Tag Archives: LGBT health

Individuals with HIV Age 14 Years Faster, According to Study

A diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be; we’ve come a long way. However, there is a new study that was published in PLOS One that shows that although HIV positive individuals are typically living longer, they may be aging more quickly than expected. The study shows that those with HIV are at a greater risk of age-related diseases including kidney disease, frailty, osteoporosis, neurocognitive disease and some cancers.

Researchers are not pointing to the medications used to treat HIV as being the reason for faster aging; they think it’s HIV itself and that it speeds the process by 14 years.  Scientists from the Multi-Center AIDS Cohort Study and the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research looked at whether HIV induced epigenetic changes that are age-related, meaning those changes to the DNA that do not change the genetic code, lead to changes in expression of genes. These types of transitions are triggered by the aging process itself or environmental factors.

Individuals with HIV Age 14 Years Faster, According to Study

One of the study’s senior authors, Beth Jamieson, professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, director of the UCLA Flow Cytometry Core said, “While we were surprised by the number of epigenetic changes that were significantly associated with both aging and HIV-infection, we were most surprised that the data suggests HIV-infection can accelerate aging-related epigenetic changes by 13.7 to 14.7 years.”  There is published data and anecdotal evidence that lines up with this number. It suggests that treated HIV positive adults may develop age-related diseases, about a decade sooner than those who are uninfected.

The study looked at 96 samples of white blood cells from both young and old HIV patients before they began Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). DNA was then extracted and looked at for changes. When studied, there was a lot of overlap when the pattern of changes was compared to the pattern connected with aging. After extrapolating the biological ages of the HIV positive patients, researchers found that the patients were 14 years older than their actual age on both a cellular and physiological level.

Researchers say that this data suggests that HIV speeds up some aspects of the aging process, and there are common mechanisms found in both HIV-related aging and general aging. They consider the results of the study to be an important start in the attempt to find therapeutic approaches to mitigate the effects of HIV and aging.

Statement from American Geriatrics Society on LGBT Health Released

The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) has released a new position statement on the Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Older Adults as they are paying attention to the crucial role of health care professionals who take care of older LGBT adults. The AGS mentioned various factors involving LGBT health, which included Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index, which says that even though there are existing requirements that forbid discrimination in healthcare facilities, they haven’t all made policies including non-discrimination for gender identity or sexual orientation.

The AGS made a statement that lists measures to improve care for the LGBT population. Included are suggestions for healthcare providers to:

  • Create, evaluate, and publicize policies for equal treatment of LGBT patients regardless of age
  • Implement LGBT health training programs for professionals who treat older individuals
  • Support high-quality research addressing LGBT health and discrimination
  • Ensure that older LGBT adult care reflects the particular healthcare and social circumstances these patients face, from the role of partners and chosen family members in health decisions to the need for a supportive culture of respect

Statement from American Geriatrics Society on LGBT Health Released

As the older population of the US continues to grow, these recommendations offer a hopeful future for those older in the LGBT population. Studies are still indicating that compliance with current regulations, which are supposed to protect LGBT people from discrimination, is well under 100 percent. And, evidence indicates that LGBT patients who believe a clinician is uncomfortable or unknowledgeable will be less likely to pursue health care decisions that are necessary, whether the clinician is intending to create the atmosphere or not.

Alexia Torke, MD, MS, who contributed to the statement said, “Raising the bar for high-quality, culturally sensitive geriatric care in all forms and for all people is so important to creating an empowered public equipped to advocate on its own behalf and in concert with health providers.” And, “We–patients and providers alike–need to share and celebrate these recommendations, and live them in our personal and professional lives. It’s our hope they’ll be a rising tide that lifts all ships.”

It is incredibly important that healthcare providers are aware and educated of the obstacles older LGBT (who are not as likely to be out to their providers) individuals face, and make sure they are protected from discrimination and feel safe and comfortable speaking with medical professionals.

Potentially Awkward Situations Some Lesbians Face

It’s not always easy to just be yourself. Some lesbians get much more comfortable and confident about awkward situations, but there are many to deal with. Here are some potentially uncomfortable situations lesbians tend to experience:

Questions about pregnancy at the doctor’s office

It’s very common to go to a doctor for any type of ailment and get asked the question, “Is there a possibility that you are pregnant?” Sometimes, even if you’ve seen this doctor numerous times…they never seem to remember. After a while the nurse has asked you so many questions when you feel the need to just tell them you’re a lesbian because they haven’t been able to connect the dots.

Potentially Awkward Situations Some Lesbians Face

Asking other women to hang out as friends

We live in a heteronormative society and, for the most part, people tend to assume everyone is heterosexual, unless it’s otherwise confirmed. However, being a lesbian can change this view. It’s possible you want to ask a heterosexual woman to go grab a bite to eat or go to a movie (just as friends), and you worry about her perception of you, whether she feels uncomfortable that you might be asking her out romantically, or if she even knows you’re a lesbian. It can feel really awkward… and never feels less so for some lesbians, no matter how many times they’ve been through it.

Everyday interactions in a heteronormative world

Living in a heteronormative society, lesbians experience prejudices in situations that others take for granted.  For example, you might want to check in to a hotel room with your girlfriend when the front desk clerk seems to insist that you want two beds in the room. Why would you possibly want to share one? It can feel awkward for some lesbians to have to assert themselves in this type of situation, to a complete stranger who seems to have no clue.

New AGS Statement on Elderly LGBT Community

A new position statement from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) sees another segment of the medical community shining a light on treatment of the LGBT community.

This time in the spotlight is the discussion of treatment of elderly LGBT persons. With the major proliferation of LGBT equality movements around the world in excess of 50 years behind us, many persons who have spent much of their lives as out, are beginning to reach retirement age, making this an important issue for the organization to be addressing.

The statement and associated recommendations acknowledge directly a level of disparity treatment for LGBT adults, and calls for equality of treatment statements and policies to be drafted by organizations treating the elderly including gender and sexual identity. The statement calls for specific mandatory trainings in the unique needs ofLGBT individuals.

Compliance for recently strengthened nondiscrimination requirements in Medical facilities nationwide is still at remarkably low levels, so these sort of statements, by respected industry groups are actually important steps forward for LGBT persons in living healthy lives.

New AGS Statement on Elderly LGBT Community

Recent studies found that 2/3 of older LGBT persons had not filed stating their partners as health proxy, and only 22% of LGBT persons in assisted care facilities felt comfortable or were in fact open about their gender/sexual identities. It was these sobering statistics that encouraged AGS to issue these statements.

Another recent study compiled both data and first person experiences in to a single place, the first major undertaking of its kind. The study found high reports of harassment in situations where staff or other residents were aware of the individual’s identity, as well as speculation and harassment, when the person was not out, both among staff and other residents. Even more alarming, in the case of those who had filed health proxy forms stating their partner as having power of attorney, there were an extensive pattern of reports of staff being unwilling to acknowledge the person’s partner as having any power or ability to speak on the patient’s behalf.

9 in 10 respondents said they suspected they would face discrimination if they were identifying, and 1 in 10 reported knowing of or experiencing refusal to acknowledge power of attorney.

Many states have begun implementing required cultural competency trainings for staff in care facilities, and following the AGS statement, further research has been undertaken at many public and private institutions to further understand the scope of the difficulty facing LGBT people in various forms of facilities.

LGBT Needs Increasingly Attended to in More Hospitals

Many young and enlightened students approach medical school with the assumption that their curriculum will include sections on how to care for the LGBT community in a compassionate way.  This is often not the case, as Meena Thatikunta found out after receiving her medical school curriculum at Northeast Ohio Medical University.  She is a fourth year medical student.  Unfortunately, NEOMED’s curriculum is not an exception in this regard.  “For us to systematically as a health care system ignore a population that large is tragic and an injustice,” said Thatikunta.

Most U.S. medical schools dedicate maybe five hours of time to teaching future doctors LGBT- related health concerns.  And, one third of medical schools do not even touch the subject.  What’s missed out on are the crucial issues connected with knowing how to sensitively treat and communicate compassionately with LGBT individuals in a medical setting.

Thatikunta and classmates worked with the faculty at NEOMED to bring nine hours of health curriculum dedicated to LGBT issues to the school.  Beyond that, she’s working with other universities across the U.S. on a new textbook titled, “The Equal Curriculum: Student and Educator Guide to LGBT Health”, which is due to be published in the beginning of 2016.

LGBT Needs Increasingly Attended to in More Hospitals

When it comes to LGBT issues, hospitals don’t have a history of paying great attention, but it seems to be improving.  It would be wise for hospitals to improve sensitivity and services for the LGBT community, as they’re keeping ally providers in business.  Plus, it’s a compassionate step to take.

There are so many state-of-the-art developments in the medical community that it only makes sense to move progressively when it comes to the very people who are keeping it alive, and LGBT patients are part of that population.

On a positive front, LGBT-related concerns such as sexual orientation, gender identity and equal visitation rights in hospitals have been outlined in new patient and employee non-discrimination policies. These rights are central to those used by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to identify leaders in LGBT quality of healthcare in a yearly survey.  Their most recent survey listed the most recognized institutions, some of which were in California with 65, New York with 47 and Florida and Ohio with 26 each.  Out of the survey’s 507 respondents, 426 were listed as leaders in healthcare equality for the LGBT population. That’s an enormous, 100 percent increase from the previous year.

Dr. Henry Ng is co-founder and clinical director of MetroHealth’s Pride Clinic in Cleveland.  This is the first clinic of its kind in the area that specifically caters to the health needs of LGBT patients.  Anyone can visit “The Clinic”, yet there is a specific understanding that the unique health care needs of LGBT people will be addressed honestly, openly and compassionately.  Ng is also president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association in Washington DC, which offers a database of providers who have claimed to be LGBT friendly.

HPV Vaccine and Benefits for the LGBT Community

While recent advertising campaigns have educated women all over the world of the risks of the the Human Papillomavirus virus (HPV) and the benefits of the now available vaccines, recent studies have found a distinct lack of awareness among the LGBT community, and of the risks that HPV presents to those with in the LGBT community.

What is commonly known is that HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. However HPV can also cause an genital (anal) cancer, for which LGBT men are at the greatest risk. Genital HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact, the likelihood of transition is greater in the presence of irritated skin often present as a result of penetrative sex. Studies have consistently found that only 25% of men who have sex with men are familiar with HPV or the benefits of the HPV vaccination.

HPV Vaccine and Benefits for the LGBT Community

There are more than 60 forms of HPV, many of which are transferred by sex, and primarily infect the genitals frequently causing genital warts, and less frequently causing cervical, or anal cancers.

HPV is viewed as the most common sexually transmitted disease, at any time between 20 to 40 million persons are infected with the virus, and infections have been on a rise over the past decade. In adition, those infected with HIV are at a greater chance of complications from forms of HPV.

There exist two forms of vaccination against the forms of HPV which can lead to cancer—Cervarix and Gardasil. The United States approved Gardasil for use in men in 2010, and is particularly advised for LGBT men.

The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy is a barbaric practice based in pseudo-science and religious zealotry. As of August 8th, 2014, it is only banned in two states – New Jersey and California. On December 2nd, Washington DC banned it’s use in minors. Nationwide, bans have been introduced in Michigan, voted down in Virginia and Illinois, and stalled in ten other states.

Survivors of this insane (and it is insane in the cruelest of ways) abusive, and completely ineffective “treatment” often endure more psychological damage from their “reparative therapy” than any one human should ever go through.

“Pray The Gay Away” camps are still rampant in the middle and southern regions of the United States. These church-run camps are where ignorant parents send their gay offspring, should that child come out of the closet.

The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

The book Youth in Crisis by Mitchell Gold speaks to the damaging effects of the stifling, stunted, and backwards belief systems associated with “Praying the gay away”:

Rather than resolving conflicts, reparative therapy programs create new ones by falsely promising gay people who are unhappy with their sexual orientation that they can become heterosexual. When gay men and women find that they can’t change, they end up with feelings of guilt and failure that lead to depression, loss of friends and social support, addictive behaviors, and substance abuse.

The methodology used by the therapists conducting conversion therapy in order to “cure” their patients ranges from estrogen for males (to quell their libido), to electroconvulsive therapy. The theory behind the latter treatment (and it is painful to use “treatment” and not “torture”) is that the seizure will somehow rearrange the “faulty” wiring in the subject’s mind, and somehow trigger heterosexuality.

Great numbers of the LGBTQ community have suffered the immense traumas that come with being an openly gay child or teen in conservative America, often repeatedly, and with tragic results. The toxic and completely detrimental practice of conversion therapy is a singular American experience.

When an individual is told that an essential part of them is wrong and terrible, that their god hates them for what they can’t help, that they are going to hell for being their natural self, the end results are often tragic. The American Psychiatric Association states:

The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.

The LGBTQ community in the United States must work towards a national ban on this outmoded, and, frankly, cruel practice that has been built on a foundation of bigotry and lies. Parents should not be able to send their children away to be “fixed” or create an impossible transformation in a perfectly healthy human being.

HPV and the LGBT Community

HPV, Human Papilloma Virus, has been known as a silent killer.

Fortunately, there is now a vaccination for some of the most common strains of HPV. Still, many remain unaware that they have the virus until symptoms become severe. Most strains of the virus do not cause any visible symptoms in those who are infected, and the strains that do develop symptoms don’t necessarily do so in everyone. Symptoms include genital warts and cancer. For some time now research has linked cervical cancer to HPV. A more recent discovery is that anal cancer is also linked to HPV, as are many head and neck malignancies.

HPV is spread and contracted regardless of the use of condoms or other forms of protection. Thus the virus is easily spread through oral sex as well – causing cancers of the mouth, head, and neck. While there is no cure for HPV, the body usually fights off the virus within a few years. People with weakened immune systems, such as HIV positive individuals, aren’t usually able to fight off the virus. Many people who otherwise have strong immune systems may have the virus dormant only to have it flare up and change cells, causing dysplasia, during times of stress.

HPV and the LGBT CommunitySo why does HPV seem to disproportionately affect the LGBT community? It’s not that our bodies are any different. It’s that our habits are. Many people in the LGBT community are less likely to go in for check-ups or follow-ups, increasing their chance of developing cancer. Cell changes can actually be treated if caught early enough. Men who have sex with men are also more frequently infected with HPV because it is more easily contracted through irritated skin, which is often the case with penetrative sex.

Speak to a professional today and go in for a check-up, even if you only have one sexual partner – it’s always better to be aware of what’s going on in your body.

The Gay American Smoke Out

Tobacco use in the United States has declined in recent years, according to the CDC, in both adults and high school-age adolescents. Within the spectrum of the LGBTQ community, however, the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products remains prevalent, and incredibly damaging.

The statistics are jarring. According to The Gay Smoke Out, A 1999 house-hold based survey found that 48.5% of gay and bisexual men reported smoking. The national average for straight men is 28.6%. While that survey was taken 15 years ago, the numbers today reflect immensely disproportionate use of tobacco in the LGBTQ community.

The DC Center reports:

  • Members of the LGBT community smoke at a far greater rate than that of the general population, although estimates vary widely. In one 2004 California Study, lesbian women were 70% more likely to smoke than other women, and gay men were more than 50% more likely to smoke than other men. More recent research suggests this number may be even higher. The LGBT National Tobacco Control Network estimates that the LGBT community is 50% to 200% more likely than others to be addicted to tobacco.

  • LGBT adolescents also smoke at an alarming rate, in one national study 47 of females and 36.7 of males reporting same-sex attraction or behavior smoked. In comparison, only 29% of the rest of young people in the study smoked.

The Gay American Smoke OutThese statistics and numbers are as alarming as they are curious. They beg the question: why, in a community where health is valued so highly, does the number one avoidable cause of heart disease and a plethora of cancers run rampant?

The answer is open to conjecture, but a solid sociological theory reads as such:

Smoking usually begins in the adolescent years, around the time when teens become sexually aware. The act of smoking can be used as a crutch to ease anxiety regarding the various stresses associated with hiding their sexuality.

Because most major tobacco companies add various agents to their product to make it even more addictive, the habits from youth carry over into adulthood.

Members of the LGBTQ community have resources available to them, just like members of the heterosexual community at large. If you are trying to quit smoking, please visit www.smokefree.gov, www.gaysmokeout.net, www.lung.org, or simply google all of the tips, tricks, and free quit lines available in your area.

On Alcoholism in the LGBTQ Community

Alcoholism within the LGBTQ community is an endemic problem.

Readily available, and easy to depend on to aid in feeling comfortable with the stresses of being “out”, alcohol abuse, according to The Pride Institute, is “estimated to occur in up to 45% of those within the LGBTQ community.“ That is almost half of a minority population. When compared with the eighteen million Americans (roughly 15% of the population at large) who suffer from alcohol abuse, the statistics are even more troubling. Why are the numbers regarding alcoholism tripled in the LGBTQ community? As always, the answer lies within.

Across the board, people only rely on drugs and alcohol for one reason, and it can be summed up in a single word: unhappiness.

While most members of the LGBTQ community are happy and content with their lives, their jobs, and their position in society, many self-medicate with drugs and alcohol (particularly the latter) to cope with the daily bombardment of homophobia, workplace discrimination, and the stresses (equal, yet dramatically different) of being either openly gay, or remaining closeted.

On Alcoholism in the LGBTQ CommunityAlcoholism is a symptom of a much deeper sickness that becomes it’s own disease if given enough time to develop. In order to stop the process of it spreading, the members of the LGBTQ community must focus on functioning as a whole in the social strata, and not rely so heavily on drinking to be comfortable with itself.

Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have helped countless people recover from this crippling addiction for decades. The program works, so long as the addict wants to recover, and “works the steps”, of which there are twelve. A constant refocusing of efforts is required to remain sober, and relapsing into self-destructive behaviors is common – and treatable.

Within the spectrum of the AA treatment program, there are several subcategories, or types of groups that one can seek out. Finding a group that one is comfortable sharing with is of utmost importance in order for the program to work. On the AA website, a search-by-location option is featured on the main page. Trying several different groups before finding the right one is standard practice.

For LGBTQ-exclusive recovery groups, the Pride Institute (linked above) has a vast network of counselors and support systems available. They also offer detoxification, case management assistance, and a wide array of other mental health support programs.