Updates on GI health during pregnancy, breast cancer and birth order, and HIV/AIDS research.

When GI problems threaten GYN success
Expectant mothers who develop serious gastro-intestinal problems too often try to "tough it out," says a physician who specializes in treating women with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, acid reflux, and gallstones.

"One of the reasons pregnant women tend to be undertreated is concern about how treatment will affect the baby," says Dr. Sumona Saha, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "But if a woman with inflammatory bowel disease, for example, is very symptomatic, she's at very high risk for having complications such as pre-term labor or undersized babies. For many GI disorders, the principle 'healthy mother, healthy baby' applies."

Saha, a gastroenterologist with specialized training in women's digestive disorders, says these problems with the mother's health could take a toll on the health of the developing baby. GI disorders, however, do not have to lead to poor pregnancy outcomes. When these conditions are properly managed, the results for both mother and baby can be very positive.

Breast cancer and birth order is there a link?

Being breast-fed as an have a 17 percent lower risk overall of developing breast cancer later in life. But a study at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center has revealed that breast-fed female infants who were fourth-born or later had a 42 percent decrease in breast cancer risk later in life, compared to women who were first-born.

The age of the mother was not associated with breast-cancer risk among women who were breast-fed as babies. The research team says the study reaffirms that factors very early in life may play a role in later cancer risk, but more research is needed to understand why birth order may be important.

HIV/AIDS research should include more women

Women are underrepresented in HIV/AIDS research, says an activist and patient-care counselor with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.

"More than 280,000 women in the United States are infected with HIV," says Heidi Nass, herself openly HIV-positive. "But accruing and retaining women in clinical trials has not been a national priority. If we are going to reduce HIV infection and improve treatment among women, it is imperative to expand women's involvement in research."

Nass, a treatment educator and advocate for people with HIV/AIDS, says that women have been studied mainly as "vectors of transmission" and not as whole people. She says a more useful definition of sexual and reproductive health needs to include topics such as emotional intimacy, personal safety, and control in a relationship.