If my mom or dad had infertility issues, will I?

The link between family history and fertility

family history blog photoMany patients are curious about whether fertility issues their parents might have struggled with may have a role in their own ability to get pregnant. My answer is always the same: your parents’ issues will not necessarily become yours.

In general, the more you know about your family’s health history, the more your medical team can start using those facts in evaluating your overall health and fertility picture.

There are many possible causes for decreased fertility, including endometriosis, fibroids, premature menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, low sperm count, underlying conditions, and physical issues.  Some of these – hypothyroidism or polycystic ovary syndrome in particular – do tend to run in families.

Still, patterns of fertility in your family may not predict how easily you will conceive.

We know, for example, that fertility decreases with age. In general, older women have a lower chance of getting pregnant. By the time women are 30 years old, a quarter of them will have issues with fertility. If your mom or sister was trying to conceive around age 40 or later, that could have been the source of her difficulties.

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Your birth plan

Creating a plan, getting your questions answered, and being prepared for the unexpected

birth plan blog post - birthing ball picA “birth plan” is like a game plan for your baby’s arrival.  You have little control over when your labor starts, but a birth plan ensures that you, your partner, and your care team are all aware of your wishes on some key things like pain meds, the people involved, episiotomies and cord cutting.

When to start your plan:

Usually I discuss the birth plan with my patients at the beginning of the third trimester.  Often it is the childbirth classes she takes that help a woman make decisions about the type of birth she wants. If a woman has not taken classes, I suggest other resources available online or at the library that will help her make choices regarding her baby’s birth.

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Beyond conventional medicine

Using holistic therapies to manage PCOS

holistic therapies for PCOS promoMany women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) are all too familiar with the wide variety of symptoms that accompany this hormonal disorder. These can include irregular periods, acne, excess hair on the face and body, and elevated insulin levels. PCOS is also the most common cause of infertility in women.

Our goals when treating PCOS are to manage these symptoms, and there are a number of medical therapies that we use to do this effectively.

Treatment options for many women can also include a number of holistic therapies that can be used alongside conventional therapies for optimal healing and illness prevention.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more common alternatives that women with PCOS might consider:

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Protecting the Heart: Cardiovascular Risks Decline, but Vigilance is Warranted

In the pursuit of malignant tumor cells, normal tissues and organs get caught in the crossfire of cancer treatment. This has been especially true of the heart. In earlier decades, radiation to the chest could carry deadly cardiovascular risks. Newer treatment methods, however, are putting the odds in patients’ favor.

Lori Jo Pierce, M.D.

Lori Jo Pierce, M.D.

“Technological advances now allow doctors to minimize cardiovascular risks of radiation therapy,” says Lori Jo Pierce, M.D., a U-M professor of radiation oncology. Her research focuses on the use of radiation therapy in the multi-modality treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Pierce is participating in the Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Summit 2013 as a panel speaker on “Research: What questions are we trying to answer?”

Dr. Pierce recently talked with mCancer Partner about how technological advances help to minimize cardiovascular risks to breast cancer patients, and gave a research update on a related study.

mCancer Partner: Who is at risk for radiation associated heart disease?

Dr. Pierce: Anyone who is receiving radiation to the chest could be at risk for radiation-associated heart disease so it is important to shield the heart from the radiation beam. Patients treated with radiation for Hodgkin’s disease in the past were potentially at risk for cardiac disease depending upon the location of the blocks used to protect the heart. Women treated for left sided breast cancer are carefully monitored and planning is done to minimize the heart from being in the radiation field as they, too, could be at risk. Continue reading

Talking helps

Infertility may feel isolating, but you aren’t alone

fertility support groupThere isn’t a guidebook that can walk you through the process of coping with infertility.  It is stressful, and often women can add to that stress with blame, self-doubt, and guilt.

As the social worker for the University of Michigan Center for Reproductive Medicine, I provide support to women and couples going through fertility challenges.

It is okay to feel what you’re feeling. You might feel anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration or guilt.

Take care of yourself. If your best friend or sister was going through what you are experiencing, how would you treat her? Would you remind her not to be so hard on herself and to put herself first? Are you doing that for yourself?

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Five things about Pap tests that might surprise you

Pap tests (or Pap smears) are well accepted tests that check for changes in the cells of the cervix (the lowest part of the uterus or womb) and screen for precancerous and cancerous lesions.pap1

Pap tests are able to detect problems early and treatment may prevent cancer. Data shows that Pap screening has lowered the cervical cancer rate in the United States by more than 50% over the last 30 years.

This test is such a familiar part of our healthcare routine that many women might be surprised to learn five important things about the Pap test:

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