FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – National Women’s Health Week continues through May 15, and the staff of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital’s Department of Women’s Health urges women to take their health seriously by getting annual exams.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, is the most common STI found among patients in the United States.
While there is no treatment for HPV, with a healthy immune system the virus often goes away on its own and most people don’t even know they had it, said Lt. Colonel, Mariann Fark, chief of OB-GYN, BACH.
But for some women HPV can lead to cervical cancer, a quiet disease that often goes undetected.
“Most of the time cervical cancer doesn’t have signs or symptoms and most will not even know that they have cancer until they get the annual screening and the cells come back abnormal,” Fark said. “So, there’s not a whole lot of warning signs and that’s why it’s so important to get the screening done annually.”
She advises women get the Gardasil vaccine, the only known deterrent for HPV.
“We know that cervical cancer is caused by HPV and there’s many strains,” Fark said. “The Gardasil vaccine covers you for the three most common strains that cause cancer.”
Although the recommended ages to get the Gardasil vaccine is 12-26, women up to age 45 can get be immunized against HPV, she said.
“We’re really focusing on our postpartum mothers because those are our most vulnerable population,” Fark said.
She recommends even if they don’t get the vaccine, women should get screened annually.
Postpartum mothers are some of the most vulnerable patients the staff of the Women’s Health Department works with, Fark said. Unfortunately, the rate of postpartum depression hasn’t slowed down in recent years.
“Lately we’ve seen an increase in postpartum depression and we’re not sure if that’s because it’s post-pandemic or deployment cycles,” she said. “So, we’re working closely with [our hospital’s] Behavioral Health [team] and we’ve started doing two-week checks rather than six-week visits for women who we think are high-risk.”
The two week checks are recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Fark said.
Postpartum blues is normal for a few weeks, she said, because of the shift in hormones after a woman gives birth. If symptoms persist, however, moms should consider reaching out to a medical professional or their primary care provider.
“Most have tears to shed as they go through that hormonal change after birth,” Fark said. “But if it’s starting to interfere with everyday life or being able to properly care for yourself or your baby that’s when we suggest moms reach out to their doctors.”
Symptoms may include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, crying, reduced concentration, appetite problems, and trouble sleeping.
Fark said while some patients are more at risk than others to develop postpartum depression, it can happen to anyone.
“It can happen in women who have had no history of postpartum depression at all just because of the hormonal shift and the major life change that being a new mom brings,” she said. “Here in the Women’s Health Clinic, you are our patient until after the 12th week of the postpartum period. So, if at any time during that period you feel like you need to see us, you can reach out and get an appointment here.”
If symptoms persist beyond two weeks, Fark said it’s time to reach out for help.
A new issue facing women this year is a shortage in baby formula. Fark said the shortage has forced many mothers to consider breastfeeding who previously hadn’t considered it.
“There’s a national shortage in baby formula so we’re really trying to get those moms who are trying to breastfeed to set them up for success because the options for formula aren’t as easily as they were in the past,” she said.
For some new mothers breastfeeding can be frustrating at the beginning, Fark said.
“We really just want to help those moms who want to breastfeed because some are on the fence, and they give up and we’re trying to give them that full support,” she said. “We are restarting those ‘Mommy and Me’ classes which are for postpartum mothers, and we have breastfeeding support groups.”
The BACH Women’s Health Department is in Building A on the third floor. For questions and make an appointment, dial 270-798-4677, and select option 5.