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Ask the Doc: Women's Health

Ask the Doc: Women's Health

By nature, women are care-takers and jugglers who notoriously look after the needs of others more than their own. Women also need to prioritize their own health to live longer and more vibrant lives. With that in mind, we interviewed Sunetris Fluellen, MD, and Joseph Roofeh, MD, both OBGYNs with Torrance Memorial Physician Network Women’s Center for advice.

How important is the annual OB-GYN exam?

Dr. Sunetris Fluellen: The annual exam is imperative. It is a preventative care visit which allows patients and healthcare providers an opportunity to identify potential issues early and allows optimization of overall health.

Dr. Joseph Roofeh: The annual exam is vital to a woman’s health. It provides an opportunity for women to access preventative services and discuss strategies to achieve a healthy lifestyle and minimize health risks including family planning, prepregnancy counseling, the timing of pregnancy, and diet and exercise regimens to improve overall health.

Many doctors believe there is a link between hormones and stress. What advice do you have for women to better monitor their hormone levels during times of high stress—particularly as we endure this pandemic—to determine if mood swings are stress- or anxiety-related or indicate a hormonal imbalance?

Dr. Fluellen: Stress can definitely cause a hormonal imbalance that can present in anxiety, depression, irregular menstrual cycles, sleep disturbance, vaginal dryness, night sweats and more. The best way to optimize hormone levels at home is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercise at least 150 minutes per week and attempt to decrease stressors in your life.

Dr. Roofeh: I agree. It’s hard to decipher if anxiety and mood swings are from increasing stress or hormonal imbalance. Timing of the mood swings can shed light on whether they are related to hormonal imbalance. Mood swings resulting from hormonal imbalance usually arise four days before through the first two days of a woman’s cycle, and almost always resolve once her period is over. Mood swings related to hormonal imbalance are often accompanied by other physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms such as irritability, depression, food cravings, breast tenderness, headache, hot flashes, swelling and bloating. One good way to distinguish is to keep a daily calendar to see if mood swings come during periods. The best ways to optimize hormonal levels and reduce stress/anxiety are through adequate sleep, well balanced diet and regular exercise.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in America today, according to the American Cancer Society. How important is the annual breast exam?

Dr. Fluellen: The annual breast exam is very important and strongly recommended. Therapies have improved over the years, but earlier diagnosis is typically associated with better outcomes. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends beginning annual mammograms at age 40, or 10 years before a first degree relative was diagnosed with breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening for women aged 40-54, with biennial option for screening in women 55 and older.

Dr. Roofeh: Breast exams are very important! According to most medical societies’ recommendations, women should routinely get clinical breast exams by a trained provider. The websites and are good places to find affordable or even free mammograms.

What are the biggest health concerns women should monitor?

Dr. Fluellen: Female-related cancers (cervical, uterine and breast), pelvic infections, high blood pressure and diabetes. Taking a multivitamin, eating a well-balanced diet (incorporating a DASH diet—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—or low-carb diet, if needed) and exercising regularly are essential to decreasing risks of high blood pressure and diabetes. Staying current on your annual exam is important.

Dr. Roofeh: In medicine there is a saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The biggest health concern today is chronic illness such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol leading to heart disease, which is the leading killer in women. A close second is breast cancer. A good diet, regular exercise and annual screenings are the best preventative measures.

5 Tips to Boost Women’s Health:

  1. Lower your stress. Stress is linked to high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, sleep disturbance, infertility, and heart disease. Some tips to reduce stress levels include: download a meditation app, take nature walks, lighten your load (it’s ok to say no!), start a gentle yoga practice, listen to fun music when doing chores around the house.
  2. Exercise reduces your rick of osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, depression, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. So, get moving in the right direction with a mix of cardio and resistance or weight training three to five times a week.
  3. Diet. Lose weight, feel good, and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and auto-immune diseases by limiting sugar, red meat, processed and fried foods. Fill your diet with the colors of the rainbow: fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and fresh fish. If you are dairy intolerant, consider taking a calcium supplement, and eat more fruits, greens, and beans (such as strawberries, broccoli, and tofu) that have calcium.
  4. Sleep is vital for good health, but many of us don’t get enough. Consider earlier and lighter dinners, exercising more, lowering your caffeine intake, and taking a warm bath, instead of chores and work, before bed.
  5. Hydrate. It’s good for your skin, digestion, memory, mood, and weight control. So carry a water bottle with you and opt for water, over soda and coffee as much as possible!