month of romance. What precautions or recommendations do you have for women in regards to reproductive and general health?

Romance is always welcome! However, it's important to consider the associated risk of STDs and pregnancy. Both can be prevented through safe sex and effective contraception. I recommend women talk with their primary care provider and set up a normal visit. It's also important for a woman to seek medical advice if she has any vaginal discomfort or unusual discharge. In addition, if you are unsure, it's always a good idea to touch base with your provider regarding timing for recommended screening exams like pap smears and mammograms.

What are the most common symptoms a woman can experience that may indicate a serious medical issue or concern?

We all can experience physical symptoms, at times, that can be concerning (headaches, nausea, muscle pains), but there are particular symptoms which should alert a woman to seek medical care -- sometimes urgently. These include chest pain, shortness of breath or persistent and unusual nausea. All can herald angina, or heart pain. Other symptoms that need attention include unintended weight loss, depressed mood or marked changes in your menstrual bleeding.

Please tell readers the top three mistakes you witness women making when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health.

As primary care providers, we often see first-hand how women may overlook self-care during their busy day-to-day lives. First, some women think pain with intercourse is typical and acceptable -- neither is true. The good news is that there are physical therapy modalities that treat "dyspareunia" very successfully.

Some women also erroneously believe that they are fertile as long as they are having menstrual cycles. Unfortunately, this belief leads many to postpone attempted conception until much later than is optimal. Spontaneous conception, although possible, is much less common for a woman in her 40s than in her 20s. In addition, the rate of miscarriage goes up significantly.

Lastly, at times women mistakenly come in for preventive care that is actually not needed. It is never a mistake to call and ask your provider if you are due for routine preventive care. The good news is that pap smears are done much less frequently than they were 15 years ago, largely due to the research around HPV (human papillomavirus) infection and the body's inherent ability to clear this infection most of the time.

What advice do you have for women contemplating obtaining birth control? What should be taken into consideration when researching the best method for an individual?

There is a wide variety of contraceptive options available to women today. Women contemplating contraception should discuss the effectiveness and side effects of these various options with their provider. Sometimes the effectiveness of a particular option is closely related with the user's compliance (like condoms or birth control pills), whereas the new LARC (long acting reversible contraception) methods like IUDs and Nexplanon remove user compliance as a factor, making them very effective and convenient. Also, some forms of birth control affect menstrual frequency and flow as well as weight, both important considerations for some people.

Is there anything else you would like female readers to understand about this topic?

Every person is unique and likely has questions about their reproductive and sexual health that are best addressed individually with a healthcare provider. Sometimes the best healthcare is an honest and informative discussion with your own personal provider regarding your individual concerns. It's important to remember that information accessed from websites is not always pertinent to a given person, and sometimes the information therein is not evidence-based medicine. As in all areas of health, sufficient sleep and exercise combined with a healthy whole foods diet will help most women attain their best.