By Victoria Whitney
As pwcf are getting older there are a whole new range of problems emerging from complications with cystic fibrosis. As I am not a medical doctor, I am in no way going to try and explain any of these problems. What I am doing is trying to collate information on specific women’s problems so that any fwcf who experience something not quite normal can see if other fwcf have experienced too. The only way connections and further research into this area will occur is by verification that a lot of women experience these cf/female problems. So here goes.
Dry Vagina: This is the type of problem that it is very difficult to talk to your CF doctor about. It is almost a case of “Why would you?”. What has your vagina got to do with your cf. Well amazingly enough CF likes to stick its nose in everywhere and down there is no exception. It seems that the problem is simple, the natural lubrication and mucous in a pwcf’s vagina is thicker than usual, leaving the vagina dehydrated. The complications of this are that it often very difficult to use tampons/meds during menstruation and depending on severity, sexual intercourse can be painful or not possible. Solution/suggestions- Most the pwcf experiencing the dry vagina were using the contraceptive pill for one reason or another. For most patients who stopped taking the pill the problem improved a lot. (BUT there are other problems which may require the pill as a solution so read on ). For those pwcf who aren’t on the pill but get a dry vagina, there is really only advice on alleviating the symptoms. Generally, water-based lubrication is very helpful, an understanding , attentive partner will help natural lubrications work (regardless of their thickness) and simply if it is too painful have a break for a while.
Thrush: Yep most of you will have had this by the time you reach adulthood. Every time you go on a particular antibiotic be prepared for the possible onset of thrush. For you women that aren’t sure thrush is where you vagina is itchy and irritated, sometimes smelly and often having a discharge. After three weeks of IV antibiotics some of us pwcf have had the worst cases of thrush the gynecologists have ever seen. Severe cases can cause the cervix to be inflamed, complicating PAP smears and generally causing a fair amount of pain for us ladies. Solution/suggestions- Basically since antibiotics are a stable part of our CF management there is no way to escape the dreaded thrush. Basically the major piece of advice is that be aware that you will get it and treat it straight away. Don’t be frightened to tell your doctor and don’t be frightened of your local health store who should sell some great yogurts and blends that will make the thrush much less painful/irritating. Thrush is treatable so you don’t have to put up with it because it is embarrassing. It has been noticed that again the contraceptive pill makes thrush worse.
Cyclic Lung Function Decline: This has really only been discussed recently but it has been noticed enough for a mention here. It seems that some fwcf feel that each month their lung function decreases for a period of time then returns to normal. Although there have been no studies done it is something to keep an eye on. Suggestions- if you feel that this happens to you record a cycle chart of sorts, recording peak flows/spirometry as compared to your monthly cycle. If there is a connection and you feel the effects are dramatic enough mention it to your doctor. He/she may find your proof interesting enough to try halting your cycle for a while and see if this stops the monthly decline.
Low Iron Absorption: It appears that some pwcf have trouble absorbing iron. Obviously if you are a women and have this iron absorption problem it is something to keep an eye on. Make sure that your iron levels are checked regularly especially if you are experiencing fatigue and breathlessness (more so than usual CF feelings). Sometimes even the blood lost through menstruation can severely deplete your iron level making you breathless for a few days a month. Keep an eye on your iron!
From a Different CYSTIC-L Subscriber:
Menstruation and Congestion: When I saw my doctor in October he agreed that my periods could be causing my congestion, and breathing to be worse around the time of my menstrual cycle. I have to keep a diary for two months, so he is able to see if there is an association, but I know there is. If any other girls and women on the list feel that their menstrual cycles may be causing them to have asthma or asthma like symptoms (and or worsening CF lung problems) during or near the time of their menstrual cycles, usually a few days before hand, you should talk to your specialist about this. Apparently this is a common problem for women, and it is thought to be hormone related. My doctor also said it could be associated with fluid build up at that time of the month. I was also told by my local, Kentville, respirologist that some females have even been known to have menstrual related pneumothorax.