Your Health

True or False? Women’s health myths debunked (or confirmed)

We asked St. Michael’s health experts to weigh in on some common (mis)conceptions about health issues facing women, and how they’re tackling them. Here is what they said.

WOMEN AND OSTEOPOROSIS

TRUE OR FALSE? More women than men develop osteoporosis.

TRUE, according to Dr. Earl Bogoch, an orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Robert Josse, an endocrinologist who is the director of St. Michael’s Osteoporosis Centre.

Women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, and at least one in three women will break a bone because of it. These fractures, which account for 80 per cent of all fractures in menopausal women, are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. Many of these women are not being assessed.  

Osteoporosis has been called a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences. In other words, young women achieve peak bone mass at an early age (16-20), so they need to do everything to maximize it by then because during perimenopause and menopause, women lose bone mass. Osteoporosis is also called the “silent thief” because there are no symptoms before a fracture – usually of the wrist, spine, shoulder or hip. 

So what can women (and men) do to prevent it? 

Building strong bones through exercise and nutrition, especially by taking calcium and vitamin D, during childhood and adolescence can be important in preventing osteoporosis later in life. For older adults, taking adequate calcium and vitamin D can slow bone loss and lower the risk of fracture, while eating protein can help repair fractured bones. 

And what is St. Michael’s doing about it?

In 2002, thanks to donor support, we instituted Canada’s first – and best – Fracture Prevention Program. A coordinator based in the fracture clinic is charged with identifying patients who may have fragility fractures. The coordinator then works with the orthopedic surgeon, nurse, physiotherapist and other members of the clinical team to educate the patient, supervise the investigation and ensure treatment and follow-up with a family physician or osteoporosis consultant. The goal is to prevent future fractures, which often lead to loss of mobility and independence, reduced quality of life and, in some cases, death. 

WOMEN AND GYNECOLOGICAL HEALTH 

TRUE OR FALSE? Women with painful fibroids wishing to preserve their fertility, and those with a high body mass index and early-stage endometrial cancer, experience challenges in accessing the surgical treatment they need. 

TRUE… but not at St. Michael’s Hospital. 

Drs. Deborah Robertson, Sari Kives and Andrea Simpson, a surgical team that performs minimally invasive robotic surgery, use the revolutionary da Vinci Surgical System, which allows smaller incisions, more accurate visualization and improved precision. St. Michael’s is the first hospital in Canada to use the robot to perform myomectomies (removing fibroids without performing a hysterectomy) to protect a woman’s ability to conceive. 

The result? Reduced rates of infection, less post-operative pain and blood loss, and quicker recovery for the patient. And it’s all thanks to donors who funded the da Vinci Surgical System. See the full story

WOMEN IN ABUSIVE SITUATIONS 

TRUE OR FALSE? It’s pretty simple for women to identify the early signs of emotional, sexual or physical violence from their intimate partners and get help to remove themselves from abusive situations. 

NOT SO EASY, says Dr. Pat O’Campo of St. Michael’s MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions.

One in four Canadian women faces physical, sexual and/or psychological violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime. It often takes time – and sometimes the escalation of violence – for people to accept that they are in an unsafe relationship and need support. 

Unfortunately, screening for partner violence is very rarely, if ever, a routine part of a clinic visit. When it does happen, it’s not always a private process, nor are the right questions asked. 

At MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, scientists are working with clinical and community partners to make it easier for women to get screened for intimate-partner violence and make the process more discreet. 

They partnered with St. Michael’s fracture clinic to design a screening web app called WITHWomen, which is now available to all of the clinic’s female patients (there is also a more comprehensive screening app for the general public). The nine quick questions focus on identifying emotional violence and controlling behaviours, as well as sexual and physical violence. And there is even a complementary web app, WITHWomen Pathways, which offers personalized safety plans to women who have screened positively for partner violence. Donors supported this project.

The next step? The app will be made available to other clinics that want to implement routine violence screening, and MAP is aiming to make it accessible to diverse populations and language groups. LEARN MORE HERE.

PREGNANT WOMEN LIVING WITH HIV 

TRUE OR FALSE? Women living with HIV shouldn’t get pregnant because they are at high risk of transmitting the disease to their baby. 

FALSE, according to Dr. Mark Yudin, who served on the committee that developed the Guidelines for the Prevention of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission for health practitioners in Ontario. 

In fact, women living with HIV can have healthy pregnancies and babies who are HIV-negative. In Ontario, there are roughly 80 births per year among women living with HIV. Nearly a third of those are at St. Michael’s. It’s important that women living with HIV work with a prenatal care provider and an HIV physician during pregnancy. For those on antiretroviral medications (for HIV) who have undetectable viral loads, the chance of their babies becoming HIV positive is less than one per cent.  

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