The Importance of Well Woman Visits

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 11:06 AM comments (0)

As a woman, regular visits to the obstetrician/gynecologist are an important way to establish a long-term, trusting relationship with your clinician. They are also an opportunity to regularly review your medical history and evaluate your current health through various screenings, including a breast exam, mammogram or pelvic exam.

Dr. Carl BuccellatoDespite recent headlines from the American College of Physicians (ACP), a screening pelvic exam as part of your well woman visit is important for women both with and without symptoms. While a pelvic exam and/or breast exam may be moderately uncomfortable or even embarrassing for some, its enormous possible health benefits make it an essential appointment for every woman.&

A well woman visit does not consist solely of a pelvic exam or breast exam; instead these visits are an opportunity for women to have open conversations with their physicians and learn helpful information about their bodies and anatomy.  They can lead to the early detection of issues ranging from benign conditions like pelvic support and pain to sexually transmitted infection; ovarian, cervical, vaginal, skin and breast cancers; fibroids and more. 

Carl Buccellato, MD, Gynecologist at NorthShore, shares information about what you should expect from a yearly well woman visit:

  • Open conversation. It’s important so come prepared to have a frank conversation about contraceptive and preconception counseling and safe sex practices with your doctor.
  • Discussion about your state of health. Just like your yearly visit with your primary care physician, you will discuss any recent changes to your health, concerns from the last year and updates to your medical history.
  • Medications. Bring a list of your current medications, including any birth control.
  • Breast examination. A breast exam should happen at each of your yearly appointments starting at age 21. If you notice any changes to your breasts from self-examination, please inform your physician.
  • Pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is typically performed at each annual visit, and will not always include a Pap smear. A pelvic exam consists of both an external and internal visual exam as well as an evaluation of your uterus and ovaries through a manual exam, which should take no more than 2-3 minutes. You may feel some pressure and mild discomfort during this exam but it should not be painful.
  • Pap smear. You should consult with your physician on the best recommended schedule for this test. The timing of your Pap smear will depend on your age, health and medical history. We recommend you get your first Pap smear by age 21. It is commonly then performed every 3 years until you are 30, and every 3-5 years thereafter.

You should always be proactive about scheduling more frequent appointments and undergoing screenings if you have previously had abnormal test results from a Pap smear; family history of uterine or breast cancer; and/or any recent changes in health such as infection, pain or bleeding.

Studies performed by NorthShore researchers suggest a painful pelvic exam is one marker of chronic pain issues. It may be important to address this issue with your OB/GYN physician before chronic pain develops. This NIH-funded research study Chronic Pain Associated with Menstrual Pelvic Pain (CRAMPP) is being done by investigators Frank Tu, MD, and Kevin Hellman, PhD. 

While more research has yet to be conducted, a painful exam may not be entirely normal. If you experience pain and/or moderate-to-severe discomfort during your pelvic exam, please inform your OB/GYN physician.


Q&A: Ebola Virus

Thursday, August 07, 2014 12:28 PM comments (0)

Dr. ThomsonRichard (Tom) Thomson, PhD, Director of the Microbiology Laboratory and Division Head of Clinical Pathology at NorthShore, provides answers to some common questions regarding the Ebola virus: 

How is it transmitted?
It is not known to be airborne. Ebola is passed through direct contact with bodily fluids and specimens from patients infected with the virus. So it is family, caretakers and healthcare workers with close contact to an infected person who face the greatest risk if they don’t take the right precautions. 

Can you contract Ebola from contact with someone who does not exhibit any symptoms? 
No. An individual who is infected but not exhibiting symptoms is not contagious. If a person is symptomatic, he or she can spread the virus but only through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood. So, as an example, if you were sitting next to someone on a plane who developed symptoms of Ebola a week or 10 days later, you were not at risk for infection because they were asymptomatic at the time.  

How are American healthcare workers being infected with the virus?
Unfortunately, the ability of healthcare workers in Africa to protect themselves is different from the ability of healthcare workers to protect themselves in the United States. They do not have the facilities that we have here in this country. In the U.S., we have the facilities and training to handle many different infections of various risks. And while Ebola presents one of the greatest risks to healthcare workers, we have procedures in place that will be used to handle any Ebola patients who enter the country. 

How is the spread of the virus to the United States being prevented?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have specific procedures in place to follow if they feel that someone on a plane is symptomatic. That person would arrive in the United States and be put immediately in the appropriate containment in one of our hospitals. They also have screening efforts ongoing in West Africa to prevent symptomatic persons from getting on planes. By following those procedures, the spread of the virus into the United States is very unlikely. 


Essential Guide for Your Body: Vitamins and Minerals

Tuesday, August 05, 2014 4:02 PM comments (0)

Meeting your required daily intake (RDI) of vitamins and minerals is essential to maintaining your current health and staying healthy later in life.  However, nearly the entire U.S. population is at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency. Achieving your RDI doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, a eating a healthy, varied diet makes getting important vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A, B9, B12, C, D, E, calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium, both simple and delicious.  

What should you be eating and why? NorthShore University HealthSystem has created an infographic that breaks down the health benefits of important vitamins and minerals, as well as includes a list of foods high in these vitamins.  Click on the image below to view our full infographic and then add these superfoods to your grocery list.

vitamins guide


Q&A: Pediatric Food Allergies and GI Issues

Friday, August 01, 2014 3:19 PM comments (0)

tummy acheAre stomachaches and messy potty breaks frequent occurrences for little ones in your home? “Stomach problems” happen to everyone, and children are no exception. Sometimes an upset tummy is just an upset tummy, but children, just like adults, can suffer from food allergies and sensitivities, and just like adults these allergies and sensitivities can and should be addressed.

Vincent Biank, MD, Pediatric Gastroenterology at NorthShore, answers some common questions about GI food allergies and sensitivities in children: 

 Is there an easy, relatively non-invasive test to see which foods a child is allergic or sensitive to?
There are several simple blood tests for allergies but unfortunately we do not have simple tests for sensitivities that are accurate in children; therefore, we will commonly have to do an elimination diet.  We will remove one food item at a time for two weeks and then replace that food item after those two weeks, carefully documenting any changes in the symptoms. The two most common sensitivities are lactose and gluten. I would not recommend removing gluten from a child’s diet until they have been properly tested for Celiac disease otherwise you will just need to add it back in for one to two months before it can be accurately checked in the blood.

What foods are typically off-limits for child with soy and dairy allergies? Is it possible to eliminate these foods entirely from a child’s diet?
Soy and diary are in almost everything, so eliminating them is difficult. For this reason, we will have our pediatric dieticians work with families to make sure no soy or dairy in getting into a patient’s diet. Until then, check labels! Anything that has soy, soy protein, milk, milk protein, casein or whey in its label should be avoided.

Are children with GI food allergies more likely to develop other GI-related issues as young adults and adults? 
Unfortunately we don't have enough data to answer this question at this time. Although food allergy with typical symptoms of anaphylaxis, hives, trouble breathing etc. has been diagnosed and treated for many years, the majority of the GI manifestations of food allergy are recent in their discovery. For example it wasn't until 1995 that Eosinophilic Esophagitis was even considered a diagnosis and now we are diagnosing it one to two times per week. The result is we still don't have a clear idea of the natural history of GI food allergies over time.

Should children with stomach “issues” be given probiotics, as well as brought in for testing? 
The short answer is to go ahead and try probiotics prior to the visit. The long answer is that unfortunately we are only at the beginning of our understanding of what probiotics do, such as which varieties are best, how much to give and how long they should be taken.

What are some of the warning signs of GI issues in toddlers/children? Should a parent be concerned about frequent loose stools?
The biggest sign of GI issues is poor weight gain. Diarrhea can be a symptom of an underlying GI disorder but not always. We frequently see toddlers with loose stools with no additional systemic signs of disease, like poor weight gain; therefore, we will typically rule out some common GI-related problems. If tests are negative, we will then discuss how to thicken the stool.

Are the foods known to cause GI allergic reactions in kids the same as those that cause skin or more severe allergic reactions? What are the common foods for GI allergies?
Yes, for some individuals the foods that cause GI allergic symptoms could also cause skin and the typically more severe allergic reaction; however, this is not the case for everyone. Some individuals will only have GI symptoms and others will only have skin or respiratory symptoms. The most common foods for GI allergies are the “Big Six:” milk, soy, wheat, eggs, nuts and fish.

Does your child have a food allergy or sensitive that results in GI issues?


Five First Aid Facts and Myths

Thursday, July 31, 2014 1:52 PM comments (0)

first aidThe kids are home from school for the summer, so accidents are bound to happen. Some injuries can be treated from home with the help of a first aid kit but some could require a visit to the emergency department. Make sure you are treating those bumps and bruises at home the correct way or know for sure you should be getting into the car and heading to the emergency department instead.

Ernest Wang, MD, Emergency Medicine at NorthShore, dispels some common myths with the help of the facts: 

Myth: Put your head back when you have a nosebleed.
Fact: Don’t put your head back! Blood could flow down your throat and potentially into your stomach, which can cause nausea and vomiting; instead, tilt your head forward and pinch your nose right at your nostrils, not higher. Hold your nose for a full 10 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped. If bleeding lasts much longer or if the bleeding was the result of an injury, head to the emergency department. 

Myth: Help soothe and heal a burn by applying butter.
Fact: Butter could make the burn worse and make treatment by a doctor more difficult. Putting butter on a burn means putting a non-sterile substance on an extremely sensitive area that is highly susceptible to infection. First-degree burns can be treated at home using cool, but not cold, water. Hold the burn under running water for approximately 10 minutes or until there is some relief of pain. Severe burns—second-degree and third-degree burns that exhibit blistering, swelling and intense pain—must be treated by a physician. 

Myth: Put cold red meat on a black eye.
Fact:  It’s the cold, not the steak, that’s important. Unless the steak is frozen and sealed completely, you don’t want that on any bruise—eye or otherwise—because it could introduce bacteria into the equation that could result in an infection. Grab a bag of frozen peas or a cold compress of some kind instead; it will help with swelling. 

Myth: Apply a hot compress to a sprained ankle.
Fact: Cold is the best way to combat swelling. Heat could actually worsen the inflammation of the injury. For ankle sprains, apply a cold compress for a full 10 minutes and then continue to apply cold as needed. For severe sprains, strains and fractures, seek immediate attention in the emergency department.  

Myth: A choking victim will require the Heimlich maneuver.
Fact: A choking victim might require the Heimlich maneuver for a complete blockage of the airway but you will have to keep your composure long enough to find out if that is the case. If the choking victim cannot speak and is turning blue, the Heimlich maneuver is required to allow air to push the obstruction out of the airway. Call 911 immediately and ask for help. If the victim can talk, it is a partial blockage, which can likely be resolved with coughing. 

Were you suprised by any of these first aid myths?


Fresh Recipe: Millet with Sage, Cranberries and Pecans

Friday, July 25, 2014 4:09 PM comments (0)

sageWhat’s growing in your herb garden this summer? Healthy, flavorful sage isn’t just for seasoning meats, though it has that reputation. The subtle flavor and distinctive scent can elevate healthy, vegetarian-friendly recipes too.  If sage is a standout among your summer crops, we have the perfect recipe for potlucks, barbeques and quick-fix dinners. 

Katrina Herrejon, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator, Adult Endocrinology Group, puts sage front and center in a recipe that’s perfect for summer and beyond: 

Serving Size 1 cup (c)
Recipe makes 5 servings

2.5c low sodium vegetable stock
1c dry millet
1 tsp canola oil
1/2of an onion (5oz)
1/2c dried cranberries (2oz)
1/4c cranberry juice
1/8c fresh sage finely chopped  (0.1oz)
1/2c pecans roasted and chopped (1.5oz)
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Bring vegetable stock to a boil in medium pot.
  • Add the millet to the stock; cover and reduce heat.
  • Simmer millet at medium-low heat until all the stock is absorbed (about 20 minutes).
  • Use a fork to fluff the millet and then transfer to a large bowl.
  • While the millet is cooking, heat canola oil in a small skillet.
  • Add onion to the oil; sauté until golden, and remove from heat.
  • Pour cranberry juice in a microwave safe cup and add the cranberries.
  • Microwave cranberries for 30 seconds and then let them sit so that they absorb the juice. 
  • Fold the cooked onion, the cranberries, the pecans, and the sage into the cooked millet.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve while warm.

Nutrition Information (per serving):
Calories: 338
Total Fat: 12
Total Carbohydrate: 51
Fiber: 10
Protein: 7

What's your favorite way to use sage?


Birth Control: Options and Health Benefits

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 1:55 PM comments (0)

birth controlChoosing the right birth control method can be difficult; there are a variety of options available and nearly every type can affect different women in different ways. Ultimately the best method for each individual woman will be the one that doesn’t cause side effects that disrupt and impede normal daily activities and one she will use consistently. 

Diana Atashroo, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at NorthShore, discusses how birth control works, as well as birth control options and possible benefits beyond pregnancy prevention: 

Hormonal birth control, often referred to as “the pill,” contains estrogen and progestin. Birth control reduces the risk of pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, or the time during a woman’s cycle when a mature egg leaves the ovaries. The pill also causes a thickening of the mucus of the cervix making it impenetrable to sperm and keeping the lining of the uterus thin.

Birth control options include:

Hormonal methods:

  1. A pill (typically a combination of estrogen and progestin, though progestin-only is also available.
  2. Skin patch changed weekly
  3. Injection given every three months
  4. Vaginal ring changed every month

Implanted devices (with and without hormones):

  1. Implant under the bicep for up to three years
  2. Intrauterine device (IUD) for between five to ten years

Health Benefits: 
The most common use of oral contraception is the prevention of pregnancy. While the daily contraception pill is the most popularly used and prescribed medication, the most effective method is the implanted devices. With appropriate use of these methods of contraception they are 99% effective. 

However, birth control is not prescribed or taken exclusively for the prevention of pregnancy. There are several benefits to hormonal birth control, and many women choose to take it for these reasons:

PMS symptom relief. Hormones have been shown to provide significant relief of many of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including menstrual cramps, headaches, depression, heavy or irregular periods and hormonal acne.

Iron deficiency anemia. Women with heavy periods often experience iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss. Hormonal birth control can make heavy periods lighter.

Reduces risk for some cancers. Birth control has been shown to potentially reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian, endometrial and colon cancers.

Bone thinning. Some studies have shown that the use of birth control helps protect against bone thinning, which begins in most women after age 30.  


Dr. Matthew Plofsky, Family Doctor: The Art of Building Relationships with Patients and Families

Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:49 PM comments (0)

plofsky imageMaking connections with patients, with entire families, is what Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, enjoys most about his chosen specialty. Not only does he get the chance to help his patients feel better and stay better, but he can watch his littlest patients grow up and his patients’ families grow larger as he provides care over the years.  As a child, his own pediatrician was not simply a doctor; he was a warm, caring man who took the time to develop a relationship with the whole family. This example, as well as his mother’s efforts as a nurse for over 40 years and a desire to be challenged by his career, led Dr. Plofsky to family medicine. 

An avid nature photographer, Dr. Plofsky’s artistic passion has provided him with an outlet for his creativity. This outlet has also given him a chance to deepen connections with some of his patients. In fact, his current exhibition, “Our Natural World,” is dedicated to the memory of his patient “Superman” Sam Sommer, (link to superman blog ) who fought a courageous battle with leukemia that he sadly lost in December 2013. Dr. Plofsky will be donating all of the proceeds from his current photography exhibition to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research grants.

Here, Dr. Plofsky discusses his two passions—medicine and photography—and the role of the family doctor:

Why did you choose to pursue family medicine? What was it that stood out most about that specialty? 
Growing up, I saw my pediatrician as a warm and caring individual; he knew us personally and developed a meaningful relationship with our family.  As I explored different options in training, I was drawn to family practice because it created similar opportunities to connect with patients.  But it’s also challenging because a family physician must have a firm grasp on a broad base of medical knowledge that the specialty demands. It’s extremely rewarding to take care of individuals and families as they move through life. 

Additionally, my mother was a strong role model. She worked for 40 years as a nurse. Her tireless work at the Whitehall Nursing Home opened my eyes to the field of medicine and what I could do to help others.  

What do you enjoy most about your profession?
The most rewarding part is the satisfaction gained from developing strong relationships with my patients and knowing that I’m helping them stay well.  The connections that are created as I care for individuals and families are a daily reaffirmation of why I went into medicine. 

What is the most difficult aspect of family medicine?
As a physician, we have the knowledge to diagnose and treat many illnesses.  Our ability to manage chronic and life-threatening diseases is constantly improving and enhancing our patients’ lives.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the treatments for every illness.  As a physician trained to help people get better, it’s extremely difficult to see some patients simply not get better despite our best efforts.  This was especially difficult with my patient Sam Sommer because he was so young and I’d been treating his family for the past 12 years. I’d been Sam’s doctor from shortly after he was born until he passed away not long after his 8th birthday.

In addition to medicine, you are also passionate about photography. What sparked this interest? 
My interest in photography goes back to high school.  I was a staff photographer for my high school yearbook; I specialized in candids and sports images.  Over the past seven years, I’ve gone on to develop a passion for photography now as an adult.  My interest in photography stemmed somewhat from the technical challenge it presented and evolved more to the creative exploration it has become. 

plofsky 2Why has nature become your chosen subject? 
For me, nature photography is a passion.  First, I love being outdoors, hiking and exploring new areas of our natural world.  When I’m taking pictures in nature, I have the opportunity to creatively record what I have seen and can present it to others.  I find this both challenging and rewarding. Spending time outdoors is also relaxing and spiritually uplifting. 

Has pursuing this passion impacted the way you approach medicine at all?
Indirectly.  It has opened up many conversations with my patients about their creative endeavors and hobbies. It has reminded me that we all need to take time to pursue our passions and that you need to set aside time to do this.  My own health issues several years ago helped me to realize that I needed to do this. 

Why did you decide to donate the proceeds from this exhibition to St. Baldrick’s? 
St. Baldrick’s primary fundraisers are these fun head-shaving events. Sam’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, who are both Reform Rabbis, were involved in one recently called “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.” They and 52 other rabbis shaved their heads in support of this cause. It was such a powerful message and it inspired me to find a way to help them too, so I started my own St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. Sam loved nature and he loved the Heller Center, where my exhibition will run through July and August. With Sam’s love for nature and my photography, I thought that dedicating my photo exhibit to his memory and using it to help raise money for St. Baldrick’s would be a perfect way to help. 

There will be an open house at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 20th at the Heller Nature Center (2821 Ridge Road in Highland Park).

Dr. Plofsky's photos from the exhibit are available online through American Frame. Donations can also be made directly to St. Baldrick's here


The Great and Safe Outdoors: Summer Health and Safety Tips [Infographic]

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 2:57 PM comments (0)

Those sunny skies and warmer temperatures can mean only one thing: summer.  Before you head outside, it’s important to take some precautions to keep the entire family safe and healthy all season long.  From grilling and sun safety to beachside swimming and bug bite prevention, NorthShore University HealthSystem has the entire family covered with our summer safety tips infographic.

Click on the image below for the all the summer health tips you’ll need to take you to Labor Day and beyond.

outdoor safety


Rehydrate! Water, Coconut Water or Sports Drinks?

Friday, July 11, 2014 12:55 PM comments (0)

rehydrateIt’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day but it’s especially important to replenish your body with fluids after exercise, particularly after periods of intense physical activity or exercise performed in high temperatures. But what’s the best way to hydrate? 

Water might seem like the obvious rehydration choice but there are other options. Patrick Birmingham, MD, Sports Medicine at NorthShore, discusses the pros and cons of some after-exercise rehydration options:

Water. Every system of the human body requires water to function, so when you exercise and lose water by perspiring, you need to replenish what you lost. On average, every individual needs to consume approximately 1.9 liters of water a day but this amount increases when you factor in exercise, especially high-intensity exercise. 

Pros: Unlike some sports drinks and coconut water, there are no calories in water so you won’t undo any of the good accomplished during your workout. After short, moderate workouts, water should be sufficient for rehydration. 

Cons: After intense workouts lasting more than an hour, your body loses not just water but important electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and these electrolytes will need to be replenished too. In this situation, water might not cut it. 

Coconut water. Coconut water is all the rage but is this “natural” source any better than a bottle of water or a sports drink when it comes to rehydration after a workout?

Pros: Depending on the brand, coconut water has fewer calories, less sodium and more potassium than the typical sports drink. Generally, it also has no added colors and only natural flavors (from other juices, for instance). 

Cons: After an intense workout, the most important electrolyte you need to replenish is sodium. Coconut water has less sodium than most sports drinks, which means it might not be able to do the heavy lifting after a particularly intense workout. Some coconut waters are enhanced with extra sodium but that can alter the flavor and make consumption less pleasant.

Sports drinks. Most popular sports drinks provide approximately 13-19 grams of carbohydrates and between 80-120 milligrams of sodium.

Pros: Sports drinks are made especially to replace the electrolytes you lose during long, arduous workouts, so they should be your go-to source on high-intensity days. The tasty flavors mean you’re likely to consume enough when you need it most. Pediatric rehydration mixtures like Pedialyte are also a great option. They have just the right combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates with less sugar. 

Cons: Many sports drinks have added artificial flavors, colors and unnecessary sugars. Make sure to check for lower-calorie versions so you aren’t undoing all your hard work at the end of your workout.

All summer long, NorthShore will be at athletic events in the community to help you find out how you can Unleash Your Inner Athlete. Come to the NorthShore tent and enter to win free entry into upcoming summer races and/or a grand price of a personal activity monitor. For a schedule of events where you can find NorthShore, click here

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