This week in women’s health news

For this week’s main post I sat down for a chat with Maya Dusenbery, author of Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sickwhich is well worth a read for anyone interested in this subject.

Much of what Maya and I discussed – healthcare inequalities, lack of research on issues affecting women, and the centuries old notion of ‘hysteria’, which results in women being distrusted, disbelieved and dismissed – are particularly pertinent to some of the news stories I picked up this week…

‘It’s really scary’: Woman, 31, with chronic Lyme disease has tried everything from bee stings to blood cleaning to treat her seizures, pain and memory loss – but health officials say the illness isn’t real

In true Daily Mail style, the headline really says it all. A 31-year-old woman in the US, who tested positive for Lyme disease in 2016, is believed by some specialists to have had chronic Lyme disease since childhood. But the condition doesn’t officially exist.

Laura has tried everything from ozone injections and ‘blood cleaning’ to bee stings and, the Mail online reports: “Her next hope is to fly to Germany for the most dangerous treatment yet, because, here in the US, many health officials and doctors deny that the chronic Lyme could be the cause of Laura’s symptoms. ”

Women undergoing ‘needless’ hysterectomies to remove fibroids

The Daily Express this week reported that almost 8,500 women a year are undergoing unnecessary hysterectomies to treat uterine fibroids. According to The Express, Hospitals carried out 21,000 operations last year, but it is estimated 40 per cent of patients could have benefited from alternative treatments:

Tumour-shrinking drugs and other non-invasive procedures are available to treat benign uterine tumours which affect one in four women in the UK. Fibroids cause pain when they push on the bladder or rectum, but experts fear health care professionals are failing to inform women of the choices.

The figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests have alarmed former royal gynaecologist Sir Marcus Setchell, honorary president of research charity Wellbeing of Women.

“This is a very important piece of research, the findings of which need to be made widely available to gynaecologists, GPs, patients and health providers,” he said.

“There is clearly a failure of communication about the use of these less-invasive treatments.”

Dr Anne Deans, a consultant gynaecologist at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, is calling for more doctors to offer alternative treatments so women do not have to unnecessarily undergo major surgery to remove their uterus.

Millions are forced to face the menopause without hormone replacement therapy as GPs ‘remain influenced by scare stories from decades ago’

The Daily Mail also reported this week on the sharp decline in prescriptions for HRT. According to their report:

Millions of women are being forced to cope with the menopause without help, leading doctors have warned.

Prescriptions of hormone replacement therapy have plummeted by two thirds this century with experts claiming GPs are still influenced by scare stories about the side-effects of HRT published nearly two decades ago.

Despite more recent studies showing these scares were overblown, many doctors are still reluctant to prescribe the drugs.

Professor Mary Ann Lumsden, senior vice president of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, told The Mail: “People stopped prescribing HRT. They forgot that the menopause occurred and can cause problems for women, the number of menopause clinics decreased dramatically, and there is a whole generation of GPs who had no training in menopause medicine at all.”

Woman who went to hospital with agonising abdominal pain and was sent home by doctors with antibiotics is diagnosed with ovarian CANCER at different hospital just hours later

Another story from The Daily Mail, of 61-year-old Joy Vivien Lee, whose severe abdominal pain was dismissed by doctors, but later turned out to be cancer:

A woman who arrived at hospital with agonising abdominal pain was sent home with antibiotics – only to receive a preliminary cancer diagnosis at a different hospital hours later.

Joy Vivien Lee, 61, was rushed to A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) on January 14, where she spent hours lying on hard waiting-room seats.

When Ms Lee was finally seen, her family claim a doctor did not have the equipment needed to properly investigate her symptoms and discharged her with a cannula – plastic tube that delivers drugs and fluids directly into the vein – still in her arm.

Within minutes of being back at home in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, Ms Lee rang 999 again, convinced she was dying.

This time paramedics took her to Pinderfields General Hospital in Wakefield, where doctors discovered signs of ovarian cancer that may have spread to her bones.

Women may not know they’re having heart attack as symptoms VERY different to men

The Mirror this week looks at Caroline Criado Perez’s research on the “gender data gap” – or what Maya Dusenbery refers to in our Q&A as “the knowledge gap”.

As The Mirror reports:

Here’s a question for the women out there – could you confidently say what the symptoms of a heart attack are?

Would you say that chest and arm pains are a telltale sign, as well as clutching at your chest?

If so, you’d be way off the mark.

While these are certainly male symptoms (also referred to as a “Hollywood heart attack) they’re very different to the symptoms which women experience.

Women will often experience physical symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, breathlessness and stomach pain.

Knowing this difference could literally be a matter of life and death – women are 60 per cent more likely to be misdiagnosed.

And finally…

There’s a fascinating piece on The Cut, looking into research on the Menstrualome, and what it could tell us about women’s health:

Akin to the microbiome or the genome, the menstrualome as they’ve defined it is the world of information contained within women’s menstrual cycles. Expelled menstrual tissue is “a highly underutilized, underexplored specimen that could really break open women’s reproductive health,” Tariyal told Forbes in 2017. “But to date everyone has thought it’s too gross to engage in.” Also: “Nothing would make us happier than displacing the PAP smear.”

In theory, the mensturalome could reveal clues not just about endometriosis (which often goes undiagnosed but is believed to affect 11 percent or more of reproductive-age women, according to the Office of Women’s Health), but also, perhaps, about STIs, PCOS, certain cancers, and fertility status.

And, in the New York Times, gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter answers the question, “What to Do When a Doctor’s Visit Is the Cause of Pain?” from a woman with vaginismus, who experiences pelvic pain during intimate examinations.