By Olivia Catalano, Reproductive Health Program Manager, Finger Lakes Community Health (FLCH), an independent healthcare organization with eight health centers in the region.
Did you know that preventive reproductive health is part of your regular medical care? Reproductive Health includes physical, mental, and social wellness. Reproductive Health (aka sexual health or family planning) is much more than pregnancy, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections.
The purpose of physicals is to get an overall status of your health outside of when you are sick. Often your provider will discuss your general health, and any concerns you have plus do bloodwork. As part of our care at FLCH, our health education team reaches out to those coming in for physicals to complete a sexual health history, discuss STI testing, and pregnancy intentions, and address anything that may impact your care. We call this pre-visit education.
A Pap test is a medical procedure that tests for cervical cancer by collecting cells from the cervix and the area around it. This test checks for changes in the cells that may lead to cancer. In general, these types of tests start at age 21 and stop at age 65. Testing should be done every 3 to 5 years depending on the results.
Regular Testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
Many common sexually transmitted infections have no signs or symptoms. Left untreated, they can cause serious health problems. STIs are spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. They can also be spread during IV drug use, pregnancy, during birth, through breastfeeding, sharing physical personal items (bedsheets, razors), or when exposed to another person’s blood. Getting tested is quick and easy. STIs can be tested through a urine test, blood draw, swab test, or by examining sores when present. We recommend testing at least once a year or with each new partner.
We talk with patients to see if they want to have a child in the next year. If they do, we will discuss ways to help prepare for that pregnancy. If not, but they are sexually active with a partner of the opposite gender, we discuss ways to help prevent pregnancy. We also have patients who have same-sex partners who want to become pregnant or patients who are single and looking to parent a child. Our goal is to help them understand their choices and assist them in getting healthy to achieve these desires.
Reproductive Health Issues
Periods vary from person to person. People who have a uterus typically experience bleeding known as a period once every 28 days. Regular cycles could be 21 to 40 days depending on the person. Abnormal, irregular periods, pain during intercourse, trouble becoming pregnant, or even painful bowel movements during periods may indicate issues related to the menstrual cycle like endometriosis or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). In America, endometriosis impacts 2-10%, while PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility and impacts 6 to 12% of people with uteruses that are of childbearing age.
Starting at age 40 mammograms begin. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast tissue that detects early signs of breast cancer.
There are many vaccines that would benefit your health. The Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV) can be given as early as 9 years old. These infections can cause cancer in various parts of the body. Since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 88% in teen girls. Some HPV infections may clear on their own, but the HPV vaccine helps prevent infection in the first place, avoiding complications like cancer or warts.
If cost is a concern, don’t let that stop you!
Many of these preventive health items are covered by health insurance, NYS Cancer Services Program (pap smear and mammogram), Family Planning Benefit Program (FPBP), or even offered at a discounted rate at FLCH through our Title X or NYS Family Planning Program.
Take charge of your health today and call your provider. If you don’t have one or would like to talk with a health educator, call us at 315-521-0249.