Ask Dr. Raj

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As your skin stretches over your growing bump, it can become dry and irritated. Hormonal changes may cause itching, too.

So slather on moisturizer regularly and avoid hot showers, itchy fabrics like wool, and scratching (which makes the problem worse).

If you also start to develop small bumps, especially in your third trimester, you may have pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). Your doctor can suggest an ointment to help relieve this harmless condition.

In rare cases, though, itching can be a sign of liver or gallbladder disease; pregnancy makes you more prone to both. So if moisturizing doesn’t help, be sure to check in with your doctor.

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Also called fertility awareness, natural family planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for various ways to forecast the time in your cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant—such as monitoring your daily temperature, checking for changes in cervical mucus and counting the days since your last period. When practiced perfectly, it can work nearly as well as medical birth control, according to some studies.

But the key word here is perfectly. Many women find that painstakingly tracking their periods, their temperature and the consistency of their cervical mucus is quite time-consuming. And unless you’re going to use condoms during your fertile days, you may need to remain abstinent for up to two weeks out of the month. That’s why the research also shows a very high dropout rate.

Don’t even attempt NFP for birth control if you have irregular periods, or if you’re taking antibiotics or antihistamines—these drugs can lead to changes in your cervical mucus, making it difficult to tell if you’re on a fertile day or not.

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Up to 70% of women have breast pain, called mastalgia, at some point in their lives, and there are many causes. The most common one is normal hormonal changes; if this were the root of your aches, though, they would most likely arrive only around your period. Consistent breast pain happens more often after 30 and can feel like swelling or tenderness in both breasts or a sharp burning sensation in one spot. Relieving it sometimes takes trial and error. Rarely, pain is a sign of breast cancer.

Allover pain could signify water retention, which can be diet-related. Some women find relief by taking vitamin B6 and vitamin E supplements with evening primrose oil (which is rich in a certain fat that seems to help). Others feel better when they limit caffeine or salt. But diet changes don’t always work on their own. In that case, try over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, or talk to your doc about topical meds. The pain should go away within a few months.

Stabbing pain suggests a cyst or fibroadenoma (a benign tumor) in the breast. Either one can feel like a lump, but it might be too deep to notice via touch. Though they’re mostly harmless, fibroadenomas can raise breast cancer risk. After diagnosis via ultrasound or mammogram, cysts can be drained with a fine needle, while fibroadenomas may require surgery.

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Most likely, no. Everyone has a slight unsteadiness in the hands, which is called physiologic tremor. These normal vibrations can sometimes worsen, however, if you‘re downing too much coffee or are extra stressed (blame adrenaline). Skipping meals and taking certain types of medication may also exacerbate the shakes.

It’s also possible you have essential tremor, a harmless (but frustrating) condition that can show up in your 40s and 50s. About half of the people with this problem—linked to miscommunications in the brain—have a family member who has it. Prescription medications can help, but many people do fine without them.

Rarely, tremor can be the first sign of a neurological disorder, like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. If you‘re jittery when your hand is at rest and you notice balance or coordination problems, see your doctor for a neurological exam. Barring a serious issue, your only Rx will be to get a grip on stress and cut back on your java intake.

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Normal! Allergic reactions are different for everyone. Your nose and throat are lined with glands that continually produce mucus—an amazing 1 to 2 quarts per day. This mucus keeps your upper respiratory tract moist and clean, protecting you from infection. Usually you swallow it without noticing, but when you encounter an allergen, like dust or pollen, your body releases chemicals that amp up mucus production, leading to excessive (and annoying) secretions. In some people, this causes a runny nose. In others, the extra mucus drains down the throat—a symptom called postnasal drip, which can cause tickling, coughing or soreness.

If it’s allergies, you’ll likely also have itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. Try taking an antihistamine. If you’re really congested or feverish, it could be a sinus infection or strep throat. Problems such as acid reflux cause symptoms akin to postnasal drip, so see your doctor if allergen avoidance and drugs don’t do the trick

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It’s possible, especially if your symptoms happen only at work. In fact, doctors have a term for this phenomenon—occupational allergies. This is more commonly a problem for, say, nurses who are sensitive to latex or builders who are exposed to a lot of sawdust. But plenty of things found in a typical office could bring on symptoms: the carpet, the cleaning materials the maintenance staff uses or plain old dust, especially if the building is old. Some people’s allergies may be aggravated by compounds that off-gas from furniture or paint.

Your doctor can do some basic testing to help pinpoint a trigger, but the real trouble is that many office-related allergens are unavoidable: You probably won’t convince your employer to install new carpeting throughout your workplace, for example. Buying an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your desk can help. You can also open windows and let in fresh air, or take a daily nondrowsy antihistamine to stay ahead of reactions.

If that doesn’t help, take a look at your diet since you changed jobs—are you using a different coffee creamer, perhaps? Eating at a new food truck? Cut out any additions to see if you feel better.

Stress can also bring on headaches and rashes; if you‘re feeling overwhelmed, discuss priorities with your boss. Even a quick check-in may be enough to ease your mind—and soothe your symptoms.

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The reason the creams are controversial is that some of them contain hydroquinone. Though it’s the gold standard for nixing sun spots, hydroquinone was banned in some countries after animal studies suggested that it was a possible carcinogen. But note: The animals used in the studies ate large amounts of the chemical over long periods of time—which is not at all the way you would use it. Still, the FDA has asked for more studies in order to make sure it’s safe to keep on the market.

In the meantime, you can get a hydroquinone lotion over the counter or by prescription. It’s safe to do so as long as you follow some guidelines. First, don’t apply the cream more than twice a day for more than six months without consulting your dermatologist, even if you get it at the drugstore. Though the condition is pretty rare, prolonged use of hydroquinone may cause ochronosis, which leads to skin thickening and discoloration.

In some people, hydroquinone creams may also cause some irritation, so it’s a good idea to test the cream on a small patch of skin first and follow all instructions on the label. Depending on the specific cream, the package instructions may suggest, say, applying it twice a week at first before increasing to daily use.

Products with retinol (the active ingredient in many anti-aging products) can also help erase sun spots. So if you’re using retinol on your face, you may already have something in your medicine cabinet that should help. Keep in mind that hydroquinone needs to be used with SPF 30 because it can heighten sun sensitivity. Pregnant? Skip hydroquinone and retinol for now.

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Actually, that’s not totally inaccurate. Your skin is kept at a comfortable temperature by your blood vessels, which distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. When the mercury drops, sensory receptors in your skin alert your brain to constrict vessels. This allows smaller amounts of blood to your skin to conserve warmth in the trunk of your body, where all your organs are.

In some people, vasoconstriction, as this process is called, can be triggered by the slightest thermometer changes. And one study found that this type of reaction is more common in women, in part due to our fluctuating levels of estrogen, a hormone that plays a big role in regulating temperature. (So you’re not imagining it—you really are more sensitive to cold than your guy!)

A more severe cold sensitivity is a hallmark of Raynaud’s disease, in which extremities—usually just fingers and toes but sometimes also nose and ears—may turn white or blue and go numb. Depending on how bad your symptoms are, treatment may range from wearing extra gloves and socks to taking prescription meds that widen blood vessels.

Finally, cold hands may be a symptom of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism, lupus, or diabetes, or low levels of iron or a vitamin B12 deficiency. Your doctor can perform tests and prescribe the right medication, supplements or diet changes. But if cold hands are your only complaint, try warming them by staying hydrated and increasing your activity levels (get up from your desk at least every hour).

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As you know, your body changes drastically with each pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop at an expanding belly. For example, you produce about 100 times as much estrogen during a day of pregnancy as on a normal day. Other hormones, like progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin, increase during this time as well. These temporary hormonal shifts alter your body not only during those nine months—they can have lasting effects, even after you’re done giving birth and have finished nursing.

This means that just as your breasts may never look quite the same again, your periods may become unrecognizable. Some women experience a pattern shift (differences in PMS symptoms, cramps, duration or heaviness, mood changes or all of the above) after their first baby, and then may go through another menstrual 180 after their second or third child. Still others have no changes at all.

Your period pattern may also undergo an adjustment in your late 30s as estrogen and fertility begin to decline. So your monthly deluge could be due to a combination of factors. If heavier bleeding or increased pain is making your periods harder to cope with, see your doctor; birth control pills can help even out your hormones.

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Lubrication is the solution here. Since the vagina can stretch to accommodate the passage of a baby, it can fit your man’s penis — if you are properly lubricated. Using a water-based lubricant is always a good idea.

A lengthy period of foreplay can also help you get sufficiently wet, and you can also use additional lubricant. Tell your man to take it slow when first entering you to avoid any trauma to your vagina. If you still experience pain, talk to your gynecologist because you may benefit from vaginal dilation — a therapy that can help with painful sex.

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It is important to first identify any medical or psychological reason for decreased libido and address it. For example, is your thyroid level too low? Are you not sleeping properly? Are you depressed?

If these types of causes are ruled out, and it is more a matter of getting over a dry spell — there are many ways to boost your sex drive. Erotic literature or videos can help get you in the mood, or even investing in some sexy new lingerie. Feeling confident about your body is essential, so focusing on what you love about your body and working on what you don’t — more exercise, better diet choices — can help.

Masturbation is also a great way to remind yourself of what turns you on. And if you are in a relationship, start by reestablishing intimacy with your partner before diving into sex. Cuddling, kissing, and even just holding hands can boost those feel-good hormones like oxytocin that will ultimately lead you to a more satisfying sexual relationship.

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Sorry, but you can’t skip the doctor’s office because you can Facebook chat with your girlfriend who just happens to be an MD. The problem with asking a friend to casually weigh in is that she isn’t formally seeing you in her office, so she’s likely not getting a complete picture of your health issue. To correctly diagnose or treat you, a physician needs to take a full medical history and examine you in person.

On top of that, friendship can impair a doctor’s judgment and her ability to be honest with you. This is the same reason that doctors have their own physicians; everyone needs an unbiased confidant when it comes to their health. Plus, depending on how close you two are, you may not want to discuss all the intimate details of your problem—when talking to your doctor, however, your privacy is protected by law.

So, without question, it’s best to seek medical advice in a professional setting from someone whose job it is to address your concerns completely. While it may be safe to ask a pal if you have a quick, minor question (for example, about a lingering cough), chances are she’ll tell you to see your doctor anyway.

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In general, as long as you’re healthy and you don’t smoke, you can take birth control pills as long as you want, up until a few years postmenopause. Oral contraceptives are among the best-studied drugs available, with more than 50 years of research backing their safety.

Some doctors used to prescribe regular breaks from the pill, but this is no longer advised because it makes no difference to your health (and can lead to an unwanted pregnancy!). It’s also a myth that use of the pill affects fertility in the long term; research reveals that women who have been on the pill have the same odds of becoming pregnant as women who have never taken it.

That said, like any medicine, the pill does come with some risk. For example, stroke or blood clots can happen, especially if you smoke or have high blood pressure. And long-term use (defined as longer than five years) has been associated with an increased chance of cervical cancer. Some studies suggest that the pill may also put you at a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, all these diseases are still rare among younger women. Plus, other research shows that the pill may actually help protect against cancers of the ovaries and endometrium (the lining of your uterus).

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Before you even think about drugs, it’s important to get the correct diagnosis. Stress and lack of sleep, as well as anxiety or depression, can cause problems with concentration, and all these things require specific treatments. Look back to when your issues started. If symptoms began only recently, they’re more likely due to increased stress or a lack of sleep. If they’ve been going on for a month or more and you’re also feeling sad or hopeless, getting headaches or having trouble making decisions, you may have depression or an anxiety disorder.

Many people think that ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is all about an inability to focus, but it actually involves much more than that. Other symptoms may include poor impulse control, restlessness, chronic disorganization and unstable relationships. If you do have ADHD, it’s likely that you not only have trouble focusing on certain tasks or sitting still but also consistently miss work deadlines or meetings because of an inability to manage your time. You may also tend to have angry outbursts or find it difficult to wait in line or get through minimally stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed. Because of increasing news reports on the rise of adult ADHD diagnoses, another common misconception is that the condition can start in adulthood. In reality, ADHD always begins in childhood, though some people don’t get a diagnosis until later in life.

So the best advice is to speak to a mental health professional about your current symptoms as well as patterns in your past. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, a psychiatrist may recommend stimulants along with targeted talk therapy. But this isn’t a decision to take lightly. Medications used to treat ADHD can have side effects such as insomnia or irritability, and it may take some trial and error to come up with the right medication and dosage that helps without causing new problems. Even with drugs, most adults with ADHD still need targeted talk therapy to help them learn to manage time, prioritize tasks and get organized.

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Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must fully cover birth control, including pills, rings, IUDs and more. (Even female condoms are covered, but your doctor has to write a prescription for them for you to get reimbursed.) Your plan might be grandfathered, though, meaning it existed before the law passed, so the new rules don’t apply. (Insurance plans will continue to lose this status, so it’s likely a matter of time before yours changes.) There’s a catch, however: Even for new plans, insurers are required to pay for at least one type of each method, but they don’t have to cover every product in all categories. They might completely cover a generic version of your pill but require a co-pay for the brand-name one, for example.

Still, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Plans will pay for a specific product if there’s a medical reason you need it. Your doc can help you request a waiver explaining why the pill you want is the best choice.

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Depression is more than just feeling down or crabby. It’s caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain that usually affects your mind and body. So while feeling sad is one sign of depression, there are usually also physical clues, such as changes in appetite (typically loss of appetite), insomnia, frequent tearfulness and extreme lethargy. You may also stop enjoying activities you used to love. As long as your bad mood isn’t causing problems at home or work or interfering with your ability to get through your daily routine, it’s probably not depression.

We don’t know exactly what causes depression, but many people with the disorder have lower levels of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that are directly linked to mood. Most doctors will prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Prozac or Zoloft, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), like Effexor or Cymbalta, to increase neurotransmitters. It’s also a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.

Just remember that there is no reason to suffer. Depression is a real illness and, thankfully, there are plenty of good treatment options for it.

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Nope, feel free to have at it any time of the month. Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines only the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of it—around the ovaries, bowel and other areas in your pelvis. The tissue grows thicker throughout your menstrual cycle, then breaks down and bleeds, just as it would inside your uterus. But because the blood and tissue have nowhere to go, that leads to (often intense) pain, irritation and eventually scar tissue.

While the exact cause of endometriosis is still unclear, there’s no evidence that period sex increases your risk. (In fact, one study linked sex during menses to a decreased risk.) The myth may stem from traditional Chinese medicine theories that having sex during your period disturbs the natural downward flow of menstrual blood, pushing it back into the uterus.

Western medicine has a term for a real phenomenon that sounds similar but isn’t caused by sex, nor is it the likely trigger of endometriosis: retrograde menstruation. Many experts think that all women experience some menstrual backup from time to time, usually without ill effects, but that women who develop endometriosis may have a hormonal or immune system problem that allows the tissue to become implanted.

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Don’t freak out if your periods don’t show up every 28 days. The sweet spot of four weeks is an approximation; anything between 21 and 35 days is considered normal. It’s also fine if your cycles vary by a few days (e.g., they average 31 days apart, but some months there’s a 28- or 35-day gap). Many women with long cycles worry about their fertility, but trust me: Plenty of women with longer or even irregular cycles get pregnant without a problem.

That said, periods that come more than 35 days apart could signal hypothyroidism, a sluggish thyroid gland. Your doctor can run blood tests to check your thyroid levels and prescribe medicine to help. She will also want to rule out polycystic ovary syndrome, a common symptom of which is infrequent periods due to a lack of ovulation, caused by hormonal changes. Birth control pills (or the patch or ring) can restore order to your cycle by regulating hormones.

If you’re trying to conceive, medications that stimulate ovulation, like clomiphene (aka Clomid), may help.

If your period is followed by more bleeding within three weeks, that can be a sign of either an infection, fibroids or, much more rarely, a cancerous tumor. Your doctor will likely send you for an ultrasound to figure out what’s going on.

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Ouch. Airplane ear happens when there’s an imbalance between the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure around you, which changes rapidly with the altitude during the start and end of a flight. Yawning, swallowing or chewing gum can usually fix it by letting air flow through the eustachian tubes—the narrow passages between the middle ear and the back of the nose—equalizing the pressure. But a cold or sinus infection complicates things because congestion can block the tubes. Result: painful pressure and hearing problems.

To clear the clog, you need an over-the-counter decongestant to encourage drainage; a nasal spray may also help calm any swelling that’s adding to the problem. Also try taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat related pain. (Congested due to allergies? Go with an antihistamine.) Once you’ve given the medicine some time to work, close your mouth, pinch your nose shut and very gently push air into the back of your nose as if you were blowing it, which may help nudge the tubes open. These tactics, combined with a little patience, should do the trick, but if the issue persists or the pain gets worse, see your doc. A clog can turn into a bacterial ear infection, for which you’ll need antibiotics.

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Laryngitis (the most common cause of hoarseness or voice loss) happens when your voice box becomes irritated or inflamed, leading to swelling that keeps your vocal cords from being able to open and close smoothly. (This vocal cord movement is what creates sound.) A viral infection, like a cold or the flu, is the usual culprit, but it’s not the only one.

Strain is also a top cause of laryngitis; just one night of cheering at a sporting event or concert can bring it on. Voice strain should go away on its own with rest and lots of fluids. But you really have to rest your voice, especially if you’ve lost it entirely: Not only will staying quiet help you heal faster, but taxing your voice during laryngitis can damage vocal cords further and can lead to the formation of polyps or nodules that may require surgery.

If hoarseness persists beyond a few weeks or keeps coming back, there may be something else going on. One possibility is acid reflux. When stomach acid comes back up the esophagus, it can cause irritation of the vocal cords. The type of reflux most associated with voice issues is called laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, and it often doesn’t cause heartburn or nausea. Your doctor can prescribe antacids and other medication (like steroids) that can help your voice if it’s not getting better.

Another possible cause is a yeast infection in your throat, also called oral thrush. This appears most often in people with depressed immune systems, like those with HIV or cancer, but people using a corticosteroid inhaler to treat their asthma are also more prone. That’s because the steroid can locally decrease your immune function, which allows the overgrowth of yeast. Oral antifungals can solve it.

To get a diagnosis, see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), who can take a look at your vocal cords with a scope to determine if acid reflux or yeast is robbing you of your voice. An ENT can also rule out something more serious, like laryngeal cancer, which often occurs with ear pain and a sore throat on top of voice issues.

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Probably the worst thing is the staph bacteria MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the “superbug” that can cause a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat skin infection, which can invade the blood. This bug, which is resistant to most kinds of antibiotics, is spread through close contact – athletes on a sports team sometimes spread it to each other. What’s scary is it can survive on gym machines between users.

Wipe the equipment off with an antibacterial wipe before using it. And if you have any open sores or wounds or skin irritation, stay away from the machines because your broken skin will make you more vulnerable to contracting something.

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Honestly, it’s not great. Thongs can create a lot of friction and irritate the delicate skin in your nether regions as you‘re running, biking or doing any other repetitive movement. This can mean extra discomfort if you‘ve got hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins that can cause severe anal pain and itching (they’re common post-childbirth).

Thongs also make it easier for bacteria to travel from your backside to your front, increasing your risk of urinary tract infections; this is especially a problem when you‘re sweating because the added moisture provides a perfect environment for bacterial growth. It doesn’t help that these undies are often made from nonbreathable fabrics like spandex, which can trap moisture and make other issues, such as yeast infections, more likely.

This is not to say you should go commando whenever you‘re at the gym in less than ideal underpants—it’s good to have some fabric between you and your running shorts. But the smartest advice is to pack a pair of full-back cotton underwear in your gym bag, or invest in shorts or workout pants with built-in moisture-absorbing panties.

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Dizziness is one of the trickiest symptoms of all because it can be caused by a variety of things, both worrisome and not. It may just be a sign that you’re dehydrated; make sure you drink enough H2O throughout the day (which means at least eight glasses) in addition to having water on hand during your workout to replace any fluids you sweat out. It could also be that you’re overdoing it. It’s great to push yourself a little in your gym sessions, but it’s not wise to go so hard that your head whirls. Try easing off a bit during workouts—going at a slower pace or doing fewer reps—to see if that solves the problem.

If you’re becoming dizzy even during light exercise, however, that’s a sign you need to see your doctor. Feeling the spins at the gym can be related to exercise-induced asthma. This typically causes shortness of breath or chest tightness as well, but if these symptoms are mild enough, you may not notice them. (You are working out, after all.) For that, your doctor can test your breathing strength and prescribe an inhaler to use before you hit the treadmill.

Finally, dizziness during a workout could signal an underlying heart problem, one of which is an abnormal rhythm, called an arrhythmia. There are a variety of types of arrhythmias—some make the heart beat too slowly or too fast, while others make the beats irregular. Arrhythmias can be caused by a structural problem, heart disease or even an electrolyte imbalance resulting from dehydration or poor diet. Sometimes exertion is the only time you get symptoms.

Depending on the type, arrhythmias are treated with prescription medications or surgery to implant a pacemaker. Another option is a procedure called catheter ablation, in which a series of flexible wires are inserted into your arm, upper thigh or neck and guided into your heart. Then radio waves are sent through the wires to destroy the heart tissue that may be causing the problem.

Some less serious arrhythmias can be managed with what’s known as vagal maneuvers, which are mini-exercises like coughing or holding your breath and bearing down. Done correctly, these moves can actually kick your heart back into a more regular beat.

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What happens to your lady parts after having a baby can be different from woman to woman and can be affected by the size of your baby, the duration of your labor, whether you had a forceps delivery, and even your genes. The vagina itself has an amazing ability to stretch to allow the passage of the baby and then stretch back, but the surrounding pelvic muscles can weaken, which does make it feel a bit roomier down there.

This extra room can make sex less pleasurable for you and your partner, but don’t despair — you can do something about it. Just like you need to hit the gym to get your postbaby body, you need to work out your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises to get your tone back. Imagine you are urinating and are trying to stop the flow — these are the muscles you want to clench to do Kegels — although you should not do this while you are actually urinating. Work yourself up to three sets of 10, three times a day. And be patient: Kegel exercises usually take at least two to four weeks before you start noticing results.

The beauty of Kegels is that you can do them anywhere and nobody can tell! If these do not help, there are surgical procedures that can tighten that area, but you want to make sure you are finished with childbearing before you consider these options.

So how long do you need to wait before having sex after a baby? Generally until your six-week visit with your OB, during which she can check you and make sure everything has healed properly and you are ready to get back in the saddle. This time period may vary a bit, depending on whether you have had a C-section or a vaginal delivery, but it is always good to check with your doctor first.

While some studies have linked the rise in food allergies to exposure to particular pesticides over time, it’s very rare to have a true allergic reaction to the pesticide residues that can remain on produce. That said, allergies are very individual, and there’s no harm in trying out certified organic produce—which is free of synthetic pesticides—to see if that does the trick.

If going organic doesn’t help, though, it is possible to be allergic to the fruits and vegetables themselves. Some people have what’s called oral allergy syndrome, meaning they get reactions to certain proteins found in various fruits and vegetables.

For example, bananas, avocados, kiwis, and more can cause cross-reactions in people who are allergic to latex—an allergy you may not realize you have if you’re not, say, a health care worker or someone who wears a lot of rubber gloves. Those who have allergies to birch, ragweed, or grass pollens may react to things like hazelnut, peaches, celery, sunflower seeds, and zucchini, to name a few.

An allergist can do skin or blood tests to see which protein is causing your cross-reactions, and that can help you pinpoint foods to stay away from. Some people find that their symptoms occur only during allergy season or that they can, for example, eat apple pie without an issue but can’t bite into a fresh apple. That’s because cooking with high heat breaks down the problem proteins that cause the cross-reactions.

Itchiness may seem like a minor symptom now, but it’s very important to sleuth out your triggers with your doctor and avoid the ones that bring it on. Even if you’ve had only a mild reaction in the past, in rare cases your reactions could lead to anaphylaxis, a dangerous type of reaction that can cause a severe drop in blood pressure and constricted airways.

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Nope, you can skip the extra screenings. The latest science says that there’s no need to do blood tests for B12, iron, calcium or even vitamin D unless you’re experiencing symptoms of a deficiency or you have a condition, like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease, that predisposes you to one.

Though there has been a lot of buzz in the past few years about the health effects of low vitamin D levels, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reviewed the research and determined there’s no evidence that regular screening is helpful. In fact, routine screening tests (say, to check blood counts) are no longer recommended for healthy women unless there are signs of a problem.

Instead of worrying about your vitamin levels, focus instead on eating a well-balanced diet full of nutritious whole foods like leafy greens, colorful produce, lean proteins and whole grains; these foods will get you all the vitamins you need. And be sure to touch base with your doctor regularly. Healthy women need to get a physical exam every five years in their 20s and 30s (along with a blood pressure check every two years). If you’re over age 40, make an appointment every other year.

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The essential ingredient in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, which is used for many things, from rubs that treat sore muscles to pepper sprays used for self-defense. It is also found in certain nasal sprays to alleviate congestion in people with sinus issues. But, sadly, there is no research to support the claim that drinking it in hot tea will help with your allergies.

At the very least, if the tea is spicy enough, it may trigger a runny nose in the same way that eating spicy foods can, and this might bring some minor relief if your allergies are stuffing you up. People who’ve tried it say that it’s like a “clearing-out.”

But I don’t recommend following their lead. Aside from being only a temporary solution, the spiciness of the tea can upset your stomach. Plus, if it’s making your nose run, there’s the possibility that it will backfire by adding more mucus. What you really want is prevention. If you haven’t already, see an allergist to determine exactly what your triggers are so you can avoid them. And, if needed, take an antihistamine or use a steroid nasal spray daily to get ahead of stuffiness.

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Recently, a class action lawsuit alleged that the levels of arsenic in some popular California wines were higher than the EPA’s maximum allowable limit for drinking water. But don’t go pouring out your red and white just yet. Arsenic can in fact be found in many foods and drinks, like rice and fruit juices, because it can be absorbed into foods via soil and water. How does arsenic get there in the first place? While it’s unclear exactly, some amount of the substance has remained in the soil after arsenic-containing pesticides were used in the past to grow crops like cotton and apples. (These pesticides are no longer used on foods, but they may still be sprayed on golf courses or near roadways; runoff could also be part of the problem.) Long-term exposure to large amounts of arsenic has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, as well as cancers of the skin, bladder and lungs, so it makes sense to think about what might be in your wine.

However, it’s important to note that the safe levels for water are based on consuming up to 2 liters of water a day—more wine than you would likely ever drink. Another thing that might quell your fears: Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a standard for arsenic levels in wine, Canada and other countries where American wines are exported do, and none of the 1,300 bottles of wine reportedly tested came close to exceeding even the most conservative standard. So in all likelihood, any arsenic in your wine is not a concern. (For the record, the Wine Institute, a trade group for California wines, has called the lawsuit’s claims “false and misleading.”)

Categories: All +, Diet +

Actually, the opposite is true: It’s great to have a glass of water with you at the table. Some folks claim that consuming fluids with your food dilutes the bile and stomach acid needed to break down and absorb nutrients. But if anything, drinking water helps your stomach liquefy food, which aids in digestion and nutrient absorption; it may also prevent constipation and bloating by softening stools and keeping your digestive tract lubricated. Drinking H2O with your meals can also keep you from overeating. It helps fill you up faster and also encourages you to take breaks from your food, causing you to slow down and check in with your hunger signals.

Categories: All +, Diet +

dark-circles-eyes-400x400-ck

A few culprits may have you reaching for the under-eye concealer. Sinus blockage triggered by a food or seasonal allergy can cause swelling of the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin, giving you “darkened” areas around your nose and eyes. An allergist can determine an allergy trigger, but if yours is seasonal or the irritant is unavoidable, an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec should help.

How’s your diet? A vitamin deficiency may also cause circles. Take a daily multi if you don’t already, and add a night cream or facial mask containing vitamins K and A (aka retinol) to your regimen.

Categories: All +, Beauty +, Sleep +

rash-on-arm-400x400-ckAs weird as it may sound, it is possible. There are actually a few types of sun allergies.

The most common is polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), which often shows up – sometimes within minutes – as an itchy red rash on body parts exposed to sunlight, especially the neckline, the backs of the arms, the face and the hands.

You could also simply be extra-sensitive to the sun – medical conditions, such as lupus, can increase your sensitivity, as can medications like Retin-A, sulfa-based drugs (like some antibiotics), and certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor so she can figure out what’s going on. Treatment for a sun allergy typically involves steroid creams or antihistamines.

And, of course, if you’re prone to bad reactions when you bask, be vigilant about using sunblock and covering up.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

1383337263-botox-150-ckBenjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” I’d like to make an addition to that: wrinkles. If you smile, frown, or make any expression with your face (even squinting at the sun), you will develop laugh lines, brow lines, lines across your forehead, lines around your eyes, etc. They’re a fact of life, and although there are ways to minimize them, we will all get them eventually.

It is true, that if you begin using Botox and fillers in you 20s, creases and wrinkles will be slower to develop. That doesn’t mean they won’t: it just means they will take some more time to show. Also, since these fillers are only temporary, you’re signing yourself up for a lifetime of repeat treatments, at several hundred dollars a pop.

You can easily protect yourself from the biggest wrinkle maker: sun damage. I can’t stress enough how much the sun destroys your skin day in and day out. Wearing a moisturizer with an SPF 30 will help keep the years (and wrinkles) from piling up on your face – no Botox needed.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Being well-endowed doesn’t up your chances of developing cancer. That said, being overweight does increase your risk of breast cancer (and other health problems). So if your curves are from added weight, you’re at a higher risk than a woman who is slim. (Obesity raises your risk of many cancers, so it’s important to try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.)

Big boobs can make feeling lumps or detecting tumors more difficult, for sure. Larger breasts have more tissue, and the more tissue there is, the more you have to feel and inspect. That’s why it’s important for women with larger breasts to visit their doctor annually (if not more often) for a clinical breast exam and get yearly mammograms if over 40.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Eyelid bumps are nothing to blink at! Fortunately, they often go away on their own. The most common type is a stye, a pimplelike bump on your lash line. The inside of your eyelids are lined with special oil glands that keep your eyes lubricated. Styes form when bacteria get into these glands, giving you a painful, sometimes pus-filled bump. They may also arise from an infection of a hair follicle. The best move is to wait it out, butyou can speed up the draining process by doing warm compresses with a washcloth for 10 minutes four times a day. Styes that stick around for longer than several days may need to be drained by a doc. Just don’t try to squeeze it yourself, which could spread the infection.

If the bump is more like a hard lump under the skin, it’s probably a chalazion, which develops when the oil gland gets blocked with thicker than normal oil secretions or by a stye that wouldn’t heal. Chalazia are often painless but can persist for months. Warm compresses are a good remedy here, too, but if it doesn’t go away or if it becomes painful (a sign it’s infected), your ophthalmologist can drain it.

Another culprit: milia, or small white bumps caused by trapped keratin (a protein produced by the skin) under your eyelid. These can appear anywhere but often show up around your eyes. Milia typically clear up on their own, but your doctor can scrape them away if they’re bothersome.

A lump that bleeds or doesn’t go away with treatment could be a skin cancer. Removing eyelid skin cancers can be tricky, but your derm can refer you to a surgeon trained in Mohs micrographic surgery, in which skin is removed layer by layer until you‘re cancer-free. Good news: This is highly effective and minimizes scarring.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

The reason the creams are controversial is that some of them contain hydroquinone. Though it’s the gold standard for nixing sun spots, hydroquinone was banned in some countries after animal studies suggested that it was a possible carcinogen. But note: The animals used in the studies ate large amounts of the chemical over long periods of time—which is not at all the way you would use it. Still, the FDA has asked for more studies in order to make sure it’s safe to keep on the market.

In the meantime, you can get a hydroquinone lotion over the counter or by prescription. It’s safe to do so as long as you follow some guidelines. First, don’t apply the cream more than twice a day for more than six months without consulting your dermatologist, even if you get it at the drugstore. Though the condition is pretty rare, prolonged use of hydroquinone may cause ochronosis, which leads to skin thickening and discoloration.

In some people, hydroquinone creams may also cause some irritation, so it’s a good idea to test the cream on a small patch of skin first and follow all instructions on the label. Depending on the specific cream, the package instructions may suggest, say, applying it twice a week at first before increasing to daily use.

Products with retinol (the active ingredient in many anti-aging products) can also help erase sun spots. So if you’re using retinol on your face, you may already have something in your medicine cabinet that should help. Keep in mind that hydroquinone needs to be used with SPF 30 because it can heighten sun sensitivity. Pregnant? Skip hydroquinone and retinol for now.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Of course, some post-wax redness is expected no matter what, but a few things can make the discomfort worse. First, without that protective layer of hair, skin can be irritated by rubbing against your clothes. To lessen the friction, wear loose, breathable undies and try not to touch the area for a day or so.

Also, because waxing rips hair out at the root, it opens follicles, making them more prone to infection, aka folliculitis, which leads to red bumps or pustules that may itch (but mostly just look gross). For this, apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to the area twice a day.

And next time you get waxed, avoid swimming or taking long, hot showers (which keep pores open) for at least 24 hours. You can also apply a cool compress with a few drops of alcohol-free toner when you get home to fight bacteria.

Finally, it’s possible that you’re allergic to the wax, which would cause a painful rash or breakout to appear a day later. Twice-daily hydrocortisone cream works for this, too. Ask your aesthetician to use a different wax next time to see if that helps.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Beauty +

dark-circles-eyes-400x400-ck

A few culprits may have you reaching for the under-eye concealer. Sinus blockage triggered by a food or seasonal allergy can cause swelling of the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin, giving you “darkened” areas around your nose and eyes. An allergist can determine an allergy trigger, but if yours is seasonal or the irritant is unavoidable, an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec should help.

How’s your diet? A vitamin deficiency may also cause circles. Take a daily multi if you don’t already, and add a night cream or facial mask containing vitamins K and A (aka retinol) to your regimen.

Categories: All +, Beauty +, Sleep +

rash-on-arm-400x400-ckAs weird as it may sound, it is possible. There are actually a few types of sun allergies.

The most common is polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), which often shows up – sometimes within minutes – as an itchy red rash on body parts exposed to sunlight, especially the neckline, the backs of the arms, the face and the hands.

You could also simply be extra-sensitive to the sun – medical conditions, such as lupus, can increase your sensitivity, as can medications like Retin-A, sulfa-based drugs (like some antibiotics), and certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Be sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor so she can figure out what’s going on. Treatment for a sun allergy typically involves steroid creams or antihistamines.

And, of course, if you’re prone to bad reactions when you bask, be vigilant about using sunblock and covering up.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

1383337263-botox-150-ckBenjamin Franklin is quoted as having said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” I’d like to make an addition to that: wrinkles. If you smile, frown, or make any expression with your face (even squinting at the sun), you will develop laugh lines, brow lines, lines across your forehead, lines around your eyes, etc. They’re a fact of life, and although there are ways to minimize them, we will all get them eventually.

It is true, that if you begin using Botox and fillers in you 20s, creases and wrinkles will be slower to develop. That doesn’t mean they won’t: it just means they will take some more time to show. Also, since these fillers are only temporary, you’re signing yourself up for a lifetime of repeat treatments, at several hundred dollars a pop.

You can easily protect yourself from the biggest wrinkle maker: sun damage. I can’t stress enough how much the sun destroys your skin day in and day out. Wearing a moisturizer with an SPF 30 will help keep the years (and wrinkles) from piling up on your face – no Botox needed.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Being well-endowed doesn’t up your chances of developing cancer. That said, being overweight does increase your risk of breast cancer (and other health problems). So if your curves are from added weight, you’re at a higher risk than a woman who is slim. (Obesity raises your risk of many cancers, so it’s important to try to reach and maintain a healthy weight.)

Big boobs can make feeling lumps or detecting tumors more difficult, for sure. Larger breasts have more tissue, and the more tissue there is, the more you have to feel and inspect. That’s why it’s important for women with larger breasts to visit their doctor annually (if not more often) for a clinical breast exam and get yearly mammograms if over 40.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Eyelid bumps are nothing to blink at! Fortunately, they often go away on their own. The most common type is a stye, a pimplelike bump on your lash line. The inside of your eyelids are lined with special oil glands that keep your eyes lubricated. Styes form when bacteria get into these glands, giving you a painful, sometimes pus-filled bump. They may also arise from an infection of a hair follicle. The best move is to wait it out, butyou can speed up the draining process by doing warm compresses with a washcloth for 10 minutes four times a day. Styes that stick around for longer than several days may need to be drained by a doc. Just don’t try to squeeze it yourself, which could spread the infection.

If the bump is more like a hard lump under the skin, it’s probably a chalazion, which develops when the oil gland gets blocked with thicker than normal oil secretions or by a stye that wouldn’t heal. Chalazia are often painless but can persist for months. Warm compresses are a good remedy here, too, but if it doesn’t go away or if it becomes painful (a sign it’s infected), your ophthalmologist can drain it.

Another culprit: milia, or small white bumps caused by trapped keratin (a protein produced by the skin) under your eyelid. These can appear anywhere but often show up around your eyes. Milia typically clear up on their own, but your doctor can scrape them away if they’re bothersome.

A lump that bleeds or doesn’t go away with treatment could be a skin cancer. Removing eyelid skin cancers can be tricky, but your derm can refer you to a surgeon trained in Mohs micrographic surgery, in which skin is removed layer by layer until you‘re cancer-free. Good news: This is highly effective and minimizes scarring.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

The reason the creams are controversial is that some of them contain hydroquinone. Though it’s the gold standard for nixing sun spots, hydroquinone was banned in some countries after animal studies suggested that it was a possible carcinogen. But note: The animals used in the studies ate large amounts of the chemical over long periods of time—which is not at all the way you would use it. Still, the FDA has asked for more studies in order to make sure it’s safe to keep on the market.

In the meantime, you can get a hydroquinone lotion over the counter or by prescription. It’s safe to do so as long as you follow some guidelines. First, don’t apply the cream more than twice a day for more than six months without consulting your dermatologist, even if you get it at the drugstore. Though the condition is pretty rare, prolonged use of hydroquinone may cause ochronosis, which leads to skin thickening and discoloration.

In some people, hydroquinone creams may also cause some irritation, so it’s a good idea to test the cream on a small patch of skin first and follow all instructions on the label. Depending on the specific cream, the package instructions may suggest, say, applying it twice a week at first before increasing to daily use.

Products with retinol (the active ingredient in many anti-aging products) can also help erase sun spots. So if you’re using retinol on your face, you may already have something in your medicine cabinet that should help. Keep in mind that hydroquinone needs to be used with SPF 30 because it can heighten sun sensitivity. Pregnant? Skip hydroquinone and retinol for now.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Of course, some post-wax redness is expected no matter what, but a few things can make the discomfort worse. First, without that protective layer of hair, skin can be irritated by rubbing against your clothes. To lessen the friction, wear loose, breathable undies and try not to touch the area for a day or so.

Also, because waxing rips hair out at the root, it opens follicles, making them more prone to infection, aka folliculitis, which leads to red bumps or pustules that may itch (but mostly just look gross). For this, apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to the area twice a day.

And next time you get waxed, avoid swimming or taking long, hot showers (which keep pores open) for at least 24 hours. You can also apply a cool compress with a few drops of alcohol-free toner when you get home to fight bacteria.

Finally, it’s possible that you’re allergic to the wax, which would cause a painful rash or breakout to appear a day later. Twice-daily hydrocortisone cream works for this, too. Ask your aesthetician to use a different wax next time to see if that helps.

Categories: All +, Beauty +

Diet +

While some studies have linked the rise in food allergies to exposure to particular pesticides over time, it’s very rare to have a true allergic reaction to the pesticide residues that can remain on produce. That said, allergies are very individual, and there’s no harm in trying out certified organic produce—which is free of synthetic pesticides—to see if that does the trick.

If going organic doesn’t help, though, it is possible to be allergic to the fruits and vegetables themselves. Some people have what’s called oral allergy syndrome, meaning they get reactions to certain proteins found in various fruits and vegetables.

For example, bananas, avocados, kiwis, and more can cause cross-reactions in people who are allergic to latex—an allergy you may not realize you have if you’re not, say, a health care worker or someone who wears a lot of rubber gloves. Those who have allergies to birch, ragweed, or grass pollens may react to things like hazelnut, peaches, celery, sunflower seeds, and zucchini, to name a few.

An allergist can do skin or blood tests to see which protein is causing your cross-reactions, and that can help you pinpoint foods to stay away from. Some people find that their symptoms occur only during allergy season or that they can, for example, eat apple pie without an issue but can’t bite into a fresh apple. That’s because cooking with high heat breaks down the problem proteins that cause the cross-reactions.

Itchiness may seem like a minor symptom now, but it’s very important to sleuth out your triggers with your doctor and avoid the ones that bring it on. Even if you’ve had only a mild reaction in the past, in rare cases your reactions could lead to anaphylaxis, a dangerous type of reaction that can cause a severe drop in blood pressure and constricted airways.

Categories: All +, Diet +, Health +

Nope, you can skip the extra screenings. The latest science says that there’s no need to do blood tests for B12, iron, calcium or even vitamin D unless you’re experiencing symptoms of a deficiency or you have a condition, like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease, that predisposes you to one.

Though there has been a lot of buzz in the past few years about the health effects of low vitamin D levels, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reviewed the research and determined there’s no evidence that regular screening is helpful. In fact, routine screening tests (say, to check blood counts) are no longer recommended for healthy women unless there are signs of a problem.

Instead of worrying about your vitamin levels, focus instead on eating a well-balanced diet full of nutritious whole foods like leafy greens, colorful produce, lean proteins and whole grains; these foods will get you all the vitamins you need. And be sure to touch base with your doctor regularly. Healthy women need to get a physical exam every five years in their 20s and 30s (along with a blood pressure check every two years). If you’re over age 40, make an appointment every other year.

Categories: All +, Diet +

The essential ingredient in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, which is used for many things, from rubs that treat sore muscles to pepper sprays used for self-defense. It is also found in certain nasal sprays to alleviate congestion in people with sinus issues. But, sadly, there is no research to support the claim that drinking it in hot tea will help with your allergies.

At the very least, if the tea is spicy enough, it may trigger a runny nose in the same way that eating spicy foods can, and this might bring some minor relief if your allergies are stuffing you up. People who’ve tried it say that it’s like a “clearing-out.”

But I don’t recommend following their lead. Aside from being only a temporary solution, the spiciness of the tea can upset your stomach. Plus, if it’s making your nose run, there’s the possibility that it will backfire by adding more mucus. What you really want is prevention. If you haven’t already, see an allergist to determine exactly what your triggers are so you can avoid them. And, if needed, take an antihistamine or use a steroid nasal spray daily to get ahead of stuffiness.

Categories: All +, Diet +

Recently, a class action lawsuit alleged that the levels of arsenic in some popular California wines were higher than the EPA’s maximum allowable limit for drinking water. But don’t go pouring out your red and white just yet. Arsenic can in fact be found in many foods and drinks, like rice and fruit juices, because it can be absorbed into foods via soil and water. How does arsenic get there in the first place? While it’s unclear exactly, some amount of the substance has remained in the soil after arsenic-containing pesticides were used in the past to grow crops like cotton and apples. (These pesticides are no longer used on foods, but they may still be sprayed on golf courses or near roadways; runoff could also be part of the problem.) Long-term exposure to large amounts of arsenic has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, as well as cancers of the skin, bladder and lungs, so it makes sense to think about what might be in your wine.

However, it’s important to note that the safe levels for water are based on consuming up to 2 liters of water a day—more wine than you would likely ever drink. Another thing that might quell your fears: Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have a standard for arsenic levels in wine, Canada and other countries where American wines are exported do, and none of the 1,300 bottles of wine reportedly tested came close to exceeding even the most conservative standard. So in all likelihood, any arsenic in your wine is not a concern. (For the record, the Wine Institute, a trade group for California wines, has called the lawsuit’s claims “false and misleading.”)

Categories: All +, Diet +

Actually, the opposite is true: It’s great to have a glass of water with you at the table. Some folks claim that consuming fluids with your food dilutes the bile and stomach acid needed to break down and absorb nutrients. But if anything, drinking water helps your stomach liquefy food, which aids in digestion and nutrient absorption; it may also prevent constipation and bloating by softening stools and keeping your digestive tract lubricated. Drinking H2O with your meals can also keep you from overeating. It helps fill you up faster and also encourages you to take breaks from your food, causing you to slow down and check in with your hunger signals.

Categories: All +, Diet +

Exercise +

Probably the worst thing is the staph bacteria MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the “superbug” that can cause a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat skin infection, which can invade the blood. This bug, which is resistant to most kinds of antibiotics, is spread through close contact – athletes on a sports team sometimes spread it to each other. What’s scary is it can survive on gym machines between users.

Wipe the equipment off with an antibacterial wipe before using it. And if you have any open sores or wounds or skin irritation, stay away from the machines because your broken skin will make you more vulnerable to contracting something.

Categories: All +, Exercise +

Honestly, it’s not great. Thongs can create a lot of friction and irritate the delicate skin in your nether regions as you‘re running, biking or doing any other repetitive movement. This can mean extra discomfort if you‘ve got hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins that can cause severe anal pain and itching (they’re common post-childbirth).

Thongs also make it easier for bacteria to travel from your backside to your front, increasing your risk of urinary tract infections; this is especially a problem when you‘re sweating because the added moisture provides a perfect environment for bacterial growth. It doesn’t help that these undies are often made from nonbreathable fabrics like spandex, which can trap moisture and make other issues, such as yeast infections, more likely.

This is not to say you should go commando whenever you‘re at the gym in less than ideal underpants—it’s good to have some fabric between you and your running shorts. But the smartest advice is to pack a pair of full-back cotton underwear in your gym bag, or invest in shorts or workout pants with built-in moisture-absorbing panties.

Categories: All +, Exercise +

Dizziness is one of the trickiest symptoms of all because it can be caused by a variety of things, both worrisome and not. It may just be a sign that you’re dehydrated; make sure you drink enough H2O throughout the day (which means at least eight glasses) in addition to having water on hand during your workout to replace any fluids you sweat out. It could also be that you’re overdoing it. It’s great to push yourself a little in your gym sessions, but it’s not wise to go so hard that your head whirls. Try easing off a bit during workouts—going at a slower pace or doing fewer reps—to see if that solves the problem.

If you’re becoming dizzy even during light exercise, however, that’s a sign you need to see your doctor. Feeling the spins at the gym can be related to exercise-induced asthma. This typically causes shortness of breath or chest tightness as well, but if these symptoms are mild enough, you may not notice them. (You are working out, after all.) For that, your doctor can test your breathing strength and prescribe an inhaler to use before you hit the treadmill.

Finally, dizziness during a workout could signal an underlying heart problem, one of which is an abnormal rhythm, called an arrhythmia. There are a variety of types of arrhythmias—some make the heart beat too slowly or too fast, while others make the beats irregular. Arrhythmias can be caused by a structural problem, heart disease or even an electrolyte imbalance resulting from dehydration or poor diet. Sometimes exertion is the only time you get symptoms.

Depending on the type, arrhythmias are treated with prescription medications or surgery to implant a pacemaker. Another option is a procedure called catheter ablation, in which a series of flexible wires are inserted into your arm, upper thigh or neck and guided into your heart. Then radio waves are sent through the wires to destroy the heart tissue that may be causing the problem.

Some less serious arrhythmias can be managed with what’s known as vagal maneuvers, which are mini-exercises like coughing or holding your breath and bearing down. Done correctly, these moves can actually kick your heart back into a more regular beat.

Categories: All +, Exercise +

What happens to your lady parts after having a baby can be different from woman to woman and can be affected by the size of your baby, the duration of your labor, whether you had a forceps delivery, and even your genes. The vagina itself has an amazing ability to stretch to allow the passage of the baby and then stretch back, but the surrounding pelvic muscles can weaken, which does make it feel a bit roomier down there.

This extra room can make sex less pleasurable for you and your partner, but don’t despair — you can do something about it. Just like you need to hit the gym to get your postbaby body, you need to work out your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises to get your tone back. Imagine you are urinating and are trying to stop the flow — these are the muscles you want to clench to do Kegels — although you should not do this while you are actually urinating. Work yourself up to three sets of 10, three times a day. And be patient: Kegel exercises usually take at least two to four weeks before you start noticing results.

The beauty of Kegels is that you can do them anywhere and nobody can tell! If these do not help, there are surgical procedures that can tighten that area, but you want to make sure you are finished with childbearing before you consider these options.

So how long do you need to wait before having sex after a baby? Generally until your six-week visit with your OB, during which she can check you and make sure everything has healed properly and you are ready to get back in the saddle. This time period may vary a bit, depending on whether you have had a C-section or a vaginal delivery, but it is always good to check with your doctor first.

Health +

Up to 70% of women have breast pain, called mastalgia, at some point in their lives, and there are many causes. The most common one is normal hormonal changes; if this were the root of your aches, though, they would most likely arrive only around your period. Consistent breast pain happens more often after 30 and can feel like swelling or tenderness in both breasts or a sharp burning sensation in one spot. Relieving it sometimes takes trial and error. Rarely, pain is a sign of breast cancer.

Allover pain could signify water retention, which can be diet-related. Some women find relief by taking vitamin B6 and vitamin E supplements with evening primrose oil (which is rich in a certain fat that seems to help). Others feel better when they limit caffeine or salt. But diet changes don’t always work on their own. In that case, try over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, or talk to your doc about topical meds. The pain should go away within a few months.

Stabbing pain suggests a cyst or fibroadenoma (a benign tumor) in the breast. Either one can feel like a lump, but it might be too deep to notice via touch. Though they’re mostly harmless, fibroadenomas can raise breast cancer risk. After diagnosis via ultrasound or mammogram, cysts can be drained with a fine needle, while fibroadenomas may require surgery.

Categories: All +, Health +

Most likely, no. Everyone has a slight unsteadiness in the hands, which is called physiologic tremor. These normal vibrations can sometimes worsen, however, if you‘re downing too much coffee or are extra stressed (blame adrenaline). Skipping meals and taking certain types of medication may also exacerbate the shakes.

It’s also possible you have essential tremor, a harmless (but frustrating) condition that can show up in your 40s and 50s. About half of the people with this problem—linked to miscommunications in the brain—have a family member who has it. Prescription medications can help, but many people do fine without them.

Rarely, tremor can be the first sign of a neurological disorder, like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. If you‘re jittery when your hand is at rest and you notice balance or coordination problems, see your doctor for a neurological exam. Barring a serious issue, your only Rx will be to get a grip on stress and cut back on your java intake.

Categories: All +, Health +

Normal! Allergic reactions are different for everyone. Your nose and throat are lined with glands that continually produce mucus—an amazing 1 to 2 quarts per day. This mucus keeps your upper respiratory tract moist and clean, protecting you from infection. Usually you swallow it without noticing, but when you encounter an allergen, like dust or pollen, your body releases chemicals that amp up mucus production, leading to excessive (and annoying) secretions. In some people, this causes a runny nose. In others, the extra mucus drains down the throat—a symptom called postnasal drip, which can cause tickling, coughing or soreness.

If it’s allergies, you’ll likely also have itchy, watery eyes and sneezing. Try taking an antihistamine. If you’re really congested or feverish, it could be a sinus infection or strep throat. Problems such as acid reflux cause symptoms akin to postnasal drip, so see your doctor if allergen avoidance and drugs don’t do the trick

Categories: All +, Health +

It’s possible, especially if your symptoms happen only at work. In fact, doctors have a term for this phenomenon—occupational allergies. This is more commonly a problem for, say, nurses who are sensitive to latex or builders who are exposed to a lot of sawdust. But plenty of things found in a typical office could bring on symptoms: the carpet, the cleaning materials the maintenance staff uses or plain old dust, especially if the building is old. Some people’s allergies may be aggravated by compounds that off-gas from furniture or paint.

Your doctor can do some basic testing to help pinpoint a trigger, but the real trouble is that many office-related allergens are unavoidable: You probably won’t convince your employer to install new carpeting throughout your workplace, for example. Buying an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your desk can help. You can also open windows and let in fresh air, or take a daily nondrowsy antihistamine to stay ahead of reactions.

If that doesn’t help, take a look at your diet since you changed jobs—are you using a different coffee creamer, perhaps? Eating at a new food truck? Cut out any additions to see if you feel better.

Stress can also bring on headaches and rashes; if you‘re feeling overwhelmed, discuss priorities with your boss. Even a quick check-in may be enough to ease your mind—and soothe your symptoms.

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The reason the creams are controversial is that some of them contain hydroquinone. Though it’s the gold standard for nixing sun spots, hydroquinone was banned in some countries after animal studies suggested that it was a possible carcinogen. But note: The animals used in the studies ate large amounts of the chemical over long periods of time—which is not at all the way you would use it. Still, the FDA has asked for more studies in order to make sure it’s safe to keep on the market.

In the meantime, you can get a hydroquinone lotion over the counter or by prescription. It’s safe to do so as long as you follow some guidelines. First, don’t apply the cream more than twice a day for more than six months without consulting your dermatologist, even if you get it at the drugstore. Though the condition is pretty rare, prolonged use of hydroquinone may cause ochronosis, which leads to skin thickening and discoloration.

In some people, hydroquinone creams may also cause some irritation, so it’s a good idea to test the cream on a small patch of skin first and follow all instructions on the label. Depending on the specific cream, the package instructions may suggest, say, applying it twice a week at first before increasing to daily use.

Products with retinol (the active ingredient in many anti-aging products) can also help erase sun spots. So if you’re using retinol on your face, you may already have something in your medicine cabinet that should help. Keep in mind that hydroquinone needs to be used with SPF 30 because it can heighten sun sensitivity. Pregnant? Skip hydroquinone and retinol for now.

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Actually, that’s not totally inaccurate. Your skin is kept at a comfortable temperature by your blood vessels, which distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. When the mercury drops, sensory receptors in your skin alert your brain to constrict vessels. This allows smaller amounts of blood to your skin to conserve warmth in the trunk of your body, where all your organs are.

In some people, vasoconstriction, as this process is called, can be triggered by the slightest thermometer changes. And one study found that this type of reaction is more common in women, in part due to our fluctuating levels of estrogen, a hormone that plays a big role in regulating temperature. (So you’re not imagining it—you really are more sensitive to cold than your guy!)

A more severe cold sensitivity is a hallmark of Raynaud’s disease, in which extremities—usually just fingers and toes but sometimes also nose and ears—may turn white or blue and go numb. Depending on how bad your symptoms are, treatment may range from wearing extra gloves and socks to taking prescription meds that widen blood vessels.

Finally, cold hands may be a symptom of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism, lupus, or diabetes, or low levels of iron or a vitamin B12 deficiency. Your doctor can perform tests and prescribe the right medication, supplements or diet changes. But if cold hands are your only complaint, try warming them by staying hydrated and increasing your activity levels (get up from your desk at least every hour).

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As you know, your body changes drastically with each pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop at an expanding belly. For example, you produce about 100 times as much estrogen during a day of pregnancy as on a normal day. Other hormones, like progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin, increase during this time as well. These temporary hormonal shifts alter your body not only during those nine months—they can have lasting effects, even after you’re done giving birth and have finished nursing.

This means that just as your breasts may never look quite the same again, your periods may become unrecognizable. Some women experience a pattern shift (differences in PMS symptoms, cramps, duration or heaviness, mood changes or all of the above) after their first baby, and then may go through another menstrual 180 after their second or third child. Still others have no changes at all.

Your period pattern may also undergo an adjustment in your late 30s as estrogen and fertility begin to decline. So your monthly deluge could be due to a combination of factors. If heavier bleeding or increased pain is making your periods harder to cope with, see your doctor; birth control pills can help even out your hormones.

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Lubrication is the solution here. Since the vagina can stretch to accommodate the passage of a baby, it can fit your man’s penis — if you are properly lubricated. Using a water-based lubricant is always a good idea.

A lengthy period of foreplay can also help you get sufficiently wet, and you can also use additional lubricant. Tell your man to take it slow when first entering you to avoid any trauma to your vagina. If you still experience pain, talk to your gynecologist because you may benefit from vaginal dilation — a therapy that can help with painful sex.

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It is important to first identify any medical or psychological reason for decreased libido and address it. For example, is your thyroid level too low? Are you not sleeping properly? Are you depressed?

If these types of causes are ruled out, and it is more a matter of getting over a dry spell — there are many ways to boost your sex drive. Erotic literature or videos can help get you in the mood, or even investing in some sexy new lingerie. Feeling confident about your body is essential, so focusing on what you love about your body and working on what you don’t — more exercise, better diet choices — can help.

Masturbation is also a great way to remind yourself of what turns you on. And if you are in a relationship, start by reestablishing intimacy with your partner before diving into sex. Cuddling, kissing, and even just holding hands can boost those feel-good hormones like oxytocin that will ultimately lead you to a more satisfying sexual relationship.

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Sorry, but you can’t skip the doctor’s office because you can Facebook chat with your girlfriend who just happens to be an MD. The problem with asking a friend to casually weigh in is that she isn’t formally seeing you in her office, so she’s likely not getting a complete picture of your health issue. To correctly diagnose or treat you, a physician needs to take a full medical history and examine you in person.

On top of that, friendship can impair a doctor’s judgment and her ability to be honest with you. This is the same reason that doctors have their own physicians; everyone needs an unbiased confidant when it comes to their health. Plus, depending on how close you two are, you may not want to discuss all the intimate details of your problem—when talking to your doctor, however, your privacy is protected by law.

So, without question, it’s best to seek medical advice in a professional setting from someone whose job it is to address your concerns completely. While it may be safe to ask a pal if you have a quick, minor question (for example, about a lingering cough), chances are she’ll tell you to see your doctor anyway.

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In general, as long as you’re healthy and you don’t smoke, you can take birth control pills as long as you want, up until a few years postmenopause. Oral contraceptives are among the best-studied drugs available, with more than 50 years of research backing their safety.

Some doctors used to prescribe regular breaks from the pill, but this is no longer advised because it makes no difference to your health (and can lead to an unwanted pregnancy!). It’s also a myth that use of the pill affects fertility in the long term; research reveals that women who have been on the pill have the same odds of becoming pregnant as women who have never taken it.

That said, like any medicine, the pill does come with some risk. For example, stroke or blood clots can happen, especially if you smoke or have high blood pressure. And long-term use (defined as longer than five years) has been associated with an increased chance of cervical cancer. Some studies suggest that the pill may also put you at a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, all these diseases are still rare among younger women. Plus, other research shows that the pill may actually help protect against cancers of the ovaries and endometrium (the lining of your uterus).

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Before you even think about drugs, it’s important to get the correct diagnosis. Stress and lack of sleep, as well as anxiety or depression, can cause problems with concentration, and all these things require specific treatments. Look back to when your issues started. If symptoms began only recently, they’re more likely due to increased stress or a lack of sleep. If they’ve been going on for a month or more and you’re also feeling sad or hopeless, getting headaches or having trouble making decisions, you may have depression or an anxiety disorder.

Many people think that ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is all about an inability to focus, but it actually involves much more than that. Other symptoms may include poor impulse control, restlessness, chronic disorganization and unstable relationships. If you do have ADHD, it’s likely that you not only have trouble focusing on certain tasks or sitting still but also consistently miss work deadlines or meetings because of an inability to manage your time. You may also tend to have angry outbursts or find it difficult to wait in line or get through minimally stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed. Because of increasing news reports on the rise of adult ADHD diagnoses, another common misconception is that the condition can start in adulthood. In reality, ADHD always begins in childhood, though some people don’t get a diagnosis until later in life.

So the best advice is to speak to a mental health professional about your current symptoms as well as patterns in your past. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, a psychiatrist may recommend stimulants along with targeted talk therapy. But this isn’t a decision to take lightly. Medications used to treat ADHD can have side effects such as insomnia or irritability, and it may take some trial and error to come up with the right medication and dosage that helps without causing new problems. Even with drugs, most adults with ADHD still need targeted talk therapy to help them learn to manage time, prioritize tasks and get organized.

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Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must fully cover birth control, including pills, rings, IUDs and more. (Even female condoms are covered, but your doctor has to write a prescription for them for you to get reimbursed.) Your plan might be grandfathered, though, meaning it existed before the law passed, so the new rules don’t apply. (Insurance plans will continue to lose this status, so it’s likely a matter of time before yours changes.) There’s a catch, however: Even for new plans, insurers are required to pay for at least one type of each method, but they don’t have to cover every product in all categories. They might completely cover a generic version of your pill but require a co-pay for the brand-name one, for example.

Still, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Plans will pay for a specific product if there’s a medical reason you need it. Your doc can help you request a waiver explaining why the pill you want is the best choice.

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Depression is more than just feeling down or crabby. It’s caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain that usually affects your mind and body. So while feeling sad is one sign of depression, there are usually also physical clues, such as changes in appetite (typically loss of appetite), insomnia, frequent tearfulness and extreme lethargy. You may also stop enjoying activities you used to love. As long as your bad mood isn’t causing problems at home or work or interfering with your ability to get through your daily routine, it’s probably not depression.

We don’t know exactly what causes depression, but many people with the disorder have lower levels of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that are directly linked to mood. Most doctors will prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like Prozac or Zoloft, or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), like Effexor or Cymbalta, to increase neurotransmitters. It’s also a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.

Just remember that there is no reason to suffer. Depression is a real illness and, thankfully, there are plenty of good treatment options for it.

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Nope, feel free to have at it any time of the month. Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines only the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of it—around the ovaries, bowel and other areas in your pelvis. The tissue grows thicker throughout your menstrual cycle, then breaks down and bleeds, just as it would inside your uterus. But because the blood and tissue have nowhere to go, that leads to (often intense) pain, irritation and eventually scar tissue.

While the exact cause of endometriosis is still unclear, there’s no evidence that period sex increases your risk. (In fact, one study linked sex during menses to a decreased risk.) The myth may stem from traditional Chinese medicine theories that having sex during your period disturbs the natural downward flow of menstrual blood, pushing it back into the uterus.

Western medicine has a term for a real phenomenon that sounds similar but isn’t caused by sex, nor is it the likely trigger of endometriosis: retrograde menstruation. Many experts think that all women experience some menstrual backup from time to time, usually without ill effects, but that women who develop endometriosis may have a hormonal or immune system problem that allows the tissue to become implanted.

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Don’t freak out if your periods don’t show up every 28 days. The sweet spot of four weeks is an approximation; anything between 21 and 35 days is considered normal. It’s also fine if your cycles vary by a few days (e.g., they average 31 days apart, but some months there’s a 28- or 35-day gap). Many women with long cycles worry about their fertility, but trust me: Plenty of women with longer or even irregular cycles get pregnant without a problem.

That said, periods that come more than 35 days apart could signal hypothyroidism, a sluggish thyroid gland. Your doctor can run blood tests to check your thyroid levels and prescribe medicine to help. She will also want to rule out polycystic ovary syndrome, a common symptom of which is infrequent periods due to a lack of ovulation, caused by hormonal changes. Birth control pills (or the patch or ring) can restore order to your cycle by regulating hormones.

If you’re trying to conceive, medications that stimulate ovulation, like clomiphene (aka Clomid), may help.

If your period is followed by more bleeding within three weeks, that can be a sign of either an infection, fibroids or, much more rarely, a cancerous tumor. Your doctor will likely send you for an ultrasound to figure out what’s going on.

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Ouch. Airplane ear happens when there’s an imbalance between the air pressure in the middle ear and the air pressure around you, which changes rapidly with the altitude during the start and end of a flight. Yawning, swallowing or chewing gum can usually fix it by letting air flow through the eustachian tubes—the narrow passages between the middle ear and the back of the nose—equalizing the pressure. But a cold or sinus infection complicates things because congestion can block the tubes. Result: painful pressure and hearing problems.

To clear the clog, you need an over-the-counter decongestant to encourage drainage; a nasal spray may also help calm any swelling that’s adding to the problem. Also try taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat related pain. (Congested due to allergies? Go with an antihistamine.) Once you’ve given the medicine some time to work, close your mouth, pinch your nose shut and very gently push air into the back of your nose as if you were blowing it, which may help nudge the tubes open. These tactics, combined with a little patience, should do the trick, but if the issue persists or the pain gets worse, see your doc. A clog can turn into a bacterial ear infection, for which you’ll need antibiotics.

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Laryngitis (the most common cause of hoarseness or voice loss) happens when your voice box becomes irritated or inflamed, leading to swelling that keeps your vocal cords from being able to open and close smoothly. (This vocal cord movement is what creates sound.) A viral infection, like a cold or the flu, is the usual culprit, but it’s not the only one.

Strain is also a top cause of laryngitis; just one night of cheering at a sporting event or concert can bring it on. Voice strain should go away on its own with rest and lots of fluids. But you really have to rest your voice, especially if you’ve lost it entirely: Not only will staying quiet help you heal faster, but taxing your voice during laryngitis can damage vocal cords further and can lead to the formation of polyps or nodules that may require surgery.

If hoarseness persists beyond a few weeks or keeps coming back, there may be something else going on. One possibility is acid reflux. When stomach acid comes back up the esophagus, it can cause irritation of the vocal cords. The type of reflux most associated with voice issues is called laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, and it often doesn’t cause heartburn or nausea. Your doctor can prescribe antacids and other medication (like steroids) that can help your voice if it’s not getting better.

Another possible cause is a yeast infection in your throat, also called oral thrush. This appears most often in people with depressed immune systems, like those with HIV or cancer, but people using a corticosteroid inhaler to treat their asthma are also more prone. That’s because the steroid can locally decrease your immune function, which allows the overgrowth of yeast. Oral antifungals can solve it.

To get a diagnosis, see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), who can take a look at your vocal cords with a scope to determine if acid reflux or yeast is robbing you of your voice. An ENT can also rule out something more serious, like laryngeal cancer, which often occurs with ear pain and a sore throat on top of voice issues.

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While some studies have linked the rise in food allergies to exposure to particular pesticides over time, it’s very rare to have a true allergic reaction to the pesticide residues that can remain on produce. That said, allergies are very individual, and there’s no harm in trying out certified organic produce—which is free of synthetic pesticides—to see if that does the trick.

If going organic doesn’t help, though, it is possible to be allergic to the fruits and vegetables themselves. Some people have what’s called oral allergy syndrome, meaning they get reactions to certain proteins found in various fruits and vegetables.

For example, bananas, avocados, kiwis, and more can cause cross-reactions in people who are allergic to latex—an allergy you may not realize you have if you’re not, say, a health care worker or someone who wears a lot of rubber gloves. Those who have allergies to birch, ragweed, or grass pollens may react to things like hazelnut, peaches, celery, sunflower seeds, and zucchini, to name a few.

An allergist can do skin or blood tests to see which protein is causing your cross-reactions, and that can help you pinpoint foods to stay away from. Some people find that their symptoms occur only during allergy season or that they can, for example, eat apple pie without an issue but can’t bite into a fresh apple. That’s because cooking with high heat breaks down the problem proteins that cause the cross-reactions.

Itchiness may seem like a minor symptom now, but it’s very important to sleuth out your triggers with your doctor and avoid the ones that bring it on. Even if you’ve had only a mild reaction in the past, in rare cases your reactions could lead to anaphylaxis, a dangerous type of reaction that can cause a severe drop in blood pressure and constricted airways.

Categories: All +, Diet +, Health +

Pregnancy +

As your skin stretches over your growing bump, it can become dry and irritated. Hormonal changes may cause itching, too.

So slather on moisturizer regularly and avoid hot showers, itchy fabrics like wool, and scratching (which makes the problem worse).

If you also start to develop small bumps, especially in your third trimester, you may have pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). Your doctor can suggest an ointment to help relieve this harmless condition.

In rare cases, though, itching can be a sign of liver or gallbladder disease; pregnancy makes you more prone to both. So if moisturizing doesn’t help, be sure to check in with your doctor.

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Also called fertility awareness, natural family planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for various ways to forecast the time in your cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant—such as monitoring your daily temperature, checking for changes in cervical mucus and counting the days since your last period. When practiced perfectly, it can work nearly as well as medical birth control, according to some studies.

But the key word here is perfectly. Many women find that painstakingly tracking their periods, their temperature and the consistency of their cervical mucus is quite time-consuming. And unless you’re going to use condoms during your fertile days, you may need to remain abstinent for up to two weeks out of the month. That’s why the research also shows a very high dropout rate.

Don’t even attempt NFP for birth control if you have irregular periods, or if you’re taking antibiotics or antihistamines—these drugs can lead to changes in your cervical mucus, making it difficult to tell if you’re on a fertile day or not.

Categories: All +, Pregnancy +, Sex +

As you know, your body changes drastically with each pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop at an expanding belly. For example, you produce about 100 times as much estrogen during a day of pregnancy as on a normal day. Other hormones, like progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin, increase during this time as well. These temporary hormonal shifts alter your body not only during those nine months—they can have lasting effects, even after you’re done giving birth and have finished nursing.

This means that just as your breasts may never look quite the same again, your periods may become unrecognizable. Some women experience a pattern shift (differences in PMS symptoms, cramps, duration or heaviness, mood changes or all of the above) after their first baby, and then may go through another menstrual 180 after their second or third child. Still others have no changes at all.

Your period pattern may also undergo an adjustment in your late 30s as estrogen and fertility begin to decline. So your monthly deluge could be due to a combination of factors. If heavier bleeding or increased pain is making your periods harder to cope with, see your doctor; birth control pills can help even out your hormones.

Categories: All +, Health +, Pregnancy +

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must fully cover birth control, including pills, rings, IUDs and more. (Even female condoms are covered, but your doctor has to write a prescription for them for you to get reimbursed.) Your plan might be grandfathered, though, meaning it existed before the law passed, so the new rules don’t apply. (Insurance plans will continue to lose this status, so it’s likely a matter of time before yours changes.) There’s a catch, however: Even for new plans, insurers are required to pay for at least one type of each method, but they don’t have to cover every product in all categories. They might completely cover a generic version of your pill but require a co-pay for the brand-name one, for example.

Still, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Plans will pay for a specific product if there’s a medical reason you need it. Your doc can help you request a waiver explaining why the pill you want is the best choice.

Categories: All +, Health +, Pregnancy +

Don’t freak out if your periods don’t show up every 28 days. The sweet spot of four weeks is an approximation; anything between 21 and 35 days is considered normal. It’s also fine if your cycles vary by a few days (e.g., they average 31 days apart, but some months there’s a 28- or 35-day gap). Many women with long cycles worry about their fertility, but trust me: Plenty of women with longer or even irregular cycles get pregnant without a problem.

That said, periods that come more than 35 days apart could signal hypothyroidism, a sluggish thyroid gland. Your doctor can run blood tests to check your thyroid levels and prescribe medicine to help. She will also want to rule out polycystic ovary syndrome, a common symptom of which is infrequent periods due to a lack of ovulation, caused by hormonal changes. Birth control pills (or the patch or ring) can restore order to your cycle by regulating hormones.

If you’re trying to conceive, medications that stimulate ovulation, like clomiphene (aka Clomid), may help.

If your period is followed by more bleeding within three weeks, that can be a sign of either an infection, fibroids or, much more rarely, a cancerous tumor. Your doctor will likely send you for an ultrasound to figure out what’s going on.

Categories: All +, Health +, Pregnancy +

What happens to your lady parts after having a baby can be different from woman to woman and can be affected by the size of your baby, the duration of your labor, whether you had a forceps delivery, and even your genes. The vagina itself has an amazing ability to stretch to allow the passage of the baby and then stretch back, but the surrounding pelvic muscles can weaken, which does make it feel a bit roomier down there.

This extra room can make sex less pleasurable for you and your partner, but don’t despair — you can do something about it. Just like you need to hit the gym to get your postbaby body, you need to work out your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises to get your tone back. Imagine you are urinating and are trying to stop the flow — these are the muscles you want to clench to do Kegels — although you should not do this while you are actually urinating. Work yourself up to three sets of 10, three times a day. And be patient: Kegel exercises usually take at least two to four weeks before you start noticing results.

The beauty of Kegels is that you can do them anywhere and nobody can tell! If these do not help, there are surgical procedures that can tighten that area, but you want to make sure you are finished with childbearing before you consider these options.

So how long do you need to wait before having sex after a baby? Generally until your six-week visit with your OB, during which she can check you and make sure everything has healed properly and you are ready to get back in the saddle. This time period may vary a bit, depending on whether you have had a C-section or a vaginal delivery, but it is always good to check with your doctor first.

Sex +

Also called fertility awareness, natural family planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for various ways to forecast the time in your cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant—such as monitoring your daily temperature, checking for changes in cervical mucus and counting the days since your last period. When practiced perfectly, it can work nearly as well as medical birth control, according to some studies.

But the key word here is perfectly. Many women find that painstakingly tracking their periods, their temperature and the consistency of their cervical mucus is quite time-consuming. And unless you’re going to use condoms during your fertile days, you may need to remain abstinent for up to two weeks out of the month. That’s why the research also shows a very high dropout rate.

Don’t even attempt NFP for birth control if you have irregular periods, or if you’re taking antibiotics or antihistamines—these drugs can lead to changes in your cervical mucus, making it difficult to tell if you’re on a fertile day or not.

Categories: All +, Pregnancy +, Sex +

Lubrication is the solution here. Since the vagina can stretch to accommodate the passage of a baby, it can fit your man’s penis — if you are properly lubricated. Using a water-based lubricant is always a good idea.

A lengthy period of foreplay can also help you get sufficiently wet, and you can also use additional lubricant. Tell your man to take it slow when first entering you to avoid any trauma to your vagina. If you still experience pain, talk to your gynecologist because you may benefit from vaginal dilation — a therapy that can help with painful sex.

Categories: All +, Health +, Sex +

It is important to first identify any medical or psychological reason for decreased libido and address it. For example, is your thyroid level too low? Are you not sleeping properly? Are you depressed?

If these types of causes are ruled out, and it is more a matter of getting over a dry spell — there are many ways to boost your sex drive. Erotic literature or videos can help get you in the mood, or even investing in some sexy new lingerie. Feeling confident about your body is essential, so focusing on what you love about your body and working on what you don’t — more exercise, better diet choices — can help.

Masturbation is also a great way to remind yourself of what turns you on. And if you are in a relationship, start by reestablishing intimacy with your partner before diving into sex. Cuddling, kissing, and even just holding hands can boost those feel-good hormones like oxytocin that will ultimately lead you to a more satisfying sexual relationship.

Categories: All +, Health +, Sex +

In general, as long as you’re healthy and you don’t smoke, you can take birth control pills as long as you want, up until a few years postmenopause. Oral contraceptives are among the best-studied drugs available, with more than 50 years of research backing their safety.

Some doctors used to prescribe regular breaks from the pill, but this is no longer advised because it makes no difference to your health (and can lead to an unwanted pregnancy!). It’s also a myth that use of the pill affects fertility in the long term; research reveals that women who have been on the pill have the same odds of becoming pregnant as women who have never taken it.

That said, like any medicine, the pill does come with some risk. For example, stroke or blood clots can happen, especially if you smoke or have high blood pressure. And long-term use (defined as longer than five years) has been associated with an increased chance of cervical cancer. Some studies suggest that the pill may also put you at a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. However, all these diseases are still rare among younger women. Plus, other research shows that the pill may actually help protect against cancers of the ovaries and endometrium (the lining of your uterus).

Categories: All +, Health +, Sex +

Nope, feel free to have at it any time of the month. Endometriosis is a disorder in which the tissue that normally lines only the inside of your uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of it—around the ovaries, bowel and other areas in your pelvis. The tissue grows thicker throughout your menstrual cycle, then breaks down and bleeds, just as it would inside your uterus. But because the blood and tissue have nowhere to go, that leads to (often intense) pain, irritation and eventually scar tissue.

While the exact cause of endometriosis is still unclear, there’s no evidence that period sex increases your risk. (In fact, one study linked sex during menses to a decreased risk.) The myth may stem from traditional Chinese medicine theories that having sex during your period disturbs the natural downward flow of menstrual blood, pushing it back into the uterus.

Western medicine has a term for a real phenomenon that sounds similar but isn’t caused by sex, nor is it the likely trigger of endometriosis: retrograde menstruation. Many experts think that all women experience some menstrual backup from time to time, usually without ill effects, but that women who develop endometriosis may have a hormonal or immune system problem that allows the tissue to become implanted.

Categories: All +, Health +, Sex +

Sleep +

dark-circles-eyes-400x400-ck

A few culprits may have you reaching for the under-eye concealer. Sinus blockage triggered by a food or seasonal allergy can cause swelling of the tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin, giving you “darkened” areas around your nose and eyes. An allergist can determine an allergy trigger, but if yours is seasonal or the irritant is unavoidable, an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec should help.

How’s your diet? A vitamin deficiency may also cause circles. Take a daily multi if you don’t already, and add a night cream or facial mask containing vitamins K and A (aka retinol) to your regimen.

Categories: All +, Beauty +, Sleep +