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October 26, 2010
by Emily Greene

Did you ever wonder about women’s special health needs while deployed? In fact, there are very few differences between the needs of women and men in theatre.

The primary exceptions are menstruation and reproductive health concerns. Fortunately, the Military Health System covers female health both at home and overseas. Experts say the first steps to maintaining good health while deployed start at home.

Women should ensure all their preventative health screenings are up to date, including Pap smears and mammograms [if needed] in plenty of time to have follow-up for any abnormalities prior to leaving their home stations.

Female service members should also discuss what hormonal medication, if any, they will use during their deployment. And they should talk with their doctors about what their job entails including physical demands.

For known health issues, service members are advised to take a three-month supply of prescriptions with them overseas. This ensures they have a window of time to get settled in theater and determine where they will get refills. In addition to getting prescribed medications in theatre, the TRICARE pharmacy program can supply refills by mail.

While there are some limitations to female-specific care in theatre, all combat support hospitals have primary care physicians and many also have OB/GYN doctors. Most level two facilities also have primary care physicians trained to care for women.

Some common medical issues seen by medical personnel are menorrhagia [heavy periods], unwanted menses and dysmenorrheal [painful periods]. All three of these issues may be treated with hormonal medications which control flow, duration and the frequency of menses.

In very rare cases, women who are unable to maintain sanitary conditions due to menses in austere conditions may require surgery for clearing of pelvic infections which have been unresponsive to medical management.

Medical personnel recommend that female service members who are menstruating have daily access to bathing facilities. This could mean just a private place with sufficient drainage adequate for a “bird bath” or use of unscented baby wipes.

Another concern deployed service members may have is planning pregnancies. Women who are considering getting pregnant soon after their return home can begin taking vitamins and folic acid in the last three months leading up to re-deployment. In addition, women are advised to consult with their doctors and to schedule immunizations at least three months prior to conception.

For more information about female readiness visit the website: http://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/healthyliving/rsbwh/Pages/default.aspx.