The Worst Health Advice Gynecologists Have Ever Heard

Expert ob-gyns debunk popular myths about women's health—how many of these have you heard?

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"It's just a yeast infection, so you can call in a prescription"

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"Treating problems over the phone, even ones that may seem as minor as a yeast infection, is rarely a good idea. There are other common vaginitis problems that can seem very similar but are vastly different in the way we treat them. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis share common symptoms of discharge, irritation, itching, and burning. I've even found herpes in patients who were sure it was 'just a yeast infection.' Most gynecologists and other women’s health care providers will squeeze you in for a quick visit to make sure you get the right treatment." Steven A. Rabin, MD

"If I want to have a baby I should have sex when I'm ovulating!"

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"Most women think, incorrectly, that intercourse should be timed after ovulation. But to maximize your chances of conception you should be having sex right before you ovulate." Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine

"Standing on my head will increase my chance of getting pregnant"

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"I have had many women think that they can increase their chances of conceiving by standing on their head or elevating their legs after intercourse. But sperm are highly motile and standing on your head, or any other positions post-intercourse, will do nothing to improve the chances of pregnancy." Linda Girgis, MD

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"Birth control pills will make me fat"

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"It's a very common belief that birth control pills cause weight gain or will give you cancer. However, studies comparing large groups of women who take and do not take birth control have shown no difference in weight gain. Also, when taken for long periods of time, birth control pills have shown to decrease ovarian and endometrial cancers by 50 percent." Richard K. Krauss, MD, chair of gynecology department at Aria Health

"My mom had no problem getting pregnant at 40, so I can wait"

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"While it is true that age of menopause can be a heritable trait, conceiving in your late 30s and 40s is a challenge, no matter your genetics. A 25-year-old woman at the peak of her fertility in life has a 15-20 percent chance of achieving a pregnancy per month. By age 40, this number drops to less than 5 percent per month. While there are no blood tests to directly check for egg quality, we know, through testing thousands of embryos through IVF, that after age 40 around 85 to 90 percent of a woman’s embryos will be genetically abnormal. The answer is, don’t wait! If you are focusing on your career or have not met the right partner, consider a method of fertility preservation such as egg freezing." Anate Aelion Brauer, MD, attending physician at Greenwich Hospital and NYU Medical Center and an assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine

"Breast cancer is the most common killer of women"

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"Many women think that breast cancer is the most common cause of death of women over the age of 40. But the facts show that cardiovascular disease causes four times more deaths in women over the age of 40, far more than all kinds of cancer combined." Richard K. Krauss, MD

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"It takes three months after stopping birth control to be fertile"

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"Despite this popular myth, as soon as a woman is not using a contraceptive method, she is fertile. It can take up to one year to conceive but as far as the pill is concerned, a woman is fertile as soon as she stops taking it." Veronica Gillispie, MD, obstetrics and gynecology department at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana

"The pull-n-pray method works"

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"Withdrawal is not an effective method of birth control. The reality is that there are sperm in the pre-ejaculate and all it takes is one sperm to become pregnant!" Diana Ramos, MD, ob-gyn, co-chair of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative

"IUDs are dangerous"

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"Intrauterine devices [a device implanted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy, most commonly the Mirena or Paraguard] get a bad rap as being dangerous. The truth is modern IUDs are the safest and most effective form of temporary birth control methods that we have. Progesterone containing IUDs, like the Mirena, also can actually reduce pain and bleeding with a woman’s menstrual period." Richard K. Krauss, MD

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"Once I'm done having children, I no longer need to see my ob-gyn"

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"Just because you are finished having children doesn’t mean that you should skip your gynecologist visit. He or she will still want to discuss your overall health like your blood pressure, weight, family planning, and any other health screenings you may need, such as for STIs, cervical cancer, breast cancer and ovarian cancer." Cherrell Triplett, MD, an ob-gyn at Southside OBGYN in Indianapolis and clinical assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine

"Breast cancer doesn't run in my family so I'm safe"

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"Women sometimes think they can't get breast cancer if they have no family history of the disease. This is often used as an excuse to not go for mammograms. But the truth is that the majority of women who get breast cancer have no family history—it can happen to anyone. Mammograms can detect cancers at a small, curable stage, and can be lifesaving." Ronit Sugar, MD, FACS, board-certified breast surgeon at Aria Health

"I'm in a monogamous relationship, I don't need Pap smears"

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"Patients have told me that because they've been married for many years, haven’t had sex in many years, or have always had normal Pap tests that they don't need Pap smears. However, all women should be screened for cervical cancer. HPV, the virus that can cause cervical cancer, is so common that virtually all sexually active women will get it at some point in their lives. And it may not have been detected previously because it can remain dormant for years before it starts causing damage to cells that can lead to cancer. That’s why women ages 30 to 65 should be sure they’re screened with a Pap test and HPV test together at regular intervals." Cherrell Triplett, MD

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"I'm pregnant so I'm eating for two!"

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"Sadly it is not true that when you're pregnant you can eat whatever you want. For a singleton pregnancy, you need an average of 300 to 350 calories extra a day during the first and second trimester and 500 calories in the third trimester. Excessive weight gain in pregnancy puts the mom at increased risk for diabetes during pregnancy, other medical complications, and increased chances of needing a C-section." Diana Ramos, MD

"Hormone treatments will kill you"

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"Many patients think that taking hormones is harmful and that you should let nature take its course and age as biology intended. But the truth is that hormone therapy is not deadly. Even in the ominous 2002 Women's Health Initiatives study, we can see that the women who used just estrogen during the first decade of their menopause had an almost 30 percent reduction in all causes of death and a 20 percent lower incidence of breast cancer. With a broad brushstroke, the hormone story was painted as a death sentence for all users but in reality after your ovaries retire and you are estrogen deficient, there is a safe and acceptable way to restore low levels that has more benefits than risks." Steven A. Rabin, MD

"Pregnant women shouldn't exercise"

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"Exercise during pregnancy is important for many reasons. Regular exercise reduces stress and increases energy, ensures you gain the right amount of weight in pregnancy, improves common discomforts in pregnancy such as constipation and insomnia, as well as helps prevent pregnancy-related diseases such as elevated blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Research even shows that labor itself is easier and shorter in woman who engaged in regular exercise throughout their pregnancy. " Anate Aelion Brauer, MD

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"I'm bleeding even though I'm postmenopausal. It must be stress"

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"While stress can cause irregular or missed periods in a premenopausal woman, any bleeding in a postmenopausal woman is abnormal. Once a women is through with menopause, usually by age 52, she should never ever bleed again. Never! Postmenopausal bleeding can benign, but can also be a sign of cancer of the uterus, cervix, or vagina and you should see your doctor right away." Renée Volny Darko, MD, board-certified ob-gyn practicing in Pennsylvania

"Yogurt will fix a vaginal infection"

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"One of the worst pieces of advice I've heard from a patient is one who actually put yogurt into her vagina because a friend told her the probiotics in yogurt would help with her yeast infection. Unfortunately, she used strawberry flavored! It didn't work and there's been no evidence in the literature to prove this to be true." Nicole E. Williams, MD, founder of The Gynecology Institute of Chicago

"I'm healthy and active, so getting pregnant should be a cinch"

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"Many women believe that if you are healthy and active, you will never have infertility problems. But this is not true. The healthiest and most active people may still have one of the many issues that cause infertility." Shahin Ghadir, MD, ob-gyn at Southern California Reproductive Center

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"I'm carrying high so I must be having a girl"

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"Despite what many old wives' tales say, you cannot tell the baby’s sex from any outlying signs. Your baby naturally lowers during the third trimester in preparation for birth and it has nothing to do with the baby’s gender. Similarly, how you carry the baby has more to do with its weight and size than anything else. Any heartburn you may experience is simply due to the womb pushing your stomach upwards, not the baby’s gender." John D. Bertrand, MD, ob-gyn at Walnut Hill

"We've been checked for STIs so we don't need condoms"

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"Even if your partner goes to his/her doctor to get an STI check and gets a clean bill of health, there are still illnesses that can be passed through sexual activity, like HPV and herpes, that are difficult to find during a routine checkup as they can hide on a man's penis or in a woman’s vagina. You wouldn't know you had them unless there is an active wart or lesion. Condoms are still the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections even if your new partner tests negative for STIs during their pre-sex health care checkup." Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California

"I can't eat spicy food on my period"

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"Because the food we eat plays such a vital role in every aspect of our lives, it is often thought to influence several bodily functions and organ systems including the menstrual cycle. Some women think that eating certain foods can alter or hasten the end of their period. But the truth is that menstrual cycles are controlled by hormones. The effect of eating spicy (or any other) food is likely mental rather than physiological." David G. Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California

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"Drinking human breast milk has health benefits for adults"

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"The benefits of breast milk are immense—for babies. But I once had a patient who showed up in the emergency room with a severe headache despite 'hydrating myself with my own breast milk.' The patient was swallowing her own breast milk and not getting any extra fluid from the outside—she was only recycling her own bodily fluids! Really the only person who should be drinking breast milk is the infant.” Gerardo Bustillo, ob-gyn at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California


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