Northwest Health Spring 2012


Q&A With Dr. Annie Iriye

Ob/Gyn Annie Iriye, MD, answers questions about women's reproductive health.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

Many health issues for women involve their reproductive systems. What health concerns do you see in your practice?
Women are often concerned about menopausal, hormonal, urinary, and sexual health. I also see women who have been breast cancer patients or have been identified as having a breast cancer gene. We have an excellent genetic counseling system for patients who are at risk. Some patients haven't seen an obstetrician/gynecologist for many years, and they have questions about bladder or sexual function.

What are the important preventive tests that women should get?
Some of this depends on your age and lifestyle, but certainly Pap tests, blood pressure checks, and mammograms are a few. Patients who are sexually active with multiple partners should be getting STD (sexually transmitted disease) checks.

Not too long ago, it seemed as though women were routinely having hysterectomies. Now the rate has fallen. What's happened?
I think it's because we have been able to give women different options — especially those who have excessive bleeding or uterine fibroids. Most women don't want major surgery, so it's important to educate them about less invasive options. Some possibilities include uterine ablation (which cauterizes the uterine lining), or the Mirena IUD, a device inserted into a woman's uterus that releases small amounts of a hormone and thins the lining so bleeding is lessened. Another treatment is uterine artery embolization, which cuts off blood supply to fibroids. If patients don't have any sign of cancer or a precancerous condition, bleeding may be controlled with medications.

What about menopause? Anything new?
Society has become more aware of this transition and that women need better support than what we used to give them. Our job is to make sure women are educated about the process. There's no one answer to menopausal concerns. We can look at whether or not a patient is a candidate for medication during this time, and whether or not they'd consider it. We also address diet, emotional and sexual changes, supplements such as vitamin D and calcium, exercise, and alternative approaches.

What's one thing you think your patients could change to take better advantage of health care resources?
Become more open to all the possibilities available. Often people get stuck in box-like thinking about their health, believing that only this drug or treatment will help them. Be open to hearing other options, and ask lots of questions.

What do you do when you're not helping women with their health needs?
I'm a road cyclist. My husband and I take our loaded bikes and tour every year for a few weeks. This year we cycled down part of the Oregon Coast. I also like to hike and ski. I love to be outside. I love to eat, too, so the exercise balances that out.

As an Ob/Gyn, I'm sure you've seen a lot of births. How many babies have you delivered?
At least a couple of thousand babies! I'm so impressed with the strength and focus women have in the birth process and how their support partners (spouses, family members, friends, and doulas) assist them emotionally and physically with the birth process. I feel really honored to be a part of that. As an Ob/Gyn at Group Health I also act as a consultant for our midwives. It's a great group with high standards — I really support them.

I imagine you have some interesting birth stories.
Yes, there have been some funny moments. Once, in a delivery room here in Olympia, the patient had just started pushing and I was coaching her when I looked up and saw things in the room shaking and realized it was an earthquake. I turned to the family and said, "I'm from Southern California. Don't worry, I'm experienced in this. Just keep going and have your baby." The nurses went to the doorway for protection as the emergency generator went on, but I didn't move until their baby was born.

What made you choose this specialty?
I feel connected to women and want to assist with their health needs. I also enjoy the challenges, medically and surgically, that obstetrics and gynecology present.

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