A roundup of women’s health news and views from August
It’s been a little quiet on the blog this month as I’ve struggled to get a balance between paid work, taking some time out over the summer holidays, and attempting to keep on top of Hysterical Women updates. In my freelance work this month I’ve written about, among other things, the disabled women being excluded from sexual healthcare, and the impact of ongoing HRT shortages on trans women. Meanwhile, doctors and pharmacists have also warned of contraceptive pill shortages, and researchers have made exciting breakthroughs in developing diagnostic tools for both womb and ovarian cancer.
I haven’t managed to cram all of the links I’ve bookmarked over the last few weeks into this one post – that’s definitely easier when I do it weekly! – but here’s a quick end-of-the-month roundup of the edited highlights.
Medicine ignored women’s health for years — that’s finally changing
New York Post published this optimistic article on how sexism and gender bias in women’s health does, finally, seem to be shifting. “For decades,” Melissa Malamut writes, “the medical field has dismissed female health concerns. Women have been told that they’re imagining signs of heart attacks and other life-threatening ailments and had few resources devoted to researching their medical problems, but, at last, that seems to be changing.”
“In 2018, half of the research participants in clinical trials for new drugs were women for the first time in our history,” says Amy Miller, Ph.D. and CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research, a DC-based nonprofit founded in 1990. “We have gotten very close to parity.”
Of course, as the article highlights, there’s still some way to go – but there does seem to be a growing awareness of the gender pain gap and the harm it causes.
“There’s growing evidence that when men go to an ER with pain, they are believed and treated,” says Miller. “Women are asked, ‘Does it really hurt?’ Women don’t want to admit to their doctor they have pain for fear of being told ‘it’s all in their head.’ ”
Women have to visit GP more times than men to get positive diagnosis
Despite all that, on our side of the pond The Mirror reported on a survey which highlighted the startling gender disparities in diagnosis times.
A shocking new survey, seen exclusively by the Daily Mirror, has found that 476,000 British women have had to visit their GP more than 11 times for a positive diagnosis, yet only a third as many men have experienced the same difficulty.
Earlier this year, a study of seven million patients over 21 years reported that women are diagnosed later than men across 700 diseases.
It found that a diabetes diagnosis for female patients will come four-and-a-half years later than one for a man, while on average, women with cancer are diagnosed two-and-a-half years later.
‘It was like a red-hot poker’: why the extreme pain of vulvodynia is going untreated
Vulvodynia is a condition that’s been touched on in a number of our previous posts. This Guardian article looks in depth at the challenges women face in being diagnosed with and treated for vulvodynia, and why so little is known or understood about a condition that affects an estimated 16 per cent of women.
A 2003 study in the US found that 60% of women who sought treatment for vulvodynia had seen three or more doctors, many of whom did not provide a diagnosis. “It takes an enormous amount of courage to visit a doctor and talk about such a personal issue, so to be dismissed is incredibly damaging,” says Amy. “The physical pain is one thing, but I think the emotional scars caused by years of suffering with no help, and feeling so isolated by it, have actually done the most damage.”
In her 2018 memoir Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain, Abby Norman examined gender politics and medicine. Why is it that vaginal pain is still so misunderstood? “When the definition of so-called ‘textbook cases’ have primarily been written by men, the language used becomes precedent,” she says. “We see echoes of this when the health concerns of anyone who doesn’t identify as male are dismissed or disbelieved. Women seem especially prone to being outright accused of manipulation or hysteria.”
Women’s lives at risk as doctors miss ‘typical’ heart attack symptoms
A new study from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has revealed that – contrary to what has previously been believed – women are more likely than men to experience ‘typical’ heart attack symptoms. According to lead research author Amy Ferry, a cardiology research nurse at the University of Edinburgh, incorrectly labelling women as having atypical symptoms may in fact have contributed to women being misdiagnosed, or experiencing delayed or less intensive treatment.
Fat-Shaming Doctors Mean People Don’t Get Diagnoses That They Need
Bustle reported on how doctors dismissing women as “just fat” leads to delayed diagnoses and treatment of genuine health problems – from gynaecological issues to heart disease. Azmia Magane writes:
With my history of surgically diagnosed stage IV endometriosis, hypereosiniphilic syndrome, and lupus, “lose weight” isn’t what I’d expected my gynecologist to tell me, especially after I’d presented him with an MRI diagnosing adenomyosis, a condition where endometrial tissue grows into the uterine wall.
It took me approximately 11 more months and four more doctors before I had surgery to treat these issues. But my situation isn’t uncommon. Many other patients report fat-shaming doctors who have overlooked illness, delayed diagnoses, and in some cases, even encouraged eating disorders, simply because their patients had a certain body size.
I heard this month that an amazing, inspiring young woman who I met earlier in the year is crowdfunding for last chance ovarian cancer treatment. 27-year-old Suzie Aries has a rare form of ovarian cancer, and has already undergone three rounds of surgery, six cycles of chemo and a drugs trial. She has now been told her last hope is an immunotherapy drug – which she’ll have to fund privately at an eye-watering cost of £114,000 a year. Suzie has started a crowdfunder to raise this money. If you’re able to, please consider contributing.