STD Awareness: Does Gardasil Have Side Effects?

Teen_GroupIn 2006, a vaccine called Gardasil made its debut. Its ability to protect against two of the most widespread strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) means that it doesn’t just protect against an infectious disease — it protects against cancer, too. A persistent HPV infection can trigger cell changes that could lead to cancers of the mouth, throat, cervix, vulva, anus, or penis. Gardasil also protects against two additional strains of HPV that cause most genital warts.


The most common Gardasil side effects are fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever, and hives, as well as possible pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site.


Cervical cancer is not as common in the developed world as it once was, thanks to an effective screening test. The Pap test catches “precancerous” cell changes, allowing the precancer to be treated before it develops into full-fledged cancer. So, while HPV vaccines have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives if they can be distributed in countries without widespread access to Pap testing, they have utility in the United States, too. Gardasil has spurred declines in high-risk HPV infections and genital wart incidence among American girls — which means less “precancer” and all the invasive, possibly expensive or painful, treatments that they entail, and a lot fewer genital warts. What’s not to like about that?

Despite this, a lot of people are curious about Gardasil’s side effects. If you enter a few key search terms into Google, you can easily find all kinds of websites warning you of Gardasil’s alleged dangers. So, you might be wondering: Is Gardasil safe?

What are Gardasil’s side effects?

Despite Gardasil’s relatively recent debut, many studies have already been conducted to evaluate its safety — and research continues so that we can consistently reassess its risks and benefits. So far, the consensus is that Gardasil is safe, with very few side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common Gardasil side effects are fainting, dizziness, nausea, headache, fever, and hives, as well as possible pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site. These reactions are not considered to be serious, some people don’t experience any of them, and they are only temporary. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Can I Use Birth Control to Skip a Period?

In 2003, the FDA approved Seasonale, an extended-cycle birth control pill. This pill, a combination of estrogen and progestin, is taken daily for 84 days followed by one week of inactive (placebo) pills, allowing a woman to have her period once every three months — four times per year.

Since that time, several other extended-cycle birth control pills have been marketed, including Lybrel, released in 2007, which offers women continuous contraception coverage with only one period per year.


Using birth control to skip periods doesn’t result in side effects quite this exaggerated.

Prior to Seasonale’s debut, certain types of birth control pills could be taken back to back, allowing users to have period-free weddings and honeymoons, or to treat certain conditions, such as endometriosis. But there was no consensus about how to use birth control pills this way, and no actual product marketed specifically for this type of use. Early studies on extended-cycle pills reported that users were highly satisfied using pills to have fewer periods — and wanted to continue using these pills to reduce periods after the study was completed.

Can skipping periods be beneficial or harmful? Is this a lifestyle choice that’s not “natural”? How many “normal” periods do you need in a lifetime? Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 18: Cholesterol Testing

vegetablesWelcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.


It’s National Cholesterol Education Month.


Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in our country, and high cholesterol is a major risk factor for both of these conditions. Most people with high cholesterol don’t have it under control, even though it is both preventable and treatable. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, adults 20 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked every five years. And, with two out of three adults suffering from high cholesterol, keeping track of your cholesterol is important.

What is cholesterol?

plaqueCholesterol is a waxy substance, sort of like fat, that can coat the walls of your arteries, forming a “plaque.” This is also referred to as “hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis. You’ll often hear comments like, “Those fast-food cheeseburgers will clog your arteries” — regularly eating food that is high in saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol that circulates in your bloodstream, increasing your risk for health problems. When arteries have too much plaque, they narrow, and your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body.

Our bodies need cholesterol to function, but they’re able to synthesize it themselves — unlike many vitamins and minerals, we can make our own cholesterol and don’t need to get it from food. Cholesterol comes in two types: “good” cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL); and “bad” cholesterol, or low density lipoprotein (LDL). “High cholesterol” refers to high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL is what forms plaque in the arteries, while HDL prevents plaque buildup, likely by carrying the LDL to the liver, which processes it before it’s excreted from the body. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: NuvaRing, Another Contraceptive Choice

Would you like an alternative to a daily pill for contraception? NuvaRing is a flexible vaginal ring containing a combination of two hormones used to prevent pregnancy: a progestin and an estrogen. It is placed inside the vagina where it releases a continuous small dose of these hormones, and is left in place for three weeks. Then you remove it and wait one week, during which you usually will have your period. After this ring-free week, you insert a new ring.


The vaginal ring is an excellent alternative for people who don’t want to take a daily pill for contraception.


Used properly, it is nearly as effective as oral birth control pills, is easily reversible and frees you from having to remember to take a pill each day. You can use tampons, vaginal yeast medications, and spermicides when wearing the ring, but you should not use a diaphragm because it may not fit properly. In some vaginal conditions, such as a prolapsed (or falling) uterus, you may not be able to use the ring because it might slip out more easily. The NuvaRing can only work when it’s inserted properly in order to release its hormones. Most women report they cannot feel the ring once it’s inserted.

Most of the side effects of the NuvaRing are similar to birth control pills. Cigarette smoking is definitely not recommended because it may increase your risk for strokes or heart attacks, especially if you are older than 35. There have been several reports that the ring may put you at an increased risk for blood clots, and this is still being studied. If you have concerns about this or have a personal or family history of blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes, it’s important to talk with your health care provider before using the ring. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Do Birth Control Pills Cause Blood Clots?

Alarming ads urge you to call a lawyer if you’ve been “injured” taking certain birth control products, such as Yaz, Yasmin, or NuvaRing. These injuries include venous thromboembolisms (VTEs), heart attacks, and strokes. It’s frightening to wonder if you are endangering your health by taking a pill to prevent pregnancy or treat dysmenorrhea (painful cramps).

Should you stop taking your pills? What is a VTE and why should you worry? VTE is a blood clot that usually starts in your leg, but may break loose and travel to your heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke. It can be life-threatening, so it is a serious side effect to be concerned about. All birth control pills may increase your risk for a VTE, but it has always been considered so small that most women can safely take the pill. About 3 to 9 women in 10,000 who use birth control pills for more than one year may have a VTE compared to 1 in 5 women out of 10,000 who are not pregnant and not on the pill.


Birth control pills are considered very safe for the majority of women, but all medications carry some risk of adverse effects.


When oral birth control pills were first developed, they contained much higher doses of estrogens and progestins — types of hormones — especially estrogen. It was also noticed that there was a higher risk for developing a blood clot while using birth control pills than in nonpregnant women who didn’t take the pill. It was thought that the high dose of estrogen was responsible for this risk. So, with continuing research and development, eventually the dose of estrogen was decreased to the lower level used today to minimize the chance of a clot. The type of estrogen in pills today is almost exclusively ethinyl estradiol. Continue reading