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Birth Control’s Newest Form Is Crazier Than You Think

Written on July 17, 2014 at 11:19 am , by

Oral birth control? So two years ago.

That’s what Bill Gates thinks, anyway.

The do-it-all man has been planning to fund the development of a remote-controlled birth control ($4.6 million-worth of funding, to be exact!), and now a Massachusetts startup company called MicroCHIPS is bringing the concept to life using technology invented by MIT engineer Robert Langer in the ‘90s.

Placed under the skin of the upper arm, butt or abdomen, the microchip releases levonorgestrel—a birth-control hormone currently in many contraceptives—but only when you want it to. You can turn the device on and off with the flip of a switch. When on, an electrical current melts a part of the chip and 30 micrograms of the hormone is released each day. The chip supposedly lasts up to 16 years, and the MicroCHIPS team wants it on the market by 2018.

“Thirty micrograms sounds low and sounds like it might not interfere with ovulation but might interfere with implantation,” says Sarah Berga, M.D., FITNESS advisory board member and associate dean of women’s health research at Wake Forest Baptist Health. “The question I would have is what does it do to your estrogen levels across time and would they be too low?”

A contraceptive that only interferes with implantation might not be as effective, but it would be safer, says Berg. “You would be interfering less with ovarian function and potentially less with estrogen levels, therefore promoting better bone health, better mood, and the kinds of things that we think estrogens are good for,” she says.

Carolyn Westhoff, M.D., FITNESS advisory board member and obstetrics and gynecology professor at Columbia University, says the microchip is an “interesting idea with lots of potential,” but that more work still needs to be done to evaluate the chip’s safety and effectiveness. Pre-clinical testing is scheduled to begin next year, but the chips will need to be encrypted to secure wireless data before MicroCHIPS sends an application to the FDA.

What do you think? Would you use remote controlled birth control over the more traditional varieties?

Photo courtesy of MicroCHIPS

More from FITNESS: 

Your Guide to Choosing the Right Birth Control for You

Are Your Birth Control Pills Hurting Your Sex Drive?

Should I Stop Taking the Pill at 35?

Wait, I Can Skip My Pelvic Exam?!

Written on July 3, 2014 at 10:57 am , by

Big news: Pelvic exams are no longer necessary for women who don’t have symptoms and aren’t pregnant, according to a new recommendation from The American College of Physicians out this week. It’s a topic we covered recently in our April 2014 issue, but it’s not an excuse to ditch your regular gyno visits altogether. Here’s what else you need to know.

So Long, Stirrups!

By Laurie Tarkan

Imagine going to your gyno and not spending the appointment staring at the ceiling with your knees in the air. “Until the Pap test was introduced, a woman didn’t go to the ob-gyn unless she was pregnant or had symptoms like pain or bleeding,” says Carolyn Westhoff, M.D., a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center. When the Pap became standard in the late 1940s, so did the yearly gyno exam. But in 2012, based on new research, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)  told its members to dial back on the Pap test and give it every three years; for women 30 and older who combine it with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the recommendation is every five years.

The reason: Although the Pap can be a lifesaver, there is no benefit to screening on an annual basis, because cervical cancer is slow growing. “If you do Pap smears frequently, you’ll get some results that are ‘not normal’ but aren’t cancer,” says Miriam Alexander, M.D., the director of the general preventive medicine residency program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “Patients might then be ordered to have uncomfortable additional testing, which causes anxiety and can, in rare cases, lead to severe complications.”

As for annual pelvic exams, women simply don’t need them, research has found. The exams are not necessary to screen for ovarian and uterine cancers or sexually transmitted infections, and they don’t need to be done before a woman starts taking oral contraceptives. “Gradually, more and more ob-gyns are realizing that the pelvic exam doesn’t have to be done so frequently,” Dr. Westhoff says.

The Bottom Line:  The ACOG still recommends an annual gyno visit, but unless you have a medical problem or new symptoms, you probably don’t need a pelvic exam between Pap tests, Dr. Westhoff says.

So, how often should I get tested? 

Pap Test:  Every three years starting at age 21. If you’re 30 or older, every five years if you combine it with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV).
Exception: More often if results are abnormal.

Pelvic Exam: Not necessary if you are feeling fine.
Exception: Unless you have symptoms such as bleeding, pain, urinary problems or new or unusual discharge.

Photo by Susan Pittard

More from FITNESS: 

Private Matters: Solutions to Common Gyno Problems

 Salt Shake-Up: Why Sodium is Actually Good For You

Oil Pulling: What It Is and How It Works