June 5, 2012 > Women's Health Specialists Offer Lifelong Care
Women's Health Specialists Offer Lifelong Care
Services Address Women's Unique Health Issues
Women face a number of health issues that are unique to being a woman. Women's reproductive systems can affect their health needs, even if they never become mothers.
"We can help women take charge of their health," said Dr. Jing Dai, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with the Washington Township Medical Foundation and a member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "Our practice offers comprehensive OB/Gyn care, which includes a variety of screening tests and medical and surgical therapies for women, and is often recognized as one of the most progressive OB/Gyn groups in the Bay Area."
She said it's important for women to stay on top of their health by getting annual checkups and regular health screenings like Pap tests and mammograms. The Pap test checks for cervical cancer, which has been drastically reduced since the test was introduced in the 1950s.
According to Dai, women should begin having a Pap test at age 21 and have regular follow-ups depending on their age and results of their last test.
"Even if you don't need a Pap test every year, you should still get an annual pelvic exam," she said. "A pelvic exam helps us evaluate the size and health of the vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries. It is an important part of preventive health care for women. We always ask about the menstrual cycle in those visits because that is a huge indication of overall health."
She said irregular periods can be a sign of problems with the endocrine system, which secretes hormones that regulate the body, and could indicate thyroid issues, fibroids, polyps, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and cancer. "In our office, we will tailor a treatment plan for each individual patient whether it's surgical or medical," Dai added.
While having a baby is an exciting event, getting good quality care during the pregnancy is important for ensuring that both mother and baby will be healthy. Dai recommends that couples who want to conceive have a preconception consultation.
"We can go through their medical and family history, talk about any health problems, and get prepared for a pregnancy," she said. "It's best that women be at peak health when they conceive."
But Dai said often women don't call her office until they think they are pregnant. The first doctor's visit should be eight weeks into the pregnancy if there are no known complications.
"If they haven't had a preconception consultation, the first visit takes about an hour," she said. "We need to go over their medical history at that point and run some tests."
An ultrasound that captures an image of the baby inside the womb is taken on the first visit. A number of genetic screenings are also conducted to test for medical conditions like Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and SMA (a rare muscle disorder).
Women should see their doctor every four weeks in the beginning of the pregnancy, she said. After 28 weeks, doctor visits should be three weeks apart and every week in the last month of the pregnancy.
"Regular visits during pregnancy are important because we can monitor the health of both the mom and baby," Dai explained. "We can check the heart rate of the baby, make sure the pregnancy is progressing normally, and prevent any complications."
Calling it Quits
The final stage in a women's reproductive cycle is menopause, when menstrual periods have stopped for 12 months. This happens at about age 50 to 51, although it can vary widely, she said.
With menopause, the ovaries stop functioning. The ovaries produce eggs and female hormones such as estrogen, which regulate menstruation.
The transition into menopause is called perimenopause. During this transitional stage, the symptoms each woman experiences may be different. Dai said scientists are still trying to figure out all the factors that influence this transition.
"Perimenopause is the few years prior to menopause when women experience a variety of symptoms, which include hot flashes, low libido, irregular periods, trouble sleeping, and mood swings," she explained. "Some women experience life-altering symptoms while other women barely notice."
Dai said that it seems to be influenced by heredity. Women should look to their mothers' experience or that of an older sister to determine how perimenopause might be for them.
Hormone replacement therapy can help to alleviate some of the symptoms, but it can increase the risk for heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke. The current protocol is to prescribe the lowest dose for the least amount of time, she said.
"We try to find other ways to address the symptoms," Dai added. "Hormone replacement therapy may be needed if the symptoms are seriously affecting a patient's quality of life."
For more information about women's health services offered through the Washington Township Medical Foundation and a list of locations, visit www.mywtmf.com.