The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Amy Stein PT, DPT and Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

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Who are LGBTQ+ individuals?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we have been meeting and studying with experts about the LGBTQ + community. LGBTQ+ refers to individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or do not identify as cis- gendered (although these two categories are not mutually exclusive). Cis-gender means you identify with the genital anatomy you were born with. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community can be cis-gendered (meaning they identify with the genital anatomy that they were born with) and be gay/lesbian/ bisexual/ questioning etc.  They can be trans-gender and heterosexual or some combination thereof. Basically LGBTQ+ is a term that includes people who are not both cis-gender and heterosexual. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other individuals.  

Never Assume. Listen, Ask.

We were excited to understand and learn more about how we can help, specifically with patients experiencing pain or weakness in the pelvic floor. We met with an LGBTQ + advocate and he recommended the following when it comes to treating patients both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community.  First rule of thumb:  with all patients, don’t assume and be open to any questions or discussion. Ask if your patient would like you to stay away from certain terms regarding their anatomy, as well as their preferred gender pronoun. Use language that they want us to use.

 As with all patients, we need to use a biopsychosocial approach. With any patient, Richard Green at Bellevue hospital says that we always want to know exactly what is going on with our patient. We must subjectively understand why they are visiting us.  Has there been trauma, surgery, complications, or anything that has worsened their symptoms? What hormones and medications are they on? Don’t single anyone out. These questions are important for every patient.  

We want to get the medical and surgical history during or prior to the visit. There is no standard one surgical procedure or hormonal protocol in Trans care. Hormones, either testosterone, estrogen, Lupron, puberty blocking, GNRH can be used in many patients, but are also used specifically to aid in transition in Transgender patients. Many hormones have consequences or side effects and our patients need be educated on the various options.  There is research on hormones and bodily changes, however there is no good research on how the hormones affect the pelvic region. Anti-estrogen hormones may result in vaginal drying and atrophy, more tissue tearing, and pain with penetration.  Endometriosis can be worsened with testosterone hormones.  Hormones can be administered via injection, pellets, patches, creams, gels, and pill form.  It’s important to realize side effects and risks of hormones for each patient. Dosage depends on body type, weight, previous surgeries, etc.  Hormone therapy can be given by a primary care provider or endocrinologist; however, many are not familiar with a specific protocol but at the same time each person may have different goals.  Progression of hormones can be monitored for each patient and according to patients wants and needs.  

For those who opt for surgical transition, it can result in pelvic pain and or weakness as organs are moved and or removed. Like we mentioned before, there is no one surgical protocol and it will vary from surgeon to surgeon, from changes in hormones from the removal of certain organs.  Knowing what tissues have been removed or moved and or where scar tissue could have been formed, is important to addressing a patient’s complaints. Also, it’s important to ask if the patient was having these symptoms or pain prior to any of the surgeries or hormonal medications. Surgical transition can take a long time with various surgeries and various symptoms that arise throughout. Some issues that  can occur are fistulas or fissures and when dealing with nerve implants there could be nerve damage and restrictions.

 

How is care for the LGBTQ+ community funded and regulated?

Medical coverage for the LGBTQ + community is non-regulated and different in each state. The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) covers some therapies and surgeries. You can try to appeal with each insurance which have their own policies on gender affirming care.

How can physical therapy help?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we specialize in abdomino-pelvic disorders, including pain, weakness, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.  We also specialize in orthopedics and functional manual therapy.  We treat the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome any questions at desk@beyondbasicspt.com or call 212-354-2622. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!
Resources: Center of excellence for transgender health.

WPATH center for care Endocrine Society

  • speaks on hormone therapy (however some information may be out of date).

 Adolescent Health Center

World AIDS Day

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Today, December 1st 2017, is World AIDS Day. World Aids Day has been held on the first of every December since 1988. World AIDS Day works to spread awareness of the disease and to remind the general public that AIDS and HIV still must be taken seriously and that there is still a lot of work to do in order to prevent the transmission of new cases, as well as to better care for those who are infected with the disease.

What is AIDS/HIV?

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), is caused by a virus called human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV can be treated in order to prevent AIDS, however there is currently no cure for HIV.

HIV causes AIDS by attacking the immune cells of a person’s body, which can leave a person vulnerable to infections that otherwise would not have made them sick. These infections are referred to as opportunistic infections, an opportunistic infection is a signal that someone’s HIV may have progressed into AIDS.

As said earlier, HIV doesn’t always have to progress to AIDS. Antiretroviral therapy (ART)  can work to help keep the immune system healthy, as well as lower the risk of transmitting the virus to others. People on ART have dramatically improved lifespans. It is imperative to get on ART as soon as possible to lessen the effects the HIV virus has on your immune system.

HIV Testing

1 in 7 people infected with HIV do not know they have the virus. Testing is necessary to start treatment and reduce harm done to your immune system as well as risk of transmission to others.

According to AIDS.gov, you should be tested if:

  • You have had sex with someone who is HIV positive, or someone whose status you were unsure of since your last test
  • Had tuberculosis or hepatitis
  • Used shared needles
  • Been diagnosed with another type of sexually transmitted disease

HIV/ AIDS and Physical Therapy

Physical Therapists do not treat AIDS or HIV, rather, they treat the symptoms of AIDS/HIV and HIV/AIDS treatment to allow patients to live as fully and independently as possible. Both the disease itself and the treatment for it have effects like increasing fatigue, decreasing strength and endurance, and increased pain. Physical therapy can help by tailoring programs to help with pain, ability to perform everyday tasks, improve heart health, balance, endurance, strength and flexibility.

You can mark today by doing a number of things:

Wear a red ribbon to spread awareness

Donate to groups that work to help people living with AIDS and help to prevent its transmission:

United Nations (UN AIDS)

https://donations.unaids.org/

UNICEF

https://www.unicefusa.org/donate/support-unicefs-hivaids-programs

Sources:

AIDS.gov

Resources:

HIV/Screening:

National HIV Testing database: https://gettested.cdc.gov/