Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

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Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

Why Should Everyone Care About Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the in vogue topic of the day. It is a subject that has pushed its way into American’s awareness for very good reason. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain currently affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, affecting work, sleep, and quality of life. Most importantly chronic pain has become dangerous as the opioid crisis has come to a head. Out of the 28,000 people who died of accidental drug overdose, nearly 12,000 died from painkillers, three times as many in 1999, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

What Is Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is classically defined as pain that persists more than 3 months, but it is so much more than that. When pain becomes chronic, it is actually processed in the brain differently than acute pain. This is one of the reasons chronic pain has proven to be so difficult to treat using traditional means.

Pain serves a vital function and is something we need to survive. Pain alerts us to danger like a hot stove or broken bone and compels you to take action. This “take action now” pain is acute pain. Chronic pain lingers and can be totally independent of what is actually going on in the tissue. In fact, the tissue may have healed completely and still pain persists. There are a lot of thoughts as to why pain becomes chronic. It can seem like there is nothing left to treat, and all we can do is blunt it with analgesics and painkillers. But there is more to do. All pain, whether it is acute or chronic is processed by pain receptors, the spinal cord, and finally the brain. By addressing pain at the level of the nervous systems, we can change the way stimuli are perceived in the brain, and hopefully reduce pain.

The book, Explain Pain, by David Butler and Lorimer Moseley does a really superb job explaining this concept. In the book, they explain chronic pain is the body’s response to prolonged exposure to noxious stimuli. (In non medical person terms: basically if you have pain for a long time, the body becomes much more sensitive to things that may or may not be painful or damaging). In states of chronic pain, your body can actually lower the threshold for something to become considered painful in the brain. Meaning, that simple stimuli like tight fitting clothing, or sitting can feel very painful. Your body is doing this, because it is on guard for anything that might hurt it. Chronic pain is your body’s way of looking out for you, but has gone way too far.

This blog is not long enough to dig into all of the varied nuances of how and why chronic pain occurs, but if your interest is peaked, I would highly recommend taking a look at Explain Pain or The Explain Pain Protectometer in order to dig down into the deep and fascinating science behind chronic pain.

False Leads and Dead Ends In Pain

Opiods, Addiction, and Efficacy

The nature of chronic pain has proven to be elusive for patients and healthcare practitioners alike. In the 1990’s, in an effort to finally address chronic pain, opiods became much more widely used. At the time, drugs like Oxycontin were marketed as a safe way to treat chronic pain. The manufacturer of Oxycotin, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, instructed their drug representatives to tell doctors that the rate of addiction for long term Oxycotin users was 1%, according to pharma who help fund these studies. Although one study did indeed find these numbers many other found addiction rates in excess of 40%.

Probably one of the most unfortunate aspects of the push by pharma to prescribe opioids more freely, is despite marketing to the contrary, there have been more and more studies supporting the theory that opioids may in fact be ineffective for the treatment of chronic pain. Studies of worker’s compensation patients being treated for chronic pain indicate that patients on higher opioid dose, return to work more slowly than those on lower doses. Additionally, patients with back pain, who are being treated with long term opiod therapy report greater disability than those who are not on opioids.

Opiods have their place, especially in the treatment of cancer, procedural, and end of life pain, however it is becoming more and more clear that opiods are not the miracle drug we once thought they were in the treatment of long term chronic pain. The increased risks of addiction, accidental overdose, falls and fractures, depression, and severe constipation (which can indeed worsen the pain for which the opiod was prescribed in the first place), make it clear that as a medical community, we need to find a safer and more effective way to reduce chronic pain symptoms.

First steps

If you can find a cause, but at the same time don’t get hung up on it.

This is easier said than done. Often times, by the time patients reach us here at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, they have folders that are stuffed to the brim with expensive diagnostic tests that read “unremarkable”. This can be incredibly frustrating for someone suffering with very real pain. My first word of advice is, If something doesn’t feel right with your body, don’t stop looking for help, until you find someone who can truly help you. There are many pain conditions like, chronic prostatitis and endometriosis. Which are poorly understood by many providers, that require treatment and or consultation by a specialist. This isn’t to say that the clinicians that are unfamiliar with chronic pain conditions aren’t fabulous providers, but these chronic pain conditions often require a clinician who spends his or her career treating and managing these type of pain syndromes. Basically, don’t allow yourself to be written off by any clinician who tries to tell you your pain isn’t real. It is, but most importantly there are things to be done. At Beyond Basics, we have extensive training on chronic pain conditions, additionally we have multiple connections with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians who treat chronic pain, that we will often refer too if we feel additional intervention beyond physical therapy is necessary.

I am warning you, before you read this paragraph, I am about to say something that on its face will seem mind numbingly contradictory. Bear with me please, and read the entire passage. If you do get a diagnosis, do not expect an immediate cure of pain. Chronic pain has gone past the point of solely being about tissue damage. A chronic undiagnosed infection, muscle spasm, or injury should be treated to remove the fire or proximate cause of the pain. Just because the pain is gone, does not mean the nervous system will immediately calm down. In chronic pain, treating the proximate cause enables the nervous system to begin to down regulate (or less threat sensitive) with further treatment, but does not always guarantee immediate cure.

This brings me to the problem with imaging. Imaging is a great tool and advances in the ubiquity and affordability of imaging techniques like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are allowing more and more people glimpses inside their body. If you have ever looked at an MRI of yourself the feeling is profound. I have been fortunate enough to see both my brain and right hip in mind blowing detail on MRI. It’s amazing, but sometimes knowing where every tear, herniation, and bit of swelling is not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous to some patients.

I am not being hyperbolic simply to drive a point home. Early and unindicated MRI in cases of low back pain has been shown to result in increased time spent on disability and increased cost of care ranging between $8,000-13,000 according to the article by Webster, cited in the sources. The fact is with imaging as powerful as MRI, we get to see almost EVERYTHING and because MRIs are getting slightly cheaper and more common, we are identifying structural changes like disc herniation in people, who might not have had a reason to suspect that there was something wrong in their spine in the first place. Sometimes knowing there is a structural abnormality in your body can cause pain and hypervigilance, when prior to knowing, you may not have had the same quality or as much pain in the first place.. Reports indicate that disc herniation and narrowing of the spinal cord can be seen in up to 57% of people who have no symptoms at all. It’s not a far leap to imagine someone with pain hanging all of their problems on a slipped disc if the MRI shows it. What’s worse, is MRI results are alluring and can often lead practitioners down the wrong path of treatment, because it is an easy answer.

In physical therapy school, my professors drilled into us, with almost religious fervor, treat what you find. A fabulous Physician’s Assistant of mine also told me 90% of what you need to know is in a patient’s history of their present illness. It is so true. You can tell a lot about the origin of the pain by asking questions like, how long has it been around, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what does it feel like. Imaging can sometimes be a bit of a red herring, rushing well intentioned clinicians towards what they think is a cure, while skipping some crucial information through gathering steps that would aid in a more accurate diagnosis.

MRI’s aren’t all bad. They can be life saving and life improving when they are used appropriately. There are many clinical practice guidelines that guide providers on when it may be beneficial to order MRI or other imaging, however, research has certainly borne out that early imaging is actually counter productive in the treatment of chronic pain.

 

If you find a cause, great. If you don’t, or still feel bad don’t despair

We place so much of our hopes on diagnosis. It seems logical that if there is a cause, there must be a cure. Unfortunately, it is not alway so simple. We went over in the opening paragraphs about how chronic pain is more than what’s going on in a specific body part, it also involves the brain. Sometimes simply curing the tissues is not enough. Sometimes we never know what the cause is. This can be so frustrating for patients. As a pelvic pain specialist, I treat a lot of patients with pelvic floor pain and spasm, who have not yet figured out what specific incident brought the pain on. Rarely, in these cases, is there the “oh, crap” moment, when you realize you have injured yourself. Sometimes the development of chronic pain is like having a water glass. We are all born with water glasses of different sizes. We pour a little water in for something like poor posture, genetics, injury, diet, stress, etc., and when our water glass has overflowed, we develop chronic pain. There is no one definitive cause in cases of the overflowing water glass. Many factors have contributed, and many factors must be addressed in order to treat it properly. That’s why the holistic, mind-body approach is really where it’s at, when we treat chronic pain.

Now that you have a grasp on pain science and how chronic pain can behave differently from acute pain, you can begin to approach treating and dealing with it in a different way. In part two of this blog we will discuss different treatments for chronic pain, including yoga, acupuncture, meditation, of course, physical therapy, and many more. Please stay tuned.

Sources:

AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine. http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx. [Accessed June 25, 2017]

Butler, David S, and G L. Moseley. Explain Pain. Adelaide: Noigroup Publications, 2003. Print.

Zee A. The Promotion and Marketing of Oxycotin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(2):221-227

Singh P, Chaturvedi A. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Cancer Pain Management: A Systematic Review. Indian J Palliat Care. 2015. 21(1): 105-15

Von Korff M. Long-term use of opiods for complex chronic pain. Best Pract Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Oct 27(5):663-72

Webster B, Bauer A, Choi Y, et al. Iatrogenic Consequences of Early Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Acute, Work Related Low Back Pain. Spine. 2013. 38(22) 1939-46

A Holiday Gift for You! BBPT is Offering Free Consults for People Living in the Greater NYC Area!

Group Serious 2

Any persistent pain or chronic back or pelvic pain can be tough. It is tough to have and often times it can be extremely isolating. Many of our patients have to go through a number of clinicians before they even get a diagnosis of pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are reading this blog, you probably have some questions about pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you.

We are here to help. If you are living in the Greater New York Area and have some questions about orthopedic, sports or pelvic floor dysfunction and if physical therapy is right for you, I encourage you to call our office. For a limited period of time, we are offering free 15-minute phone consults with our licensed physical therapists to patients in the greater New York Area. For those of you living outside this area, a fee may apply to the consult but can be applied towards payment for a PT visit if you chose to visit us. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about your pelvic floor and what PT can do for you.

The Physical Therapists at Beyond Basics also treat orthopedic (sport and joint injuries), pediatric pelvic floor dysfunction and orthopedic injury, and much more. Give us a call to discuss how PT can help with any one of these issues!

All the best,

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Ph101 Men’s Only Seminar

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

On November 1st, at 7pm we will be hosting our  “Men’s Only Seminar”. Join Sarah Paplanus, DPT and Dr. Seth Cohen as they discuss how pelvic floor dysfunction affects the male pelvic floor. Learn how your sex life can be improved by pelvic floor treatment, how to regain function after a prostatectomy, and how to rid yourself of the pain of prostatitis, and avoid antibiotics for the most common type of prostatitis. This seminar is not to be missed!

For more reading on men’s pelvic health topics, check out:

All About Testicles

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Read more about our hosts here:

Sarah Paplanus PT, DPT

Sarah graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Manhattan College and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Hunter College. Her clinical studies included advanced training in manual therapy at Functional Physical Therapy in Denver, Colorado. She has continued her training as a functional manual therapist with the Institute of Physical Art and is pursuing certification in Functional Manual Therapy (CFMT).

Prior to joining Beyond Basics, Sarah spent over five years specializing in orthopedics. Her interest in pelvic floor physical therapy grew through working alongside talented pelvic floor physical therapists and seeing the connections between orthopedics and pelvic floor dysfunction. Sarah has continued her training in pelvic health through the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation Institute.

Sarah is a member of the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS).

Seth Cohen, MD, MPH 

Dr. Cohen treats erectile dysfunction, male sexual dysfunction, low testosterone, benign prostatic hyperplasia, enlarged prostate,  and kidney stones and other conditions including male and female pelvic pain. 

Credentials

Positions
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Urology
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Board Certifications
  • American Board of Urology – Urology, 2016
Education and Training
  • Fellowship, Univ of CA San Diego Med Ctr, Sexual Medicine, 2014
  • Residency, Lenox Hill Hospital, Urology, 2012
  • MD from Tulane University, 2007
  • MPH from Tulane University, 2003
Departments
  • Urology, 
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Location:

110 East 42nd street

Suite 1504

NY NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

PH101: Ladies Only Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a women’s only session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on October 25th, 2018. Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

awareness cancer design pink
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon, DPT

Have you noticed an increase in the amount of pink on just about everything the last couple of days? The increase of pink everything is because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Breast Cancer is an extremely common cancer. According to the Nation Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Men can also get breast cancer, however, it is much rarer for men to develop breast cancer. Luckily with early detection and treatment of early stage and localized cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is 100%. That being said, early detection is crucial and it is important to catch breast cancer early to ensure the best possible outcome. Let’s take some time to review the signs of breast cancer and recommended screening protocols.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

  • Change of Sensation/ texture of the Breast or Nipples
    • Lumps, change in texture in the breast, nipple, or underarm area
  • Change in appearance of Breast or Nipple
    • Swelling
    • Shrinkage
    • Dimpling
    • Change of nipple orientation
  • Discharge from nipple

Detection

Recommended Screening:

Mammogram

  • Recommended every 1-2 years for women who are 40 years old or older.
  • May be recommended for women who are under 40, but have increased risk of breast cancer.

 

Genetic Testing

For some types of breast cancer, there is a very specific link to a person’s genes and her or his risk of developing breast cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that are responsible for the production of certain tumor-suppressing proteins. In some populations, there are mutations in these genes that disable their tumor-fighting properties. These gene mutations are relatively rare and currently, screening is recommended just for individuals with increased risk of harboring these mutations. According to the National Cancer Institute, individuals who are at higher risk and should consider genetic testing are:

  • Individuals who have a male relative who has developed breast cancer
  • History of BRCA related cancers within family history
  • People of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry
  • Breast Cancer diagnosed before age 50 in family
  • Multiple cases of breast cancer in family

Individuals that test positive for BRCA mutations may consider increased screening, prophylactic surgery or chemoprevention.

Mastectomy and Physical Therapy

Mastectomy, removal of the breast is currently the most common treatment for breast cancer. Some women chose to have their breasts reconstructed after their mastectomy and others do not. It is obviously a very personal choice.  Like any surgery, mastectomies require close postoperative care to ensure maximal function and recovery.

You may have read the last sentence, and thought, “What is the function of the breast, besides breastfeeding and for sexual pleasure?” The breast lies in an important intersection in the body. The armpit (axilla) contains bundles of nerves, blood vessels, and lymph vessels that course through it, serving the arm down to the fingers. After a mastectomy, their course can be interrupted by scar tissue, radiation damage (if your treatment included radiation), causing painful conditions such as nerve entrapments, frozen shoulder, and lymphedema, ( a backup of lymph fluid, if left unchecked can cause permanent damage and deformation of the arm).

victoria2016Victoria LaManna, DPT, CLT, is our lymphedema expert. If you have had a mastectomy and are unsure about lymphedema care, she is an excellent resource. She will be able to instruct you in self- care and lymphedema prevention measures. Physical therapy can also help to release scar tissue in the breast and upper arm area, regain strength in the arm, and ultimately improve your function. Visit us, and read up on Victoria’s bio here, as well ask on our website at:  www.beyondbasicspt.com/lymphedema

Sources:

http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/. Accessed: September 24, 2016

National Cancer Institute. BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics/brca-fact-sheet#q1. Accessed September 25,2016

http://www.beyondbasicspt.com/lymphedema

PH101: Does my Diet Really Matter?

Fiona McMahon, DPT

 

 

Gluten free, soy free, low FODMAP… It’s amazing how many diets there are out there that really can provide people with symptom relief. If you are suffering with chronic pain you may be confused on where to start, or what is right for you. You also may have tried out a bunch of different ways of eating, not seen results, and got really frustrated. If this sounds like you, I highly encourage you to come to our next pelvic health seminar on October 4th  at 7pm “Does my diet really matter”.

jessica-drummond-headshot-197x300This seminar will be hosted by a special guest speaker, nutritionist Jessica Drummond, MPT,CCN,CHC. Jessica Drummond is a former pelvic floor physical therapist who now specializes in nutrition for those suffering with pelvic floor dysfunction. This seminar has been a huge hit and is a great starting point for those considering adding nutrition as part of their healing journey.

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com today.

 

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2018

 

LGBTQ+ Topics: Special Considerations for People with Prostate Cancer in the LGBTQ+ Community

blue and orange light projeced on left hand of person
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (pronouns: She, Her, Hers)-practices in our midtown office

We have talked about prostate cancer many times on this blog. It is an exceedingly common condition and represents 26% of new cancer cases in cis-men, second only to skin cancer, and 14% of cis-men will experience it within their lifetimes. Prostate cancer can affect one’s life dramatically in terms of sexuality, continence, and even their self perception. Even though prostate cancer can have such a dramatic effect on sex and sexuality, there is little information out there on prostate cancer that is not heteronormative. It is estimated conservatively that 3-12% of America’s population self identifies as lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, or questioning (LGTBQ+). For people in this community navigating a heteronormative healthcare system can be alienating, frustrating, and downright dangerous. Today, we are going to take some time to discuss what is known about prostate cancer specifically in men who have sex with men as well as trans women.

Prostate Cancer Basics

Prostate cancer typically occurs later on in life. It is extremely common and its incidence is rising, likely due to a rise in prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing. Prostate cancer is a very survivable cancer with the 5 year survival rate being estimated at 84-92%. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, removal of the prostate, or some combination thereof. That being said, common side effects of prostate cancer treatment include bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pain. These side effects can be improved with medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. People who are at risk for prostate cancer are people who have advanced age, African ancestry, live in certain geographic locations, and those who smoke.

Are Men who Have Sex with Men at Increased Risk?

This is the first out of many examples in this blog where we need more research. There are certain conditions that have been associated with men who have sex with men that may be a risk factor or protective against prostate cancer. Men with HIV seem to be an increased risk factor for prostate cancer, however the antiretroviral therapy for it may be protective. See how this is super confusing? Additionally use of supplements, steroids may increase risk for prostate cancer.

These are all pretty strong “mays”. What we do know is that men who have sex with men are less likely to have up to date PSA testing. Black men who have sex with men are even less likely to be up to date with their PSA’s. This fact can be correlated to the subjective experience many men who have sex with men express when navigating a heteronormative healthcare field. We will talk more later about barriers to healthcare in the LGBTQ+ community and ways clinicians can work to reduce these barriers for their patients.

What About Transgender Women?

There is very little reported about trans women with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer in transwomen is relatively rare especially after removal of the testicles. That being said, it can occur if a transwoman has her medical transition later on in life. In the case study cited below, the authors posit that it may be possible for androgen receptors to become more sensitive to androgens when androgens are at a low level. Androgens are produced by the testicles and are thought to contribute to the development of prostate cancer. If small amounts of cancerous or precancerous cells were present on the prostate prior to testicle removal, they may have continued to develop in the presence of the small amount of testosterone produced elsewhere in the body.. All this being said, prostate cancer is a rare condition in transwomen, but it does beg the important questions like, do we remove a woman’s prostate when she is transitioning, which can be a source of pleasure and erotic function for some transwomen. Most experts agree that transwomen with prostates should be screened for cancer. This is an area where more research is definitely needed.

Why One -Size Fits All Fits None

Men who have sex with men and transwomen have different sexual roles and expectations than the hetero and cis-gender community, and applying heteronormative treatment approaches in the sexual rehabilitation of people recovering from prostate cancer can leave a lot to be desired. The prostate can be a huge source of sexual pleasure for some men who have sex with men and  some transwomen. Men who have sex with men are much more likely to report that the prostate as a pleasure center than their hetero and or cis counterparts. A prostatectomy can represent a loss, and should be respected as such. Also for men and trans women participating in penetrative anal sex, the erection requirements are different than those required to participate in vaginal penetration. The penis requires much more rigidity to penetrate the anus than it does the vagina, ( We should keep in mind the requirement to be able to participate in penetrative anal sex may be important for men who have sex with women exclusively.) Detailed sexual histories should be taken for every patient.

Tips for Providers

Only 68% percent of LGBTQ+ patients are “out” to their clinicians. This is an important stat to keep in mind when performing an intake and subsequent treatment with patients. Avoiding heteronormative assumptions, like assuming a man with a wedding ring is married to a woman, can be a helpful step in the right direction. Displaying a rainbow flag somewhere in your office can also set the stage for a more open conversation that can help you better address the needs of your patients. To learn more about this population check out our resources below. For people who are used to viewing the world through a heteronormative lense, this can take a concerted effort, but it is well worth it in the name of improving patient care for all of your clients!

We have offices in both midtown and downtown locations. If you are dealing with prostate cancer, please give us a call at

212-354-2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 (Downtown)

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our midtown location

fiona2018

Blogs: 

The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Resources:

Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery https://www.amazon.com/Gay-Bisexual-Living-Prostate-Cancer/dp/1939594251

A Gay Man’s Guide to Prostate Cancer

https://www.amazon.com/Prostate-Journal-Psychotherapy-Monographic-Separates/dp/1560235527

Malecare https://malecare.org/

Healthcare Equality Index: A tool to find hospitals with established and effective policies for improving LGBTQ+ care http://www.hrc.org/hei/search

Sources

Ussher J, Perz J, Simon Rosser B. R. Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2018. Print

Quinn G, Sanchez J, Sutton S, et al. Cancer in lesbian,gay, bisexual, transgender/transexual and queer/questioning populations (LGBTQ). CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(5):384-400

Rosser S, Merengwa E, Capistrant B, et al. Prostate cancer in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men: a review. LGBTQ Health(3)1. 2016; 32-41

Turo R, Jallad S, Prescott S, et al. Metastatic prostate cancer in transsexual diagnosed after three decades of estrogen therapy.