We Asked Dr. Helliwell Your Top Health Questions.



Q: A flu vaccine can cause the flu, right?

ANSWER: “No, that’s a pretty pervasive myth. A flu vaccine can be a weakened live virus or a non-virus called a recombinant virus, which is a pretend virus that is made in a lab. Either one is not the actual flu virus so neither one can cause the flu.

A small percentage of patients that receive the flu vaccine (1-5%) may experience mild flu-like symptoms for a day or two maximum. These symptoms are mild fever, body aches, or just not feeling well.

But remember, these are mild compared to severe symptoms of the real flu. And if a patient gets these symptoms after a flu shot, it’s only 1-2 days versus the real flu, which typically lasts two weeks.”

Q: Your body requires less sleep as you age. True or False?

ANSWER: “It does seem like older people require less sleep than younger people on average, but not in all cases. Certainly, if the older person is ill or has a chronic condition, they may need more sleep. Genetics may play a role as well. As we age, and if we stay healthy, our responsibilities seem to dwindle (financial, family, children) This also implies that stress may play a role in the amount of sleep one needs.”

Q: Is it true that as we age, our sex drive decreases?

ANSWER: “Yes, this is generally true, but not true just because you age. It’s true because as one ages, female or male, one’s hormones decrease. This is why supplementing ones’ hormone whether for a man or woman can help increase sex drive, but this solution is not everything.

Sex drive is multi-factorial, meaning, it is dependent on many things: relationship strength with your partner, stress, overall health, your schedule, and many more things effect sex drive, too. Receiving a hormone shot may not solely improve one’s sex drive, but it can help.”

Q: Vitamin Supplements always make you healthier, right?

ANSWER: “No, myth. Vitamins are essential part of our diet and needed for the body to function and fight off infections like the flu.

But in a typical American diet, where most people are not starving or deprived of food, we get all typically the vitamins and minerals that we need to be healthy.

Taking extra does not work to make you ever “healthier” or to “fight off infection better. ” In some types of conditions like pregnancy it is needed to take a prenatal vitamin a day to assure the baby is getting the needed vitamins and minerals like folic acid. For non-pregnant patients, it is a good idea to take a multi-vitamin daily, but it is not necessary. Definitely mega dosing on vitamins when ill is not beneficial either.”

Q: Cold Weather makes you sick. True?

ANSWER: “No, myth.  A “cold” is not a merely due to being cold, but due to a virus. Your body can get infected with  the flu virus or rhinovirus  (the common cold) when a patient’s body is susceptible due to lowered immune system caused by stress or not enough sleep. Also if the virus has easy access to transfer to another person when you touch your eyes, nose, or other mucus membranes (entry points for infection). One does not merely get the “cold” or ” flu ” by cold temperature or having wet hair or jumping in a cold pool. This is why it’s important to wash hands or use hand disinfectant regularly to kill the virus that may be on your hands before it can get to your mucus membranes and gain entry into your body.”

Q: Do all women gain weight during menopause and few lose it?

ANSWER: “This is not an absolute but generally can be true. Gaining weight is also multi-factorial and is not solely due to hormones.  But hormones do play a role either directly or indirectly. Meaning, when a women goes through menopause her female hormones generally go down close to zero. This can have direct effects on metabolism causing her to store fat and extra calories differently than when her hormones when higher. Typically the fat goes more around her abdomen instead of breasts and hips.

Also hormones probably effect weight gain indirectly by causing a woman to have more fatigue and tiredness in menopause which in turn  can cause the woman to exercise less or burn less calories through being active.

But certainly weight gain is not solely due to low hormones, so getting a hormone shot will not likely cause you to suddenly loose  weight. Weight gain still comes from genetics and as the old adage say, “calories in vs calories out”. If you eat more than you burn  you will gain weight, and certainly some women are more prone to weight gain than others simply due to their genetics.”

Q: Sometimes your periods start up again after they stop during menopause. True or False?

ANSWER: “Yes this is true. Full complete menopause is defined as going an entire year without a period and never getting a period again after that. This average age is 51 in the US. Prior to this there is the “peri-menopause” period and this can start around age 41 and go until the period ends as described above. During this time a women can have erratic periods that can be heavier than before, and irregular. Meaning one can go 3-6 months without a period then suddenly have a heavy period that last 10-15 days.

This is due to the fact that a woman’s hormones do not suddenly go from fertility age range hormone levels (age 20-40) to zero over night. It’s a gradual process that is characterized by fluctuations (highs and lows) occurring over time. Usually a period of 10 years (age 41-51).”

Q: If you’re in your 40’s and premenopausal, you can still get pregnant. T or F?

ANSWER: “Yes, in the 40s a woman’s hormones are generally decreasing but not zero yet (particularly in the early 40s.) Eggs are still being released in ovulation during this time. True, a women’s probability of pregnancy is low due to not releasing an egg every month as she did when she was younger, as well as the decreased quality of her eggs as compared to her youth. These factors lead to a lower chance of a pregnancy, but if everything is just right it can still happen.

Often pregnancy in the 40’s end in miscarriage because of the lower quality of the egg and higher probability of genetic mishaps that can lead to pregnancies that will not survive. Because of the possibilities in your 40’s, if this is something you would not want you should consider long term birth Control like an IUD or permanent sterilization like a ESSURE or Laparoscopic tubal ligation. Give us call to talk with us an explore your options.”

Q: Once you’re done having babies, you don’t need regular doctor visits anymore, right? Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

ANSWER: “Myth. You should still see your OB/gyn once a year for your annual pap smear and breast exam to screen for Cervical and Breast Cancer. Current screening guidelines for Cervical/Breast Cancer can allow for less frequent visits but you should ask your doctor as there are many factors that are involved and not everyone can automatically get a pap exam every 3 years or a mammogram every 2 years.

Check with your OB/gyn first on what risks factors you have personally and how frequent you should have a Pap smear and mammogram. If you are not sure it’s generally better to stick with annual exams.”


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