Midwife in the Making: What’s a Catheter Cervical Ripening Balloon?

The Midwife in the Making is a series written by Jennifer Walker, a Nurse Midwife graduate student at Frontier Nursing University. She is currently completing her clinical rotation at Covington Women’s Health Specialists and Piedmont Newton Women’s Services Department. She will be joining the team of Covington Women’s Health Specialists as our sixth midwife after graduating in fall 2022.

Have you ever seen a medical tool with two-headed bubbles attached to some tubes? You may have seen a catheter cervical ripening balloon. While it may look intimidating, I promise it is not as bad as it seems!

Cervical ripening balloons are one of several methods used to help induce labor. Every induction varies for each person depending on a multitude of factors, which means that not everyone will be a candidate for a cervical ripening balloon.

As a labor and delivery nurse, I was always fascinated by cervical ripening balloons. You can imagine my excitement when I successfully placed my first cervical ripening balloon in a patient recently. Followed by the little victory dance and fist pump I did!

Cervical ripening balloons are used for mechanical dilation of the cervix. There are two small balloons on the end of the catheter. When placed correctly, each balloon will be filled up with water to create steady pressure on the internal and external cervical os, creating mechanical dilation.

It can stay inserted inside of you for up to 12 hours but many times I have seen it fall out before the 12 hours was up. Funny side note: I had a patient sneeze hers out! I would not have believed it if I had not seen it myself! And she was 4 centimeters—score!

Now, does it hurt? That answer is subjective. I’ve heard them described mostly as “uncomfortable” and “a crampy feeling” during placement. The good news is that this is one of the many methods we can use for induction. While it may not be for everyone, it is certainly a good option for some.

— Jennifer, Student Nurse Midwife

 

Stop the Doomscroll: How to Take Care of Your Online Mental Health

If you’ve lately found yourself experiencing a “tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing,” (as Health magazine describes), likely you’re participating in some “doomscrolling.” It’s a habit that worldwide news headlines or even celebrity gossip can drive you to, but it can especially become an issue when researching a medical condition.

Though it’s tempting to lean on the Internet’s many benefits to help you gain a better understanding of a health condition, an overwhelming amount of negative information can damage your health. A 2014 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking reported that “For some individuals, repeated searches for medical information on the Internet exacerbate health anxiety.” The reason for this, as clinical psychologist Dr. Amelia Aldao explains, is that “Our minds are wired to look out for threats. The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.”

Your doctor or gynecologist should serve as your primary reference for any health concerns you have, but following a few guidelines about online medical research may empower you to be smartly (and healthily) informed.

The Source of Your Material Matters

Identifying the difference between quality online sources and those that are less reliable is one place to start.  “As a rule,” the National Institute on Aging advises, “health websites sponsored by Federal Government agencies are good sources of information.” Save a Life by National Health Care Provider Solutions also suggests turning to the CDC, the American Medical Association, or the World Health Organization. You can also look to well-established professional organizations and highly reputed medical schools.

Remember that your doctor uses the Internet too! The providers at Covington Women’s Health Specialists use the websites UpToDate, Mayo Clinic, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) as resources, which have patient educational materials on them.

The article’s author and publication date can also tell you a lot. Check to see if the information is current, or fact-checked by a credentialed medical professional. If a site is peppered with a lot of patient testimonials, you may want to click past. “Compelling personal testimonials often dissuade people from accepting scientific evidence,” PsychCentral warns. “The vividness of personal testimony often trumps evidence of higher reliability.”

Establish Guardrails Ahead of Time

Before you log in, NPR advises you set goals for your search beforehand by “reminding yourself why you’re there, what are you looking for, what information are you trying to find. And then periodically checking in with yourself — have I found what I needed?”

HuffPost also recommends limiting your search time by setting a timer, using apps that monitor screen time, or carving out dedicated time blocks. This is not only a good way to keep any doomscrolling in check, but can help improve your overall mental health. A 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine Reports “showed that moderate or severe depression level was associated with higher time spent on TV watching and use of computer.”

Partner With a Loved One

Share what you’ve found online with a friend or family member who can ask caring questions, and help you sort through the most valuable information. Their long-time knowledge of you, your lifestyle, emotions and preferences can provide extra support, and you may learn from their own health experiences. “Friendship isn’t just about fun, fellowship and emotional health,” as LiveScience points out. “Having friends can improve physical health, too.”

Remember that your doctor, nurse, gynecologist and other health specialists are here for you in the same way. Each member of our award-winning team considers themselves your partner in your healthcare. Listening to you and communicating with you are what they do best! To arrange a personal appointment call us at (770) 385-8954 or schedule online.

 

Four Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Long-Term Health

It wasn’t just a plot point for the character Miranda in the recent HBO series, “And Just Like That”: Women now drink the same amount of alcohol as men, if not more, to cope with life stressors. While this trend was on the rise even pre-pandemic, psychological stress and anxiety that often leads to drinking has only increased since COVID-19 appeared two years ago.

In 2021, about one in four of all adults reported an increase in drinking due to pandemic-related stress. But according to WebMD, this increase has been especially apparent in women, which is especially problematic, as there are many specific long-term effects alcohol has on a woman’s health.

1. Brain Function

Your brain reduces in size naturally as you age — regardless of your gender. But heavy drinking also shrinks brain matter. Specifically, researchers at the University of Oxford found that alcohol shrinks the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, learning, and reasoning.

Other studies also show that women may be more susceptible to the brain shrinkage caused by alcohol. This effect is permanent, making it one of many reasons to limit alcohol intake, especially for women.

2. Heart Disease

For both men and women, excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, or heart failure. “Women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle at lower levels of consumption and over fewer years of drinking than men,” the CDC reports. And even women who only moderately drink alcohol have an increased risk of cardiomyopathy, which is a disease that makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood.

3. Breast Cancer

Alcohol consumption can also impact the way a woman’s body processes estrogen. This may  leave more estrogen in your body, thereby increasing your risk of hormone-related breast cancer. This risk increases with every glass of alcohol. In fact, over 10% of alcohol-related cancer cases were attributed to consuming only one bottle of beer or two small glasses of wine daily.

4. Weight Gain

Alcohol consumption can also impact weight gain for every gender. While it isn’t impossible to lose weight while drinking, even moderate drinking can significantly slow down your body’s process of burning fat.

Alcohol also impacts how your body internally manages food intake, making it difficult for you to know when you are actually full. It can also make you feel hungrier while drinking, affecting how much you actually eat. Many alcoholic drinks also have a high-calorie count, filling your body up with empty calories. If you are trying to lose or maintain weight, staying away from alcohol may be even wiser advice than avoiding the ice cream.

How to Take Care of Your Health

Though you may have come across research that indicates health benefits of alcohol, many experts agree that there is actually no safe amount to consume. If total abstinence proves impossible, light to moderate drinking is advised. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as one drink or less per day for women, though keep in mind that even that can still lead to long-term health issues.

If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption or any other aspect of your health, Covington Women’s Health Specialists are here to help! Call for an appointment at (770) 385-8954 or schedule one online.

 

What Should You Know About Endometriosis During Pregnancy?

Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. It affects 6-10%  of women in the United States, can cause severe menstrual pain, and may make conception or pregnancy difficult.

Although 70% of women with mild to moderate endometriosis can become pregnant and have no problems with their pregnancy, (regardless of how their endometriosis is treated) it is important to understand the risk factors and implications when it comes to pregnancy.

What happens during pregnancy with endometriosis?

Sometimes, pregnancy can actually lessen endometriosis symptoms due to increased progesterone levels that occur. Progesterone’s synthetic counterpart, progestin, has been demonstrated to lessen endometriosis pain in 90% of women.

This relief of symptoms is not always guaranteed, however. In some cases, pregnancy can worsen endometriosis symptoms due to the uterus’s continuous expansion, or increased levels of estrogen, which may incite more endometrium growth. Even if pregnancy relieves your symptoms, it is not a cure, and endometriosis difficulties can return afterward.

Pregnancy Risk Factors

Along with fluctuating symptoms, there are a few more conditions to watch for during pregnancy if you have endometriosis:

Placenta Previa (Low-Lying Placenta)

Placenta previa refers to a condition when the placenta covers, or almost covers, your cervix. This can cause bleeding throughout the pregnancy and delivery. Placenta previa is commonly associated with endometriosis and often results in the recommendation of a C-section.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg begins to grow outside the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes, and endometriosis increases your risk. While ectopic pregnancies can present in the same ways as conventional ones, consultation with your doctor is needed. Symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include lower back pain, vaginal bleeding, or mild pelvic cramping.

Preterm Birth

A birth is determined “preterm” if the fetus is delivered before the mother’s 37th week of pregnancy. Women with endometriosis have a 33% greater risk of preterm birth. If you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, stay in close communication with your doctor (and your own body) during your first two trimesters.

Miscarriage

A miscarriage occurs when the pregnancy is lost before the mother reaches her 20th week of pregnancy. Endometriosis can significantly increase the risk of a miscarriage, but continuously monitoring with your doctor can alert you to possible warning signs, so you both can take preventative measures that will help you carry to term.

What can you do?

To prepare for pregnancy with endometriosis, you may consider surgery or hormone therapy treatment ahead of time. Surgery involves removing patches of the outside lining, while hormone therapy may reduce excess tissue, although often comes with undesirable side effects. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is another procedure that may assist with conception, should endometriosis cause challenges.

Above all, prior to conception and throughout your pregnancy, always express your worries to your doctor and monitor your symptoms with them together. Frequent visits, clear communication, and strong awareness of your body can all help minimize complications.

If you have endometriosis or suspect you may, are looking to conceive, or are already pregnant, we are here to provide you with exceptional care. Call us for an appointment at (770) 385-8954 or schedule one online.

 

A Brief History of Gynecology and Its Impacts In Today’s World

At Covington Women’s Health Specialists, we’re all about sharing valuable knowledge about pregnancy, maternity, delivery, and other women’s health issues with our patients. So, for Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look back at some highlights from gynecology’s history, and how the study and practice is evolving for future generations.

Ancient Beginnings

Composed in 1800 BC during the Twelfth Egyptian Dynasty, the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus is credited as “the oldest available medical record of Egyptian civilization,” and may be the earliest record we have detailing gynecological care. Three pages long, it focuses on fertility, pregnancy, contraception, and gynecological diseases.

An example from this text demonstrates gynecology’s humble beginnings 4000 years ago, including treatment involving “fumigating her with incense and fresh oil, fumigating her womb with it, and fumigating her eyes with goose leg fat.”

Though the Kahun papyrus is a highly valuable artifact which documents an early dedication to women’s health issues, it’s possible that the study of gynecology and obstetrics was also practiced in other ancient cultures and early time periods — but that those records and practices have simply been lost to history.

Gynecology practices have clearly come a long way, regardless.

19th Century “Progress”

Dr. James Marion Sims is widely credited as the “father of modern gynecology” in America. In the late 1880s, he pioneered surgical tools and techniques, including the repair of vesicovaginal fistula — a life-improving procedure still conducted to this day.

During this time period, practicing medicine on women was rarely done, but Sims became intrigued when asked to assist a woman suffering pelvic and back pain after falling off her horse. “To treat this woman’s injury,” HISTORY reports, “Sims realized he needed to look directly into her vagina…. This discovery helped him develop the precursor to the modern speculum: the bent handle of a pewter spoon.”

For these advances, Sims has been long heralded. But even in his own autobiography, Sims admits his techniques were perfected by experimentation — on Black slave women. Modern critics also assert these experiments were performed without anesthesia. As a result, in 2017 his statue was removed in New York City’s Central Park. The courage of these women and their sacrifices must be acknowledged.  They and many men in similar situations are now recognized as true heroes in the discovery of many medical advances.

Though a valuable contributor to the progress of gynecology, Sims serves as a reminder of the uncredited and often unwilling sacrifices possibly countless women have made for its sake, and the vital importance of both consent and women’s whole well-being while pursuing medical advances.

20th Century Strides and 21st Century Promise

The 20th century presented significant breakthroughs for gynecology, including widely-available oral contraceptives and safe IUDs, the evolution of artificial insemination to in-vitro fertilization, the success of cancer-detecting Pap smears, and the use of ultrasounds to provide greater visibility into a variety of women’s health issues, from pregnancy to uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts.

Perhaps some of this progress is due to the expansion and exposure of women’s rights, including more women becoming physicians, medical researchers, and OB-GYNs. “One of the steadiest movements has been the rise in women as a percentage of the physician workforce: It rose from 28.3% in 2007 to 36.3% last year,” the Association of American Medical Colleges reports. They also note that specialties with the highest concentration of women include:

  • Pediatrics — 64.3%
  • Obstetrics and gynecology — 58.9%
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry — 54.0%
  • Neonatal-perinatal medicine — 52.8%

There is interesting debate regarding these concentrations of focus, and much progress in terms of diversity is still to be made. Some more modern gynecological advances such as vaginal mesh implants are also currently under scrutiny — evidence that there is still work to be done.

With a future that could include 3-D printed ovaries for infertile patients, the use of artificial intelligence in gynecology and obstetrics, and continued education about the importance of midwifery in both the past and present, obstetrics and gynecology may look very different in even another 10 years — let alone 4000.

For up-to-date, caring, women-centered health advice and services, call us for an appointment at (770) 385-8954 or schedule one online.

How to Give Love to Yourself to Celebrate National Self-Check Month

February is often seen as the month of loving others, but you can love yourself too during National Self-Check Month!

“Through . . .  self-checks, and wellness care, people can help reduce the odds of getting ill in the first place,” says Joan Peckolick, the director of Self-Check, “ . . . yet people often find lots of excuses.”

Checking in with our bodies regularly helps us care for them better. Self-checks can help identify any abnormalities—which can then lead to early (and therefore even more effective) treatment.

In all cases, talk to your doctor right away if you find anything that causes concern during one of these basic exams.

Breast Self Awareness

Breast cancer often manifests as new lumps in the breast or armpit, thickening or swelling in one area of the breast, dry flaky patches around the nipple, or dimpling of the breast skin.

You can look for these signs while regularly performing breast self awareness in three steps:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror, and examine how your breasts and armpits look.
  2. Lie down, slowly feeling around each breast and armpit with the pads of your fingers.
  3. Stand in the shower, and glide your fingers over your breasts in a slow, circular motion with the help of soapy water.

Need a screening? Read this first.

Vulvar Self-Exams

Vulvar, or vaginal, self-exams help you identify vaginal sores, warts, abnormal discharge, or other signs of infection.

After washing your hands, sit with your back comfortably supported. Bend your knees, lean backward, and spread your knees apart. This will give you a better angle to use a handheld mirror and a flashlight to examine your body. Examine your labia, clitoris, and discharge, as well as the opening of your urethra, anus, and vagina for any differences.

Skin Self-Exam

You do not need any special equipment to conduct a skin self-exam. You just need a mirror, good lighting, and maybe a loved one who can check your back.

Examine your skin’s moles, blemishes, and scars for changes in color, shape, or thickness. Use a handheld mirror to see the back of your thighs, shoulders, scalp, and neck. Be mindful of new blemishes, growths, bumps, areas of redness, or scaly patches, as well.

When checking your skin for melanoma, be sure to keep in mind your ABCDEs:

  1. Asymmetry
  2. Border
  3. Color
  4. Diameter
  5. Evolving

Be sure to check out this guide from the American Academy of Dermatology Association for visual examples of all the ABCDEs of Melanoma.

Tracking Your Period

Tracking your period lets you know when to expect your period and any PMS, as well as when you are ovulating. But irregular periods may also be a sign of underlying health issues, which is why tracking is helpful. Note when your period starts, your flow level, the pain of your cramps, as well as any other premenstrual symptoms.

Tracking Your Sleep Cycle

Getting quality sleep is crucial to women’s health, as it affects your immune system, growth hormones, stress, appetite, and heart. Many people use wearable technology like a Fitbit to track their sleep, but simply noting in a journal what time you fall asleep and wake up, and the quality of your sleep during the night is also effective. With this information, you can explore ways to get better sleep with your doctor.

Make it fun!

These self-checks do not have to be a chore. Schedule time out for yourself, light a candle, play some music you enjoy, and make it a purposeful time for self-care. This will not only help you enjoy the experience, but it can also help you relax — which can lower your anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, and improve your overall health.

Covington Women’s Health Specialists can provide you with all the information you need to conduct self-checks, as well as assist with any necessary follow-ups afterward. Schedule an appointment online or call us at (770) 385-8954.

Infections to Look Out for While You are Pregnant…and How to Prevent Them

You may well know February as the month we celebrate Black History, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, but were you aware it’s also Prenatal Infection Prevention Month? Prenatal infections consist of both bacterial and viral diseases that can be passed on either during pregnancy or birth. According to a presentation by the FDA, worldwide, almost 700,000 babies less than a month old die from infectious diseases each year.

Fortunately there are precautions a pregnant mother can take to safeguard her expectant child’s health — and her own.

Infections and the Symptoms to Look Out For

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) results from changes in the bacterial balance of your vagina. Though often without symptoms, the main indicator of BV is an abundance of thin vaginal discharge sometimes with a strong, fishy smell. Having it during pregnancy might put your baby at risk for premature birth and low birthweight. Having this infection at any time can make your vagina and cervix vulnerable to other infections which might be more serious. The best way to prevent BV is to keep your vagina’s pH healthily balanced. Bathe or shower daily and wash externally with gentle soap. Do not douche!  Avoid having unprotected sex with new or multiple partners, and consult with your doctor if you notice any symptoms.

Listeriosis

There’s a good reason why your doctor may recommend not eating unpasteurized milk and cheese or cold ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts or smoked salmon during pregnancy, and that’s listeriosis. This serious infection is usually caused by bacteria-contaminated foods including unpasteurized cheese, raw milk — even some pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Heating hot dogs and other meats like ham slices makes them safe to eat if you heat them until steaming.  Symptoms of this infection may be similar to the flu (including fever and muscle aches), but many experience none.

Because listeriosis can lead to pregnancy loss, preterm birth, and stillbirth, prevention is the key.  To prevent problems with this bacteria, keep your kitchen clean and follow these steps from the FDA to reduce your risk from listeria infection:

 

  1. Keep your refrigerator and freezer at the right temperature.

Use a thermometer in your refrigerator and another thermometer in your freeze to track the temperatures in both and adjust if needed. Your refrigerator should register at 40°F (4°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C). The correct temperatures slow the growth of listeria.

  1. Consume ready-to-eat foods by the expiration dates.

It important to eat your refrigerated foods as quickly as possible and be mindful of the “Use By” date labeled on their packages. There is a higher chance of the listeria bacteria to grow the longer the food stays in the fridge.

  1. Clean your fridge regularly.

It is important to keep your refrigerator clean by washing the inside walls and shelves with hot water and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent, rinse, then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Also, wipe spill immediately so the listeria bacteria doesn’t spread and infect other foods in your fridge.

For more tips and information on Listeriosis, visit the FDA website and make sure you tell your doctor if you think you may have eaten contaminated foods.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

This bacteria lives on our skin, and as adults, it causes us no problems.  But it can cause serious problems if an infection occurs in a newborn.  GBS may come and go from your skin, urinary, digestive, or reproductive tracts. Most people don’t even know they have it, so women are tested for GBS during weeks 35 to 37 of their pregnancy. If tested positive, antibiotics can be given during labor to kill the bacteria and prevent early-onset GBS disease. Newborns with GBS disease may develop serious conditions including sepsis, pneumonia, and even meningitis, so be sure to bring up the test with your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

According to the CDC, “Some infections—such as Zika, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, and syphilis—can pass to the fetus during pregnancy or to the infant during delivery, causing short- and long-term health problems,” including low birth weight, birth defects, and even miscarriages, stillbirth, or newborn death. Getting tested for STIs is recommended for your general health, but particularly when you are pregnant.  Pregnant women are typically testing at the beginning for all infections, and re-tested for some infections during the third trimester.  If you are pregnant and are concerned that you may have been exposed to an STI or have concerning symptoms such as vaginal discharge, tell your doctor immediately so you can be re-tested.

Preventing Infection with Vaccination

Not all potential infections currently have vaccines, but for those that do, taking them (in some cases, even while pregnant) may go a long way to protect your infant’s health. Most importantly, Flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters are safe and recommended for pregnant patients.  According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials: “Vaccine-preventable diseases such as hepatitis B, rubella and varicella pose significant prenatal risks for a mother and baby, however maternal immunization remains an effective and promising mechanism by which to prevent infection . . .” This checklist from the Immunization Action Coalition can provide a good conversation starter for you and your doctor to discuss which vaccines may be best.  Even if you have been vaccinated, it is still important to use good hygiene and avoid people who are ill!

If you have questions or concerns about these prenatal infections or any others you’ve come across, Covington Women’s Health Specialists are ready to arm you with information, perform testing, and consult regarding treatment. Call for an appointment at (770) 385-8954 or schedule one online.

Covington Women’s Health Specialists Awarded Best of Newton 2022

We are proud to announce that Covington Women’s Health Specialists was voted the Best Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2022 Best of Newton Award for the sixth year in a row! 

Every year, Newton County residents nominate and submit their vote for their favorite local businesses to Covington News. These categories include the town’s best jewelry store to grocery store—and of course, gynecologists!

“We are incredibly thankful to our team for their knowledge, love and support,” Dr. Cathy T. Larrimore said. “No matter what changes we face, our patients can depend on us to provide good quality healthcare.”

After two and a half years of the pandemic, two maternity leaves and countless COVID policies, we are still going strong! Thank you to everyone who voted for Covington Women’s Health Specialists. We are honored to serve you and our community!

What the Bumps on Your Vulva Could Mean

Finding new bumps anywhere on your body can be concerning, especially if they show up on your genitals. While you shouldn’t hesitate to schedule an appointment if  you discover something unfamiliar around your vulva, here are some potential causes to consider in the meantime.

Ingrown Hairs

Wherever hair grows on the body, ingrown hairs can form. These irritated bumps can be uncomfortable, red, and inflamed, and could even become filled with pus.

While an ingrown pubic hair can clear up on its own, a warm compress can help draw the hair out. Then gently remove it with sterilized tweezers. While the affected area is healing, avoid any other hair removal practices.

If  you choose to shave on a regular basis, you can keep ingrown hairs at bay by using only a clean, sharp razor, and lubing up the outer area with a gentle shaving cream. You might also consider professional waxing as an alternate hair removal method if ingrown hairs become a persistent issue.

Pimples

As with your cheeks, chin, back, and even chest, the labia can develop pimples when skin pores become clogged. Tight-fitting clothing, exposure to sweat and other body fluids, and public pools or hot tubs are all potential causes for these breakouts. Typically, when given gentle cleaning and otherwise left alone, your unseemly zit will clear up within a few days, but be sure to schedule an appointment if a blemish lingers.

Cysts

Your vulva may be a possible site for cysts, thanks to Bartholin’s glands which secrete fluid to provide lubrication during sex. If these helpful gland openings become obstructed, built up fluid can cause a cyst. And if the cyst gets infected, accumulated pus can create an abscess. You’ll know this is the case if the area becomes red, swollen, tender or hot—sometimes you may get a fever, too. A warm bath soak may help the cyst drain, but if the swelling and discomfort persists after several days, see one of our providers for consultation on other treatment options.

Allergic Reactions

Contact dermatitis, a common skin reaction, may form around your vulva after contact with all kinds of things, including condoms, lubricants, feminine products, scented bath oils, or even laundry detergents. If you’ve recently introduced a new substance to your private regimen, try eliminating it for a few days to see if it helps clear things up. If not, we advise you to make an appointment with your gynecologist.

Bumps With More Serious Causes

STIs

If you have a bump that becomes inflamed or irritated, and doesn’t disappear on its own, make sure to rule out any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, scabies, and molluscum contagiosum can all create bumps on the genitals, and must be tested by an expert in order to determine proper treatment.

Cancer

Vulvar cancer makes up only 0.6% of all cancers in women, and is extremely rare. But it’s still important to be on the lookout. Though symptoms vary, the main indicators include open sores, an unusually rough texture, persistent itching, non-menstrual bleeding, or severe pain and burning. Anything that feels uncomfortable or gives you alarm for more than a week should certainly be checked out by your doctor or gynecologist.

Bumps and irritation may be a normal part of your body’s functions, but if any new symptom has developed, contact Covington Women’s Health for peace of mind. Our practitioners can help diagnose and treat issues, and put you at ease. Schedule an appointment online or call us at (770) 385-8954.

Nervous About Pap Smears? Read This First

Pap smears are a routine aspect of gynecological care. But if you’ve never had one before, it’s normal to be a bit nervous. Here’s what to expect to quell any fears you may have.

What Are Pap Smears?

Also referred to as a Pap test, the Pap smear is used to look for cellular changes in the cervix that could become cancerous if left untreated. This routine procedure is performed right in the doctor’s office, typically as part of your annual preventative exam.

During the process, your provider will gently remove cells from your cervix with a specifically designed brush. Once the cells are extracted, medical experts will inspect them under a microscope, specifically looking for signs of cervical dysplasia, or precancerous changes. Your doctor will discuss any abnormal results with you as soon as they are available.

According to the Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention guidelines, women at an average risk for cervical cancer should begin receiving Pap smears at the age of 21.

What Is the Purpose of a Pap Smear?

While medical experts primarily use Pap test results to look for precancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer, the National Cancer Institute notes that the test can also help uncover infections or other causes of inflammation.

Sometimes, a Pap smear may also be combined with an HPV test. Instead of identifying precancerous cells, however, medical professionals use the HPV test results to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can later cause cellular changes that lead to cervical cancer. In tandem, both tests allow your doctor to determine your cervical and vaginal health.

What Happens During a Pap Smear?

While a pap smear can be slightly uncomfortable, the procedure usually lasts less than 30 seconds. During the process, you’ll undress  from the waist down and then lie on your back with your feet resting in stirrups. Your doctor will slowly insert a speculum, which opens the vaginal walls to access the cervix. In the final step, your doctor will gently brush your cervix with a special tool to receive cells from the area.

Though generally quick and simple, some women report slight irritation during the test, and it’s normal to experience some vaginal bleeding or cramping afterward.

How Can I Prepare for the Pap Test?

Ideally, you’ll want to plan your appointment for a time when you’re not menstruating heavily. Blood can make it more difficult to get an accurate test on cervical cells.

When you arrive for your appointment you may also ask to empty your bladder, to eliminate any added pressure and alleviate discomfort during the test. Just be sure to first ask a nurse or front desk associate whether you’ll also need to provide a urine sample during your visit.

Although having a Pap test may be momentarily uncomfortable, it’s an important component of comprehensive gynecological care which could have life-saving benefits. While cervical cancer was once the leading cause of death in U.S. women, the Pap test has significantly decreased rates by uncovering the presence of cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

If you’re due for your Pap smear, or are embarking on it for the first time, our providers will make the process as comfortable as possible, and are ready to answer any questions you may have. Schedule an appointment online or call us at (770) 385-8954.