As week one of #EndoMonth reaches an end, we look back at what else has been happening in women’s health over the last seven days
It’s been a busy week for women’s health news, with much focus on Endometriosis Awareness Week, as well as International Women’s Day, and the launch of Public Health England’s first national cervical screening campaign.
Here’s what else has caught my eye in the world of women’s health this week…
Jameela Jamil just reminded us why being open about health issues is so important
I really liked this piece from Stylist online this week, looking at the impact of a growing number of female celebrities speaking out about their chronic health problems.
We know that women can suffer in silence when it comes to their health and that their chronic pain is often ignored or underplayed by the health system. Women are more likely to wait 10 or more months for a diagnosis than men, and visit a health professional multiple times before their pain is taken seriously.
It’s called the ‘health gap’, or the idea that the medical system is geared towards solving the problems of men rather than women.
Take, for example, the fact that even though 70% of chronic pain sufferers are female, 80% of the studies are conducted on men (mice and humans). Or that women having heart attacks are more likely to be misdiagnosed and even discharged from hospital – seven times more likely, in fact – because clinical understandings of heart attacks are based on the male symptoms of them and not the female ones.
Having celebrities like Blair, Gaga, Dunham, Hyland and Jamil talking openly about their health issues and medical diagnoses will raise awareness about these specific illnesses.
But it will also encourage women to talk openly about their health, how they’re feeling and what kind of pain they might be enduring. And when it comes to closing the health gap between men and women, this a truly vital thing.
I could have died but doctors said reaction to coil was just hormones and I should ‘ride it out’
The Sun has published several interesting Hysterical Women stories this week, starting with this one on side effects of the Mirena coil:
FROM weight gain and headaches to sore boobs and mood swings, most women are likely to have suffered a nasty side effect of birth control. After mum-of-four Peta Todd had the Mirena coil, an intrauterine system, implanted last October, her face swelled, her eyesight blurred and she lost hearing in one ear, despite other women praising it.
But it was only after visiting six different medical practitioners and practically begging for help, that Peta, 32, was finally able to get the device removed. Here, she urges women, who believe their contraception is causing them pain, to demand to be listened to.
Our sister had FIVE smear tests and was given the all clear – but then died of cervical cancer aged just 31
Another story from The Sun, on the devastating loss of a woman whose cervical cancer was repeatedly missed my smear tests despite her insistence that something wasn’t right:
Philomena Henry knew something was wrong after she suffered heavy discharge but was told endlessly it was ‘normal’.
“GET a second opinion if something isn’t right!”
That’s the message from grieving sisters who lost their sibling to cervical cancer after it was missed by FIVE smear tests.
Mother-of-three, 41, diagnosed with colon cancer after pushing for a colonoscopy – despite doctors saying her bleeding was caused by childbirth
This one from the Daily Mail is another familiar story of a woman knowing something was wrong but being dismissed:
A 41-year-old woman was diagnosed with colon cancer six months after giving birth to her third child – after her symptoms were dismissed as childbirth-related.
Clarissa Sobolewski, of Avon, Ohio, started getting consistent rectal bleeding after delivering her daughter, Isabella, last year.
It’s something many women experience after childbirth, particularly if they experienced a tear, but Sobolewski told Fox 8 that she felt something wasn’t right.
Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just “Female Problems.” Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital
Another story from the US, this one by Buzzfeed, looking at the healthcare experiences of women in the military:
They didn’t want to complain — being a woman in the US military, the last thing you want to be seen as is weak — but the sharp abdominal pain was becoming debilitating. Military doctors dismissed it as “female problems,” period cramps. It was “normal,” they were told. It was said or implied that they were overreacting. They were given painkillers and birth control, and told to report back to duty.
Those orders landed six of the more than a dozen female service members interviewed by BuzzFeed News in the hospital, fighting for their lives. One was in the ER a few weeks later with a “baseball-sized cyst,” bleeding internally. Another underwent an experimental, highly invasive, and botched surgery by a military doctor. Several had hysterectomies. All now live with infertility; chronic, debilitating pain; and sky-high medical bills. It wasn’t period cramps.
#EndoMonth Hysterical Women of the Week:
A special roundup of endometriosis stories from this week:
- Why it takes GPs more than seven years to spot the signs of endometriosis — as one in ten women are failed by their doctors (The Sun)
- ‘It took 11 years of crippling pelvic pain before I was diagnosed with endometriosis’ (The i)
And finally, a couple by me
“It’s thought that around 80 per cent of women will experience unwanted symptoms associated with their menstrual cycle, from heavy bleeding to premenstrual migraines,” Clare says. “Many women also live with menstrual and reproductive health conditions – like PMDD or endometriosis – which can have a significant impact on their mental health and wellbeing,” she adds.
As a result of the stigma around menstrual health, Clare explains, many women suffer in silence at work, and feel like they have to compensate for lost productivity caused by their period or a related health condition. “Research has shown that this results in women over-working during their ‘good’ days, which in the long-term can lead to burnout,” she says. “However evidence also suggests that, with supportive managers and workplaces, women feel more able to cope.”
The trouble is, bosses are often totally clueless. Emma Cox, CEO of charity Endometriosis UK originally trained as a manager and says: “as a manager in the 80s and 90s, I was always told that if someone’s taking a day off once a month, they’re probably skiving. Hidden conditions like endometriosis are just not understood.”
For patients like 30-year-old Hayley Smith, founder of Boxed Out PR, the slow progress is frustrating. “It’s ridiculous. There are hardly any medications or solutions, and a cure isn’t even being worked on. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been offered a hysterectomy as if it’s as simple as taking antibiotics,” she says.
“There is so little knowledge, research and understanding of endometriosis, and the ignorance I have experienced from (male) doctors has been disturbing. I do wonder, if this was an issue that affected men, if we would have a cure for it by now.”
The Telegraph reported this week on why 2019 is the year of the vagina – From vagina gyms to ‘period coaches’, how women’s privates are going public:
“A lot of these bigger issues begin with educating people about the basics of how their bodies work,” she says. “We’re not always given that information at school or in the healthcare system. I was working at [women’s website] The Pool when I started writing the book and I could see that whenever we covered things like smear tests in a very frank way, or published very honest pieces on infertility, miscarriage or abortion, they always sparked a lot of discussion.
“People were desperate to talk about these things, but they were somehow still taboo.”
There’s probably quite a way to go. When asked, only a third of women could identify correctly the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries on a medical diagram, according to a 2016 survey by gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal. By contrast 70 per cent of women could correctly label key parts of the male anatomy.