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8 Embarrassing Women's Health Questions--Answered

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Why do some women have moustaches and others don't? Can you prevent your breasts from sagging? What's a normal vaginal discharge? Experts give the details on the questions some women are just too embarrassed to ask.


Question 1
Can I prevent my breasts from sagging?

A: How much your breasts sag is related mostly to genetics and the inevitable aging process, during which breast ligaments stretch, and the proportion of fatty tissue in your breasts increases.

To help out a bit, you can avoid gaining and losing large amounts of weight. Breast feeding can also contribute to sagging, but given its benefits, it is NOT recommended that you avoid breast feeding for cosmetic reasons.

We don’t have a lot of proof one way or another regarding whether wearing a sports bra during exercise helps.

Bottom line: Your breasts will probably sag at least a little no matter what you do.

—Vivian M. Dickerson, M.D., associate professor and director of general ob-gyn, University of California, Irvine

Home remedies + science = do-it-yourself survival medicine! Prepare your family for disasters at TheSurvivalDoctor.com.


Question 2
Do all women with dark hair have a moustache?

A: No. All women have facial hair, but in most cases, these hairs are very fine (called "vellus" hairs). Sometimes, hair above the lip or on the chin, for example, can be coarse and dark, like the hairs on your head ("terminal hairs").

Julide Tok Celebi, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, Columbia University Medical Center Eastside; assistant professor of dermatology, Columbia University.


Follow-Up

Question 3
Why do some women grow hair in unusual places?

A: Having excessive hair is usually related to the woman's genetic background. However, in some cases, it could result from a hormonal imbalance due, for example, to certain medications, polycystic ovarian syndrome or certain tumors. If the excessive hair appears suddenly or grows rapidly, or if you have other male features with it, see your health-care provider.

Celebi


Question 4
What causes PMS symptoms, like bloating and bad mood?

A: Doctors suspect fluctuating hormones (estrogen and progesterone). Another culprit could be a brain chemical called serotonin, known to play an important role in mood changes.

—Susan Warhus M.D., board-certified ob-gyn (now teaching and writing); author, Fertility Demystified.


Question 5
What is normal vaginal discharge?

A: A lot of women ask me this question. Normal vaginal discharge generally does not have itching, burning or odor. It can occur during part of the menstrual cycle or throughout the month. It's your vagina's way of keeping itself clean. If the discharge is out of the ordinary for you, contact your health-care provider to rule out possible infection.

—David McCormick, M.D., board-certified family doctor, Gashland Clinic, Kansas City, Mo.


Question 6
What’s a pelvic exam?

A: It’s an exam of a woman’s reproductive organs. Here's what the doctor does during a pelvic exam:

  1. Checks the woman’s genitalia for skin problems.
  2. Inserts a special tool called a speculum into the woman’s vagina to inspect the vagina and cervix (lower end of the uterus).
  3. Takes cell and fluid samples to screen for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
  4. Feels for abnormalities of the uterus and ovaries with two hands, using a gloved finger inside the vagina and the other hand on the patient’s abdomen.

—Eva F. Briggs, M.D., board-certified family physician in Marcellus, N.Y.


Question 7
What’s a Pap smear? Isn't it the same as a pelvic exam?

A: A Pap smear is only a part of the pelvic exam. In a Pap smear, a special brush gently scrapes cells from the cervix, which then go to a lab to be checked for cancer cells.

Briggs


Question 8
How can I prevent a urinary tract infection?

A: Basically, avoid irritating your bladder and urethra, and keep everything down there clean. Some quick tips:

  • Wipe from front to back.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Don't douche or use feminine hygiene sprays.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse and whenever you feel the need. (Don't hold it.)
  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Drink cranberry juice or take vitamin C.

—James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H., family doctor; creator, MyFamilyDoctorMag.com and TheSurvivalDoctor.com.

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Last updated and/or approved: July 2012.
Original women's health questions and answers appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of those issues. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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