Male Birth Control With a Flip of A Switch

The future of contraception may allow men to control their fertility with just a flip of an on-off switch! This switch, called the Bimek SLV, was developed by German researchers. This might just be the most innovative uses of technology when it comes to birth control for men.

How exactly does it work?

It’s a small device about the size of a gummy bear that attaches to each of the two spermatic ducts and functions to regulate the release of sperm cells. In its closed state, the device obstructs the release of sperm during ejaculation. It diverts only the flow of the sperm cells, not the ejaculatory fluid. So men can expect to ejaculate normally. Sperm actually makes up only about 5% of the ejaculatory fluid. The rest is made of other substances such as proteins, enzymes, and water.

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Conversely, the valve can be easily switched open and allow the release of sperm, immediately restoring fertility. The sperm cells that are blocked are ejected out of the spermatic duct through several outlets on the device. Outside of the ducts, special cells known as phagocytes break down sperm. The Bimek SLV is proposed as a life-long, hormone-free method for men to control their fertility.

What would the experience of getting this entail?

First off, a medical examination would be required to make sure that he is a good candidate for the device. An incision is made on the testicles and the devices inserted. The procedure to implant the switch is similar to undergoing a vasectomy. Therefore, the risk of complications or adverse effects after insertion is very low. The procedure itself takes only 30 minutes and is done under local anesthesia. And although it only takes only 1 day to recover, it does take 3 to 6 months before the device becomes completely functional and is able to divert sperm from the ejaculatory fluid.

How much does it cost?

Estimated costs for the surgery and the two Bimek SLV valves is about €5000 Euros or about $5,400 US dollars. Pricey, indeed!

It may be years before this device even lands in the US marketplace because it still needs to undergo clinical trials to make sure it’s safe and effective. If everything runs according to schedule, the device is projected to receive European market approval in 2018.

For more information, see the Bimek SLV website.  Or watch this video:


KevinVuPharmDCandidate

About the Author: Kevin Vu is a recent graduate from the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

9 Reasons To Get This Year’s Flu Vaccine

It’s that time of year again!  Time to gear up for the cold and flu season.  The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu infection and its potential health consequences.

  1. This year’s vaccine should be more EFFECTIVE than last year’s.  Last year, there were two strains — one Influenza A and one Influenza B — that evolved after the vaccine was made.  So the vaccine was only effective in 20-25% of cases.  In the few years before last year, the vaccine was effective in around 50% of cases.  We expect to go back to that this year.  We wish it was 100% effective of course.  But wouldn’t you rather prevent 50% of cases of a potentially deadly infection than none?
  2. Young and old most VULNERABLE.  Children and young adults below age 20, along with older adults above age 80, have the highest rates of the flu.Flu Vaccine Young Old Choose Control
  3. Flu KILLS.  People who die from the flu almost always have an underlying medical condition.  Women may be more likely to die from the flu than men.
  4. Everyone 6 months old and older SHOULD get the flu vaccine every year.  This hasn’t always been the case since recommendations have changed.  Infants younger than 6 months will be protected if everyone they have contact with is vaccinated.  The immunity you got from last year’s vaccine has faded over time and you have to get a vaccine again this year.  The vaccine usually changes every year.  There are new flu strains added to the vaccine every year based on what is most likely to be spread that year.  Not enough people are getting this vaccine.  Only 50% of American children and 70% of American adults age 65 and older got the vaccine last year.Flu Vaccine
  5. The vaccine does NOT cause the flu.  It can cause some side effects, like soreness where the injection was given, a fever, coughing, headache, or fatigue.  A severe allergic reaction is very rare — about 1 in 1,000,000 doses — and warrants immediate medical attention.  It takes about 2 weeks for your immune system to respond to the vaccine and fully protect you, so get the vaccine as soon as you can — ideally by October.
  6. Very FEW people should not get the vaccine.  If you have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, you should not get the flu vaccine.  If you’ve had a severe allergy to any component of the flu vaccine, you shouldn’t get it.  Otherwise, get it!  If you have a fever or aren’t feeling well, wait until you’re feeling better to get it.  Some of the vaccines have a small amount of egg protein, so if you are allergic to eggs let your healthcare prover know so they can be sure to give you a vaccine that is safe for you.  People who can’t get the vaccine for safety reasons rely on everyone else to get it and keep them protected.
  7. PREGNANT women should get the vaccine.  Pregnant women have a higher risk of serious illness due to the flu.  The flu vaccine is an essential element of preconception, prenatal, and postpartum care, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  The vaccine not only protects the mother, but also protects the newborn baby in the first months of life.Flu Vaccine Pregnant Pregnancy Choose Control
  8. Vaccines do NOT cause autism.  I’m not going to get into this issue because you can read all about it from the experts: CDC summary, CDC studies, and American Academy of Pediatrics recent statement.
  9. You have OPTIONS when it comes to the flu vaccines.  There are many different products available, ranging from shots to nasal mists.  You can also visit your doctor’s office or local pharmacy at your convenience to get your flu shot.  The vaccine is typically free with your insurance or from a community-based program.  Worst case, you may have to pay a small fee of about $20 for the vaccine.Flu Vaccine Nasal Flumist

For more information, check out the CDC website for this year’s flu season.


Photos by Seth Capitulo, Anil Jadhav, Tobias Lindman, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District via Flickr

What Your Organ Transplant Means for Your Fertility

For women undergoing an organ transplant, you’ve got a lot on your mind and birth control probably isn’t high on your list.

I recently did a study with Drs. Sally Rafie, PharmD, BCPS and Sheila Mody, MD, MPH to find out more about the education women get about birth control and which methods they are using after their transplants. This study was just published in December in the Progress in Transplantation journal. Here’s what you need to know.

Transplant Contraception Birth Control Choose Control Sophia Lai Sally Rafie

Why use birth control after a transplant?

There are three major reasons to be on birth control after an organ transplant.

  1. The transplant restores a woman’s fertility. While fertility may have been impaired before the transplant because of severe disease, it returns quickly. So women are at risk of an unplanned pregnancy if they don’t use an effective form of birth control.
  2. Getting pregnant may cause serious damage to a transplanted organ. Pregnancy is a big deal for a woman’s body and even more so for women with certain conditions, such as an organ transplant. Women with a transplanted kidney who become pregnant may cause serious damage to their kidney. Generally, it is recommended that women wait 1-2 years after their transplant surgery to become pregnant. In some cases, this can be done safely after 6 months. This is a decision that is made best upon consultation with a transplant provider.
  3. Transplant medications can cause birth defects. After an organ transplant, many medications have to be taken to keep the immune system at bay so the body doesn’t reject the organ. Some of these medications, called immunosuppressants, can increase the risk of birth defects.

Since one out of every three women who gets a transplant is of reproductive age, we wanted to find out what information they get about birth control and which methods they use.

What were the key findings?

Just to get an idea of the “average” patient we were looking at, the average age was 34 years old and the average time after transplant was 9 months.

  1. Most patients received counseling on condoms, birth control pills, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Patients were counseled by their transplant team, which includes a transplant doctor, transplant nurse, and transplant pharmacist. However, nearly half of the patients wanted to be counseled by an Ob/Gyn doctor, who specializes in female reproductive organs.
  2. Women are not using highly effective birth control methods after their transplants.  Most women are just using condoms for birth control, which are not as effective as other methods and not reliable enough for women following an organ transplant.

What should you do about birth control and pregnancy planning if you have had a transplant?

You have the right to be informed about all your birth control options. Talk to your primary care doctor or transplant provider (doctor, nurse, or pharmacist) about your plans.

If you would like to become pregnant, your transplant provider will need to be involved in planning for changes to your health and may want to consult an Ob/Gyn doctor. If you do not want to become pregnant, ask your transplant provider to refer you to an Ob/Gyn doctor or other family planning specialist so you can find out your birth control options. You can even start these conversations before your transplant.


About the Author:  Sophia LSophia Lai Choose Control Transplant Birth Control Contraception Studyai is a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. Upon graduating in 2015, Sophia plans to pursue additional training in a pharmacy practice residency program.

(Photo above of doctors with patient from Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr)

Expert Interview: Dr. Veronica Vernon

vernon veronica pharmacist womens health choose controlMost people are familiar with the roles of physicians and nurses, but don’t always know what pharmacists roles are. Dr. Veronica Vernon is a clinical pharmacist specializing in women’s health and shares a little about what she offers her patients.

How did you become interested in women’s health?

Through high school, I struggled with some gynecological issues, and this really sparked my interest in learning more about women’s health. During pharmacy school, my interest grew as I discovered more about the differences in how medications work in men and women and how to treat women’s health conditions. I noticed that many practicing pharmacists and fellow classmates were uncomfortable discussing women’s health issues. I desired to further grow my knowledge in order to meet a need I saw in my community.

Who benefits the most from having a women’s health pharmacist caring for them?

I see patients by myself sometimes and other times with a doctor. The gynecologist refers patients to me who have menopausal symptoms, side effects from birth control, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and those who are pregnant or want to be. The patients who have multiple chronic illnesses or complicated medical issues seem to be benefiting the most from having me work with their doctors. I treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and low thyroid function as well.

Pharmacists are an integral part of any women’s health care team, since we understand how medications can work differently in women and we are the medication experts. Discussing your medication use with a pharmacist is extremely important to make sure that you are not experiencing any side effects and the medication is optimally working. We can also help prevent and manage chronic illnesses. I always discuss how to live a healthy lifestyle with all of my patients. My favorite part of my job is helping women lead healthier lives.

Do you think other hospitals or clinics should hire a women’s health pharmacist?

I firmly believe other VAs, health systems, and clinics should hire a pharmacist focused on women’s health. I have been able to spearhead initiatives, such as providing emergency contraception to our female veterans and the use of methotrexate for ectopic pregnancies, in our health system. I also lend my services to the smaller VA hospitals in our region that do not have the resources to hire their own women’s health pharmacist.

I can see patients using a video conference system (similiar to Skype) and assess their symptoms and manage their issues virtually. I enjoy this more than a phone call since the patient and I can actually see each other without having to be in the same room.

I serve as a resource to all of our providers in my VA faciltiy and provide quarterly education sessions each year on women’s health topics. This allows my facility to improve the overall quality of care provided to female patients.

What are your top 3 tips for women based on what you’re seeing among your patients?

  1. Women should make sure they are getting regular check-ups (including pap smears if indicated) and talk with their doctor regarding ways they can prevent chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  2. Women should find a healthcare provider with whom they feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Many women are embarassed to bring up gynecological-related symptoms, such as pain during intercourse or vaginal burning or itching, but these are important issues to discuss with your healthcare provider.
  3. Women should keep an updated medication list with them at all times (I recommend keeping one in your purse or wallet) and know why they are taking each medication. Being well-informed about your health is empowering and allows you to take control of your health instead of your letting your health control you.

What do you wish you could do for your patients?

I would really enjoy starting a prenatal class for our patients who are pregnant. I think meeting with a pharmacist throughout their pregnancies would be extremely beneficial. I think my patients would like the support system that could be formed through this class. I would want to bring in other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and dieticians, who could support my patients.


About the Expert: Dr. Veronica Vernon, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP is a board-certified pharmacist practicing at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs L Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Butler University.  Dr. Vernon is a North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Certified Menopause Practitioner.  Female veterans who would like to make an appointment with Dr. Vernon should call (317)988-4917. 

Birth Control for Women with Diabetes

Since November is National Diabetes Month, it’s the perfect time to review birth control options for women with diabetes.  The CDC estimates there are 29 million Americans living with diabetes, including 8 million who have it and don’t know it.  While prevention, screening, and managing diabetes are extremely important for one’s health, it is also important to consider how this impacts other health goals and medications, such as family planning and birth control.

So which birth control methods can be used safely by women who have diabetes?  I hate to say this, but it depends.  Luckily, it only depends on whether you’ve diabetes for over 20 years or have complications of diabetes, such as damage to the kidneys, eyes, nerves, or other vascular diseases.  If you’ve had diabetes for over 20 years or have complications of diabetes, you should not use the birth control injection (“depo”) or the combination hormonal methods such as the combination pill, patch, or ring.  It is still safe to use the progestin-only pill, hormonal implant, or IUDs.

The good news is the prevalence of diabetes among reproductive-aged women is low (3% diagnosed, 0.5% undiagnosed).  Most women who have longstanding or complicated diabetes with changes to kidneys, eyes, nerves, or other vascular changes have already been diagnosed and are well aware of it.  For this reason, your provider does not need to check your blood sugar (called glucose) when screening for birth control use.  Your provider may ask you whether you have diabetes.  If you have diabetes, help answer your provider’s questions about it to help your provider determine which methods of birth control are safe for you.

Hormonal birth control can have an effect on blood sugar in women with or without diabetes, but the effect is minimal.  So there’s no need to screen for diabetes or monitor your blood sugar when using birth control.  To be clear, you should get screened and monitor as recommended for general health and wellness, but there are no additional screenings because you are on birth control.

Since a woman with diabetes can have complications if she gets pregnant, it is important to plan the pregnancy and get prenatal care.  See the American Diabetes Association’s advice for pregnancy.  Even women who do not have diabetes are at risk of developing diabetes during their pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes.

Discussing family planning goals with your health care providers is very important, especially for women who have diabetes.