Our weekly roundup of news and views on women’s health
In case you missed it, this week’s post was our July author Q&A, with Eleanor Morgan whose fascinating book Hormonal: A Conversation About Women’s Bodies, Mental Health and Why We Need to Be Heard was published last week. Eleanor and I chatted about the difficulty of finding a feminist balance when it comes to ensuring that women’s health is taken seriously – but without pathologising our natural hormone fluctuations, or playing into the sexist notion that being ‘hormonal’ makes us inherently unstable and incapable.
On the subject of hormone fluctuations, one of the women’s health stories I covered for The i this week looked at how shortages of HRT are affecting women across the UK. I also spoke to Athena Lamnisos from The Eve Appeal about the harm feminine hygiene products could do to the ‘friendly’ lactobacilli bacteria in women’s vaginas, after new research showed these vaginal bacteria play an important role in preventing ovarian cancer.
The other big women’s health story of the week was of course MPs voting to extend abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland – a move that, as Zoe Williams wrote for The Guardian, is long overdue.
Meanwhile, in more Hysterical news…
You Can Now ‘Ask Alexa’ For Health Advice From The NHS – But There’s A Catch
Hysterical Women got a mention in this Refinery29 article by Natalie Gil, exploring the potential problems with accessing health advice through Alexa’s voice search function.
But there are several potential downsides – not least if you’re a woman. Women routinely claim anecdotally – and research has suggested time and again – that medicine, as it stands, is biased against them. The gender health gap is stark and life-threatening, with women experiencing many areas of medicine differently from (read: worse than) men. Their pain and concerns are routinely dismissed – studies have found that women are less likely to be taken seriously by medical departments than men, face longer waits in A&E and are less likely to be prescribed effective opioid painkillers than men.
The UK-based feminist blog Hysterical Women contains myriad stories of women feeling dismissed and failed by their doctors, and a 22-year-old woman in France died last year after emergency services dismissively mocked her concerns about acute abdominal pain. Women’s symptoms of common, deadly conditions like heart attacks are also misunderstood, meaning they are less likely to receive the urgent treatment they need. A study just last month found that women were 9% less likely than men of the same age and socioeconomic status to be diagnosed with heart failure by their GP, and 13% less likely to be prescribed the two most important drugs in heart failure management within three months of diagnosis.
Alexa will also only be able to draw on the relatively small amount of existing medical research on women. “There is a clear gender bias when it comes to medical research. In 2016, for example, there were five times more studies on erectile dysfunction (ED) than premenstrual syndrome (PMS) – yet PMS affects 90% of women compared to only around 19% of men suffering from ED,” Janet Lindsay, CEO of charity Wellbeing of Women, which funds research into women’s health, told Refinery29 last year. “Women’s health is still too often overlooked and underfunded,” she added.
‘Please tell me that my baby is OK’: Mum reveals she was ‘bullied by midwives who ignored her’ when she asked about newborn son after serious operation when he was just six hours old
The Daily Mail reported on an inquiry into maternity services in Australian Capital Territory, which features this horrifying story of one woman being ignored despite instinctively knowing something was wrong with her unborn baby.
Ms Maloney said when she first presented to Canberra Hospital she was bleeding every second day.
She claims hospital staff dismissed her and sent her home with menstrual pads but her instincts told her something was wrong.
She later learned she has a dangerously low placenta which could have been fatal for her and her daughter.
Diagnostic Errors Make Up One-Third of Serious Malpractice Claims, Study Shows
Meanwhile, in the US, Health.com reports that misdiagnosis is behind 34 per cent of malpractice cases where death or permanent disability has occurred.
Even scarier, more than half of the misdiagnosis cases analyzed in this study happened to women. But this gender imbalance isn’t new information. Women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed after a heart attack than men, a UK study concluded. They’re also 33% more likely to receive a wrong diagnosis after a stroke. More recently, a study from Yale University in January found that young boys’ pain is taken more seriously than pain felt by girls—and it’s not hard to see the connection between pain not taken seriously and misdiagnosis.
If you’re a woman who’s been dismissed, disbelieved, patronised, not taken seriously, or generally let down by your doctor, I’d love to hear from you.
As always I’m looking for new guest posts for the blog. I’m particularly keen to feature more stories from LGBT women and women of colour.