Well Woman Weekly: Dr. Sophia Yen on Painful Periods and Productivity

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to Dr. Sophia Yen. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Sophia Yen, MD, MPH is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandia Health, the only doctor-led, women-founded, women-led birth control delivery service. Pandia Health also offers birth control telemedicine services in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, NV, PA, TN, and WY with plans to expand across the U.S in 2021. With more than 20 years of experience in medicine, she is board-certified in Adolescent Medicine. She graduated with a B.S. from MIT, M.D. from UCSF Medical School, and M.P.H. from UC Berkeley in Maternal Child Health. She serves as a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School and co-founded three non-profit organizations and projects in her endeavors to improve the lives of women: The Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign,SheHeroes.org and the #FFFL (Female Founded, Female Led) movement.

Dr. Sophia Yen

What is Pandia Health and what makes your work meaningful to you, as well as important for all women?

As the only doctor-led, women-founded, and women-led birth control delivery company, Pandia Health is building the ‘Online Health Brand Women Trust.’ We’re telemedicine and pharmacy/medication delivery under one roof. You can use us for delivery (set it, forget it, and let Pandia Health worry, so you don’t have to) or telemedicine and delivery (if you need a prescription, your prescription is expired, you want to change meds or you’re new to prescription treatment). We started with birth control and growing with our population as they grow. So, as an example, adding acne in October and menopause in early 2022. We provide evidence-based, doctor-prescribed treatment.

I co-founded Pandia Health to make women’s lives easier and to treat/prevent “pill anxiety” (the fear of running out of birth control), and provide a solution to the subliminal back of your mind stressor, “I have to get to the pharmacy before I run out of my birth control.” I built this company for me, for my daughters, for my friends, and for anyone with a uterus who wants expert care, convenience, and confidentiality. We bring birth control to women wherever they have internet and a mailbox. 

Can you tell us what asynchronous telemedicine is, as well as its benefits?

It means that you and the doctor do not have to find a time that works for both of you to meet. You can fill out a questionnaire 24/7, give us your blood pressure (for birth control, not acne), pay us $20 once a year (for birth control, $35 for acne) to use our expert doctors and have access for the next 364 days. Also, research has shown people are more honest with sensitive info (e.g. last period, any chance of pregnancy, etc.) when it’s not conducted via video/voice, but rather just a questionnaire.

You’ve done a lot of work around periods and productivity. Can you share your philosophy on taking control of your period and use it as a tool for productivity?

I was a pre-med at MIT taking my biochem final. Then boom! My period came. I panicked: do I go to the bathroom and miss time from my test, or do I finish the test? (Premeds know the answer: I finished the test, then ran to the bathroom.) But was I a little distracted? Hell ya! I looked to my right and left—two people without uteri were taking their tests without a care in the world. I want to make sure that my daughters are on an even playing ground with those without uteri and will have an advantage over anyone with uteri bleeding randomly one week out of four.
The number one cause of missed school/work under the age of 25 years old is painful or heavy periods. We can treat/prevent that with hormonal treatment (aka birth control: hormonal IUD, implant, shot, ring, patch, pill) and #PeriodsOptional. See my TEDx talk on the science/safety of fewer periods: 

While everyone’s period—and its impact on mood and productivity—is different, is there a threshold at which you’d recommend a person seek medical attention (e.g. the side effects are no longer “normal”)?

If you are depressed (take a PHQ9 test or ask your doctor/therapist) only around your period (PMS, PMDD), you have headaches only around your period, or you are missing school or work because of your period, then definitely talk to your doctor about #PeriodsOptional or #FewerPeriods.

But as an Adolescent Medicine Specialist, I say you can consider making #PeriodsOptional starting two years after your first period. If you start sooner than that, you might lose potential height of 1.5-2 inches, but that is theoretical.

What are some of the benefits of hormonal birth control on a woman’s natural menstrual cycle?

It can make your monthly bleed regular: every 28 days and generally the same number of days, and it makes it lighter (e.g. if you usually bleed seven days, it goes down to five, three, or even zero).

Know that the bleed on the birth control pill, patch, and ring is totally artificial and arbitrary. You can bleed every 28 days, every three months, every six months, or never. The founders of the pill (three guys) had a disagreement on how often to make women bleed. One guy won the argument (the other two argued for fewer periods per year) and thus every method has had a monthly bleed since. 

What are your top recommendations for managing period pain when it begins to influence your activity levels?

First off: Ibuprofen 600 mg WITH FOOD, up to three times a day, up to five days in a row, assuming you don’t have any kidney problems or other reasons not to take ibuprofen. That should decrease bleed/pain by 30 percent! If that doesn’t cut it, then talk to your doctor and consider the hormonal IUD, implant, ring, patch, pills

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