Health Rumors, Confirmed or Busted!

woman sits at computer looking thoughtful

We've seen more than a few stories in the popular press lately that perpetuate health myths and rumors. We took five of them to OHSU experts and asked them for the truth. This month we're sharing what we learned. Let us know what other rumors you've heard that need confirmed, or busted!

Post-pill syndrome

It's a long-standing myth that taking birth control pills somehow affects your menstrual cycle once you stop taking them.

"If you have irregular cycles prior to going on the pill, it's quite likely that after you come off the pill your cycles will revert to whatever they've done before," says Dr. Paula Amato, reproductive endocrinologist at OHSU's Center for Women's Health.

Furthermore, studies have shown that the rates of developing cycle irregularity over time are similar for all women, whether they've taken birth control pills or not.

In other words, Dr. Amato says, "If you develop some cycle irregularity after the pill, it's probably coincidental."

Your vagina needs maintenance

From steaming to vaginal lipstick to jade eggs, there has lately been a slew of products purporting to support vaginal health. Many of them have risen to popularity after being featured as must-haves on Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle site, GOOP.

The truth is that none of these products are necessary and all of them are potentially harmful.

"The vagina and the rest of our reproductive organs are actually quite smart at regulating themselves and need no interference from douches, jade eggs or Gwyneth Paltrow," OHSU obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Maria Rodriguez told the Huffington Post. "If something has changed with your vulva and vagina, and you are having symptoms, see your doctor, not the internet."

Women don't feel chest pain during heart attacks

Many women report vague symptoms during a heart attack, like new gastrointestinal problems, extreme fatigue, or shortness of breath only when they exert themselves. However, some women do report classic symptoms, such as left-sided chest pain radiating to the jaw and left arm, shortness of breath, extreme sweating, nausea or vomiting.

"Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you and contact your care provider if you have concerns about your cardiovascular health," says Dr. Shimoli Shah, cardiologist at OHSU. Ignoring symptoms of a heart attack can delay life-saving care.

Cranberry juice and capsules can prevent a UTI

There has been some research supporting the use of cranberry capsules to help prevent urinary tract infections, but no clear consensus on how much to take for best results.

"In the past, cranberry has been considered as a potential treatment to prevent bladder infections in women who get recurrent UTIs. But unfortunately, when this is has been tested, it has not turned out to be true. In fact, taking 500mg cranberry extract capsules twice per day is actually more expensive than using antibiotics when an infection is truly present," says Dr. Renee Edwards, urogynecologist at OHSU.

If you already have a urinary tract infection, there's no evidence that cranberry juice or capsules can help, especially when used as the only treatment. "In fact, you should not ever use cranberry once an infection is actually present as it is highly acidic.Acidic foods and beverages can worsen the symptoms of pain with urination in a woman with an infection. Best choice is to drink plenty of water and touch bases with your provider about whether or not you need an antibiotic," says Edwards.

The HPV vaccine can cause infertility

The Center for Disease Control tracks all reactions or side effects potentially caused by vaccines in a database called VAERS. When any side effects tracked by VAERS are dangerous or alarming, the CDC's Vaccine Safety Datalink collaboration investigates the reports to determine the rate and likely cause of the side effects.

"Investigation by the Vaccine Safety Datalink has shown absolutely no connection between the HPV vaccine and fertility problems," says Michelle Berlin, M.D., M.P.H., an OHSU obstetrician and gynecologist who focuses on preventive medicine.

In fact, the vaccine can help protect women from future fertility problems associated with cervical cancer and other cancers of the vulva and vagina.

Send us your rumors!

Have you heard or read any other health rumor lately that you'd like an expert opinion on? Send it our way and we may include it in a future story like this one.