Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team

October might be known for Halloween when it comes to holidays, but in medicine, it’s known for something that’s also worth celebrating: Health Literacy Month! Health literacy refers to the ability to make health decisions by synthesizing medical information.

While Health Literacy Month might not involve costumes or candy, taking part in its activities will benefit you when you need it most. Remember, knowledge is empowerment!

Medical Misinformation

Medicine has made tremendous strides over the past century. Thanks to the dedicated work of scientists, we now have effective vaccines, life-saving antibiotics, and, of course, birth control. But while these developments represent scientific breakthroughs, they wouldn’t have any effects on our health if people didn’t understand how they work or how they can benefit their health.

For example, misinformation that claims vaccines are unsafe or ineffective has recently led to measles outbreaks that could have been prevented with widespread vaccination — and the health literacy skills that would allow people to make informed decisions to be vaccinated.

The Impact of COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all become familiar with health literacy and its consequences. You may have even picked up some skills already yourself whether you intended to or not. No one knew anything about the novel coronavirus even a year ago. Think about everything you know now about coronavirus and the disease it causes – you likely developed your understanding through following the news, hearing about it from friends, and discussing it with your doctor. Processing all that information, and making informed health decisions based off of it (like wearing a mask and social distancing), is part of health literacy.

Unfortunately, reproductive health literacy is an especially pressing problem due to the stigma surrounding topics such as periods, sex, and birth control. Lacking reproductive health literacy can have real consequences. A study of a diverse group of women found that health literacy was correlated with knowledge of the purpose of a Pap smear. Women with higher health literacy were significantly more likely to seek medical attention if their Pap smear was abnormal, while women with lower health literacy were more likely to worry or panic, do nothing, or not know what to do.

Since an abnormal Pap smear can indicate cervical cancer, it’s critical to follow up with your doctor if you get one. (Note: this study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which is a highly respected resource for women’s health that doctors often consult. Take some time to browse through the papers they publish to develop your reproductive health literacy!)

Reproductive Health Literacy

Pandia Health is here to celebrate Health Literacy Month with you by providing evidence-based and accessible information on reproductive health and birth control. Check out our blog and YouTube channel, where we share doctor-supported advice and knowledge about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your body (and maybe some things you didn’t know you wanted to know).

For example, did you know that you can safely make your #PeriodsOptional with birth control? If you’re on the pill, just skip the week of sugar pills, and if you’re using the ring, replace it immediately after three weeks. Not only will you not have to deal with cramps, migraines, and the inconvenience of bleeding, but you’ll also help decrease the landfill and lower your risk of some types of cancers. 

Plus, birth control can help with more than just preventing pregnancy such as relieving symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), reducing acne, and steadying fluctuating hormone levels. So, if you want to learn more about #PeriodsOptional while practicing health literacy, we recommend checking out information from Planned Parenthood, the Mayo Clinic, and the Cleveland Clinic — all great resources for reproductive health.

If you think skipping your periods is the right choice for you and your body, and you’d like to start with birth control, sign up with Pandia Health to schedule a telemedicine appointment with one of our expert doctors. If you live in AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, IL, MI, NV, TX, TN, PA, WA, or WY, we can set you up with a birth control prescription and mail you your medication directly to your house. If you already have a birth control prescription and want to skip the trip to the pharmacy, we can mail you your medication anywhere in the United States. 

Pandia Health hopes you have an empowering, educational, and fun Health Literacy Month!

Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.