Posted by on July 8, 2015 - 1:42pm

The link between smoking during pregnancy and the reduced health of offspring are well known, and past studies have suggested that exposure to smoke in the womb has different health consequences for boys and girls. A recent in depth study conducted by scientists from the University of Aberdeen, University of Glasgow, and the University of Edinburgh found that smoking while pregnant affects the livers of male and female fetuses differently.

There are many important proteins housed in the livers of fetuses and smoking while pregnant changes the amounts of these proteins that are present. The changes in protein levels that the researchers found indicate that the affected livers will not be able to function to their full capacity of making, secreting, and processing proteins. Although the levels of proteins were only slightly altered, even these small levels can lead to significant changes in organ function. These changes in the liver are sex-specific and lead to different manifestions later in life for males and females. Professor Paul Fowler, from the University of Aberdeen, explains “that the changes in the [proteins in] male fetuses are linked with liver cirrhosis while those in the female are linked with disorders of glucose metabolism.” Some of the other changes that researchers found are the same changes seen in cancers, such as childhood brain tumors, which matches existing evidence indicating the increased risk of certain cancers in people whose mothers smoked during their pregnancy.

The researchers say that the next step is to use this new information to identify biomarkers for these liver changes and use those to develop strategies to counteract, reduce and alleviate any health issues that these babies may acquire as they grow up.

Read the full report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology here.



University of Aberdeen Press Release

Posted by on July 6, 2015 - 3:59pm

Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, stated, “This is a major victory in our long fight against HIB and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation.” Without medical intervention, HIV positive mothers have a 15-45% chance of transmitting the virus to their child during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or breastfeeding, but when antiretroviral medication is administered, the risk of transmission to the baby drops to just over 1%.

Worldwide, roughly 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant each year, and the number of children, worldwide, born with HIV is 240,000.  The WHO and the Pan American Health Organization has been working with Cuba and other countries for several years with the goal of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Cuba has integrated prenatal care, HIV testing and treatment for pregnant women, monitored cesarean deliveries, and breastfeeding substitutions to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. While preventative treatment for this transmission is not 100% effective, only two babies were born with HIV in Cuba in 2013, a significant accomplishment!

Here are Northwestern, the Perinatal HIV Program is targeting similar goals to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. Indeed, the Women’s HIV Program at Northwestern is the largest provider of obstetrics care for HIV-positive mothers in Illinois! This program provides integrated care that includes maternal-fetal medicine, infectious disease, health psychology, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.



Posted by on July 6, 2015 - 1:40pm

Gonorrhea, also known as 'the clap', is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The Centers for Disease Control estimate that between 700,000 and 800,000 people in the United States get gonorrheal infections annually. However, less than half of these infections are detected and reported.

But what actually is gonorrhea? It is a STD that is caused by infection with the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, which grows and multiplies easily in the mucus membranes of the body. The bacterium grows in the reproductive tract, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women, and the urethra in both women and men. Gonorrhea can also grow in the mouth, throat, and anus. The disease is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected partner. Ejaculation does not have to occur for the disease to be transmitted.

Most women who have gonorrhea do not have symptoms and if they do have symptoms, they are most often mild and nonspecific and can be mistaken for bladder or vaginal infections. Some of the symptoms include greenish yellow discharge from the vagina, vaginal bleeding between periods, burning sensation when urinating, and swelling of the vulva. Due to the fact that the symptoms are so mild that they go unnoticed, it is very important to get tested for STDs if you are having unprotected sex and/or if your partner shows any signs or symptoms of an STD.

If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious health problems in both men and women. For women, the disease can spread up into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to many different complications, including infertility, and chronic pelvic pain, and it can also increase the chances of an ectopic pregnancy. Pregnant women who have gonorrhea can give the infection to their baby as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery. This can lead to blindness, joint infection, or blood infection in the baby. The good news is that gonorrhea can be cured!

There are a few ways to prevent gonorrhea:

  • Use condoms correctly every time you have sex
  • Limit the number of sexual partners or limit sexual contact to one partner
  • Practice abstinence




Mayo Clinic 


Posted by on July 1, 2015 - 4:18pm

Most of us have heard of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is very easy to read about STDs and think to ourselves, “well that will never happen to me.” However, STDs are a major public health issue in the United States, especially among women. Women are disproportionately affected by these diseases, which include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Below is the CDCs list of 7 ways that STDs impact women differently than men. 

1. The vagina places women at risk for infection because it has a thin, delicate lining and a moist environment, two factors that make it easier for bacteria to enter and grow.

2. Women are less likely to experience symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases, which makes the diseases hard to notice

3. Women typically have normal discharge and burning/itching of the vagina is commonly related to yeast infections, which makes women more likely to confuse the symptoms of STDs with other vaginal infections

4. Due to the fact that the vagina is an internal organ, it can be harder for women to notice symptoms in their vagina. Men are more likely to notice sores and rashes on their penis because it is external.

5. Untreated STDs can affect women’s reproductive systems and future plans for reproducing. These diseases, if left untreated, can result in ectopic pregnancy and even infertility.

6. Women who are pregnant can pass STDs to their babies and can result in brain damage, blindness, low birth weight, and even stillbirth.

7. The most common STD in women, Human papillomavirus, is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is also common in men, but they do not develop any serious health problems from the disease.

While this list may seem scary and daunting, know that there is good news! According to the CDC, women see their doctor more often than men, which means they should use this time to get Pap smears and get tested for STDs. There are also medications and treatments available for STDs that can prevent serious health consequences.

The CDC has a great list of resources available to learn more about STDs, how to protect yourself, and where to get testing and treatment: and

Be sure to check out our upcoming blog series on STDs to learn more about specific diseases!





Posted by on June 29, 2015 - 10:33am

Do you consistently find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep? When you do finally sleep, are you dissatisfied with the sleep that you get? If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be experiencing chronic insomnia. In contrast to acute insomnia, which is characterized as brief and triggered by life circumstances, such as being stressed, chronic insomnia is disrupted sleep that happens at least three nights a week for a duration of at least three months.

Women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men for a few reasons. Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can have an affect on sleep. Also, some medical conditions that cause insomnia, such as depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia, are more common in women than men. Insomnia also becomes more common with age due to changes in activity levels, sleep patterns, and health conditions. Other common causes include caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, gastrointestinal problems, and a poor sleep environment.

No matter the cause of the insomnia, the symptoms are fairly universal. They include difficulty falling asleep, awakening in the middle of the night, awakening too early, not feeling well-rested, daytime tiredness, difficulty paying attention, and tension headaches. If insomnia is making it difficult for you to function normally during the day, see your doctor. Your doctor may treat your insomnia with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which helps you change your thoughts and actions that get in the way of your sleep. There are also medications that help treat insomnia if CBT does not prove helpful for you.

Good sleep habits can help you get a great night’s sleep and beat insomnia. Here are some tips:

  • Try to go to sleep at the same time and get up at the same time everyday
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Use a sleeping mask, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary
  • Follow a routine to help you relax before bed, such as taking a bath or reading a book
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex
  • If you lay awake worrying about things, try making a to-do list before bed



Office on Women's Health

Mayo Clinic

National Sleep Foundation


Posted by on June 15, 2015 - 1:48pm

While the most effective way to detect breast cancer is by having a mammogram and a clinical breast exam, adult women of all ages are encouraged to conduct breast self-exams (BSE) at least once a month to become familiar with the look and feel of their breasts so that they can alert their doctor if there are any changes. Finding a breast change does not necessarily mean that it is cancer, but it is important to note unusual changes just in case -- when the cancer is detected in its earlier stages, your chances of surviving the disease are improved.

There are three ways a breast self-exam can be performed:

In front of a mirror

Stand undressed in front of a mirror. Relax your arms by your sire and look for any changes in the size, position, shape or skin of the breasts. Inspect your skin for any puckering, dimpling, discoloration and examine your nipples for any sores or change in the direction of the nipples. Next, raise your arms high over your head and look for the same symptoms listed above.

In the shower

Raise one arm behind your head to spread out the breast tissue. Using the pads of your fingers from the other hand, press gently and move around your entire breast in circular, up-and-down patterns along the breast, moving from the outside to the center. Check for any lumps or thickening. Repeat on the other side.

Lying Down

Lie down on your back and place a small pillow under your right shoulder and put your right hand behind your head. Place your left hand on the upper part of your right breast with your fingers together. Move the pads of your fingers around your breast in small circular motions to cover the entire breast area using medium pressure. Make sure to feel the out areas that extend into your armpit. Next, check for any changes or discharge in the nipple. Repeat for your left breast.

Changes can include how the breast of nipple feels: nipple tenderness, lump in or near the breast area. A change in the breast or nipple appearance: unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast, unexplained swelling or shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only), dimpling on the breast, nipple that is turned inward or is inverted, or skin anywhere on the breast or nipple that becomes scaly and red. Finally, any nipple discharge, particularly clear or bloody discharge.

If you experience or find any of these signs and symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor. But don’t worry! Changes in your breasts are natural and normal, but it doesn’t hurt to stay alert!


Check out these breast self-exam guides for diagrams and more information:

American Cancer Society 

US National Library of Medicine

National Breast Cancer Foundation



Posted by on June 10, 2015 - 10:05am

Exciting news! Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that starting in 2016, all research studies approved through their institutes will be required to study both biological sexes in cell, animal, and human studies in order to account for the possible role of sex as a variable. In the past, the research community has focused on male animals and cells in basic science research, neglecting the examination of female cells and animals as variables. This exclusion of female animals and cells neglected the fact that there are differences in male and female biological processes, including how they experience disease, react to medications, and even behave in social functions. Now there will be equal consideration of both sexes in basic and preclinical biomedical research!

We here at the Women’s Health Research Institute are particularly thrilled about this announcement as our years of advocacy have finally yielded this formalized inclusion of both sexes in all scientific studies. Our policy publications, sex-inclusion research forums, our launch of the Illinois Women’s Health Registry in 2008, and most recently, our unveiling of the Illinois Men’s Health Registry earlier this year, have all been attempts to garner sex inclusion in all aspects of basic and clinical research. This announcement is a great success! If you are interested in learning more about sex inclusion, consider joining our Health Registries, as they serve as a gateway between the state community and researchers who are motivated to include both sexes in their studies.


To read the official announcement from the NIH, click here

To learn more about our Women's Health Registry, click here

To learn more about our Men’s Health Registry, click here


Posted by on June 8, 2015 - 2:06pm

Most people get headaches every now and then, known as tension headaches. These are generally less severe, rarely disabling, and can be treated easily with pain relief medication. Migraines, however, are different than normal headaches: they are extremely painful and are usually accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Of the more than 36 million Americans that suffer from migraines, 27 million are women -- this means that women suffer from migraines three times as often than men!

Migraines cause intense throbbing or pulsing sensations on one, or sometimes both, side of the head. Most people can feel the pain in the temples and behind one eye or one ear, although any part of the head can be involved in the pain. In addition to the pain, migraines can cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and temporary vision impairment such as seeing spots or flashing lights. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea. The pain of a migraine can last from a few hours up to three days. Some people suffer from migraines once or twice a year, while others get them once or twice a week.

Not much is known about the causes of migraines. However, genetics and environmental factors seem to play a role in their onset. While the causes are not fully understood, experts do know that migraines react to a wide range of triggers including lack of sleep, hormone changes during the menstrual cycle, stress and anxiety, weather changes, caffeine (too much or withdrawal), and sensory stimuli such as bright light and loud sounds. The best way to find out your specific triggers is to make a headache or migraine diary including information on what time you got your migraine, what happened around the time you got it, what you ate/drank beforehand, how long the migraine lasted, and the severity of it. By keeping track of these things, it can be easier to see if the attacks are related to certain factors in your life.

While migraines cannot be cured, there are a variety of medications that treat them. There are many types of medications that help reduce the pain including pain relievers, triptans, ergots, and preventative medications. Which medications people use depends on the painfulness of the migraine and the consistency of the attacks.

Migraines can make life difficult by causing severe pain and wearing a person down. These attacks can make it impossible to continue day-to-day work and activities and have a major impact on performance and ability to concentrate. If you experience migraines, be sure to consult with your doctor to find the best solution to reduce your pain!



Mayo Clinic

National Library of Medicine

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health 

Migraine Research Foundation

Posted by on June 5, 2015 - 1:33pm

The month of June is National Safety Month, led by the National Safety Council (NSC), and focuses on bringing attention to and reducing the leading causes of injury and death on the road, at work, in homes, and in communities. Every year, the month has a theme that serves as the focus of the NSC’s educational goals. This year, the theme is “What do you live for?” a simple question that encourages us to all think about what is important in our lives and to shape our safety goals in that direction. Here are some summer safety tips!

Heat Safety

Summer months get hot and everyone is at risk for heat-related illnesses.

  • Drink water frequently to stay hydrated
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle 

Water Safety

About 10 people die from drowning every day. Keep yourself and your kids safe in the water during the summer.

  • Enroll kids over the age of 3 in swim lessons
  • Don’t solely rely on lifeguards to watch over kids
  • Never leave your child unattended in or near water

Window Safety

With warm weather come open windows to let in the breeze. Around 8 children under the age of five die each year and more than 3,300 are seriously injured from falling out of a window.

  • Keep children’s play safely away from windows
  • Close and lock windows when children are present
  • Move furniture away from windows
  • Do not open the window more than 4 inches

Firework Safety

Fireworks are a summer staple and are beautiful to enjoy. However, over 11,000 people are severely injured during firework-related incidents every year.

  • Never allow children to handle fireworks
  • If you are using fireworks or standing nearby, wear protective eyewear
  • Never light fireworks inside and light them away from people, flammable material, and houses
  • Maintain a safe distance after lighting
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of fire


Remember: part of being healthy is being safe!



National Safety Council

CDC Unintentional Drowning

US Consumer Product Safety Commission

Safe Kids Worldwide 2015

Posted by on June 3, 2015 - 11:47am

Vaginal yeast infections are very common – 3 out of 4 women experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetimes. Yeast is a fungus that normally lives in small amounts in the vagina, along with other types of bacteria. Healthy vaginas contain balanced mixes of both yeast and bacteria: the bacteria normally prevent the overgrowth of yeast. However, disruptions can effect the balance, leading to an overgrowth of yeast, causing a yeast infection.

There are a few factors that can cause an overgrowth of yeast. First, use of antibiotics can change your vaginal pH and decrease the amount of bacteria in your vagina, allowing more yeast to grow. This does not mean the antibiotics should be avoided – it is important to take antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Changes in hormone levels, such as in pregnancy and the use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, lead to higher estrogen levels that can cause yeast infections. Douching can also lead to yeast infections as it upsets the natural balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina. Other factors include diabetes and conditions affecting the immune system. A yeast infection can also be sexually transmitted.

The symptoms of yeast infections include itching and irritation in the vagina, especially on the vulva, redness and swelling of the vulva, burning sensations during urination or intercourse, other vaginal pain and soreness, and thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. See your gynecologist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Eating a balanced diet, controlling diabetes, and practicing good genital hygiene can all help prevent a yeast infection. For good genital hygiene, it is important to keep your vaginal area clean, always wipe from front to back, change pads and tampons often, do not use scented feminine products, and do not douche. Also, it is important to wear cotton underwear and change out of a wet bathing suit as soon as possible – both of these will help keep your vagina dry and won’t expose your vagina to extended periods of warmth and moisture, which can cause bacterial imbalances.

Having an occasional yeast infection is normal. The infection is treated easily with antifungal medication prescribed by your doctor.



Mayo Clinic


Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services