Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of OB/GYN

Contraception: Get yours while it's hot ! 

Contraception: Get yours while it's hot ! 

GOP leaders again met to discuss repeal of the ACA (Affordable Care Act). The same measures were discussed this week as last: health savings accounts, tax credits, and state high risk pools for the chronically sick. A bill is anticipated next week. 

A measure passed in the House which enables States to pull funding from any facilities who perform abortions. This funding is not specific to paying for abortions. It pulls funding from the facility altogether for all the care it provides, whether it is flu testing, mammograms, or pap smears. This will directly defund Planned Parenthood. In the short term, i.e. one year, it will save money, but in the long term, researchers estimate it will cost much more than current expenditures because of diseases untreated, disease caught later, and and of course, due to unplanned pregnancies and the costs they incur. 

Indiana is voting on a so called “ abortion reversal” procedure which has no basis whatsoever in scientific fact. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have weighed in, saying that it has “ not been scientifically proven to work”. There is no reason to believe that it would. 

Many states are working on measures to reduce abortion at a time when abortion rates are at a modern low. Today's rate is the lowest since Roe versus Wade was made law in 1973. According to the a broad base of research data from around the world, restrictive abortion laws do not prevent abortion. They simply prevent legal abortion, and lead to illegal abortion and it's consequences. Moreover, research has shown that access to contraception DOES prevent abortion. However, distressingly, these same states who are moving to pass restrictive abortion laws are also moving to restrict access to contraception. Teens have the highest rates of unintended pregnancies. Teens are also the most likely subgroup with unintended pregnancies to get abortions. Data from the Contraceptive Choice Project have shown that when teens have access to the free birth control of their choice, abortion rates plummet. In this study of 9000 subjects, the abortion rate went from 41.5 abortions per 1000 teens to 9.7 per 1000. 

In the fake out department, The current administration is introducing rules to help keep insurers in the ACA (Affordable Care Act) . This is ostensibly being done to stabilize the market. This sounds good, right ? However, it is being done in such as way as to make criteria for inclusion in the ACA stricter. Additionally the enrollment period will be reduced from 3 months to 45 days. Tightening the criteria and shortening the enrollment will shift costs onto patients and off insurers. 

The ACA will lose its teeth. Why ? The Trump administration no longer plans to withhold tax refunds from those who ignore the requirement to have health insurance. Instead these uninsured people can show up on the doorsteps of hospitals everywhere with God only knows what needs, get them promptly and properly taken care of.  As uninsured people, they then either pay their medical bills regular price out of pocket (fat chance, especially with something costly like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, trauma or worse) or leave hospitals, caregivers, and ultimately taxpayers and those of us that pay for insurance in the lurch. Meanwhile data has come in for 2016 that the uninsured rates dropped to record lows in 2016, to 8.8% to be particular. This is felt to be due to the ACA. 

In medical news, two new studies show that scalp cooling cuts chemo related hair loss in half. This study was done on women with early stage breast cancer. Hopefully it will reduce some of the insult that comes with this all too common injury of breast cancer. 

There is a widespread shortage of ObGyns in rural America, with only 6% of us working in the rural setting. People decry this and classify this as an “ access to care” issue. However, it makes sense that Ob/Gyns do not want to work in isolation, far from hospital and community resources. Truthfully, birth should take place within a community, however small, which has access to surgical services and support people of various kinds. I believe people who live remote even from these small scale services should plan according and make arrangements to “stay in town” when they have complications or get near term. I have many such patients who have rudimentary services near their homes on the plains or in the woods, but prefer to come an hour and a half  "to town” for their care. They are clear about valuing the beauty of their countryside or wilderness homes, but also clear about realizing that a modern medical facility just cannot be there. I appreciate their insight on the situation. 

In the good news department, our extreme preemies are surviving not only longer, but better, that they have in previous years. Specifically, they are doing measurably better in their neurodevelopment parameters. Kudos to our friends in Neonatology and the newborn ICUs around the US. Kudos too to all the ObGyns working to treat moms at risk for preterm delivery, and to those researchers who developed antenatal steroids. 

Also in the good news departments, LARCS (Long acting reversible contraceptive such as IUDs) are proving acceptable for the vast majority of users. No surprise there on these elegant and effective methods. 

And finally, in the we-already-knew-this department, exercise is proving effective at improving hot flashes and QOL (quality of life) in postmenopausal women ! 


Stay tuned for more interesting and relevant news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Monday. 


Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Greetings from the heart of Silicon Valley. Please excuse the blog silence over the last few days as, believe it or not, I have suffered from sporadic Internet connection. I have been attending a very busy conference, Stanford MedX, on which I will fully brief you later. I could not blog at the conference but I took a lot of notes and pictures and they will serve as the basis for my reports to you sometime late on Wednesday. Where I stayed was a beautiful residence deep in a grove of old-growth trees so dense that it interfered with us cellular and local Wi-Fi coverage. So I right now without pictures, I will make this dispatch to you because I think medical Monday is so important. Text will go, but pictures will have to wait.


Some continue to doubt the association of the Zika virus infection with the development of microcephaly. However this latest study should put this to rest. The Journal Lancet Infectious Disease reported work that studied newborn Zika babies both with microcephaly and without. It turns out that babies with microcephaly we're 55 times more likely to have been infected with the Zika virus in utero. However, none of the 62 newborns in the comparison group who appeared normal showed any sign of infection.


Of chilling significance is another story published the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Those authors note that "for infants about four months and up to eight months of age" babies were "born on average on measures of weight length and head circumference" but "fell even further below average as time passed".


The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has now indicated that Zika virus can spread through "contact with bodily fluids such as tears, discharge from infected eyes, saliva, vomit, urine or stool." This has obvious implications for those living with and caring for those affected by the Zika virus.


Florida may offer free Zika virus testing, but that does not mean women are getting results. Apparently results that take a private lab a few days to report are taking weeks for the state run service. Time is of the essence when inquiring about Zika virus infection in pregnancy, since many women consider the option of abortion if there is evidence that their baby could be or is infected. Access to abortion is more restricted in what now could be called the Zika belt of our country.  Women consider this drastic measure because central nervous system manifestations of Zika virus in pregnancy are often devastatingly severe. We now know they're also potentially progressive even after the baby is born.


A recent poll suggests that the risks of Zika virus to pregnant women have caused some Americans to soften their view on abortion. 62% of voters living in the 10 battleground states in the south and along the Gulf Coast have said that they "support abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor believes there is a serious possibility that a woman's fetus could have severe birth defects from the Zika virus."


As of this writing the funding to combat the Zika virus is virtually spent. The Obama administration as well as the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others have appealed to Congress to put aside partisan politics and fund the fight against the crisis


It is worth reiterating news from last week coming to us from the Zika belt state of Texas. Texas maternal mortality spiked from 18.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 two more than 30 per 100,000 into thousand and 11 and remains at that level through 2014. This statistic may not seem huge but it has increased dramatically and is a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. It is also higher maternal mortality rate than in most other industrial countries. Numerous writers, ACOG and the State Heath Services of Texas maternal mortality task force all recommend an increase in health care services to women as the solution.


Global maternal mortality rates are not where they should be. The United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG) indicate the rate would have to fall by nearly 70% to meet the target globally of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. It is felt that this should be accomplished by adding an estimated 18 million Women's Health workers including midwives and obstetricians.


A new study by the Urban Institute has indicated that only 31% of women know about the most effective forms of birth control, the LARCs, the long acting reversible contraceptives. ACOG has said that such IUDs and implants are the most effective reversible contraceptives available and are safe to use by almost all women of reproductive age. Of note, weeks ago it was reported that Puerto Rico, which is greatly affected by the Zika virus, had been given a large supply of IUDs but was unable to fully utilize them due to the lack of providers trained to insert them. LARC use in Texas is on the rise.


The rest of the news in brief:


US preventive services task force recommend screening all nonpregnant adults and adolescents at risk for syphilis, which is on the rise.

The British medical Journal reports that pregnant women with higher ambient glucose levels who are not meeting the criteria for gestational diabetes still have an increased risk of complications. These complications would include preeclampsia and overly large infants (macrosomia). Additionally, related complications are noted, such as shoulder dystocia, which is the condition where babies are dangerously difficult to deliver due to a larger girth at the shoulders.


The national Cancer institute is once again encouraging all children adolescents and young adults 26 years of age or younger to obtain the vaccine against the human papilloma virus, HPV. Only 40% of eligible girls and 21% of eligible boys have received the vaccine. Vaccination rates in Australia and the United Kingdom are in the range of 75 to 92%


In the good news and we already knew this department, an article in the Annals of Oncology has reminded us that use of oral contraceptives decreases ovarian cancer risk by 50%. For the record, having children and breast-feeding them also decreases this risk.


In the good news department, The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen to a recent level of less than 10%. This is attributed to people buying insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange.


Stay tuned for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics , Gynecology, and Women's Health, next week on Medical Monday.

Medical Monday: Dramatic Results with Long Acting Birth Control

Did you know that fully half of all pregnancies are unplanned?  Something pretty dramatic would have to happen to slash the rate of abortions and the rate of unplanned pregnancies, right? Actually not.

Hot off the press:

Researchers at Children's Hospital Colorado, through a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, devised a study to see the effect of freely providing long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCS) to teens and women who could not afford them. They did this over a 6 year period. The birth rate for teenagers fell 40% percent! The rate of abortions in that group fell by 42% as well. The pregnancy rate for unmarried women under 25 fell similarly. 

What are LARCs? They are the subdermal (under the skin) implants like Nexplanon, or the IUDs (intrauterine devices) such as Skyla, Mirena and Paraguard. These are well established, well understood devices which have excellent safety profiles. For more information, check our section HERE

These LARCs are fairly expensive. This study showed the effects of eliminating expense as a factor. Interestingly, for every dollar of cost of the contraceptive, nearly $6 was saved in Colorado's Medicaid program.

Perhaps more importantly, there are as yet, unmeasured consequences. We know from global data that there is an inverse relationship between education and number of children. We know that women who have children early may postpone or forego their education. We also know that women who are educated have better access to contraception and choose to delay childbearing. Not surprisingly, as a women's number of children rises, her financial dependence increases. On a population basis, as numbers of children rise, so do income disparities between men and women. Finally, as number of children rise, standard of living goes down and rates of poverty go up. It will be interesting to see whether, in Colorado, rates of educational attainment and income go up among young women in this cohort. 

To learn more: