Our second post of six in honor of raising awareness of female-specific health conditions is all about gynaecological disorders.
This subject still has a lot of stigma surrounding it, much like some of the other topics we’ll be covering in this series. Gynaecological disorders are a personal subject and many people find it difficult to talk about with friends and professionals alike for a number of reasons. Creating a safe environment for women to voice their concerns, whether they are about the pain they experience during menstruation or that they’ve been trying for a baby for a year without success, is incredibly important. This is because something that seems simple such as painful periods (dysmenorrhea) although normal for you, could be an indicator of an underlying condition like endometriosis; whereas being unable to conceive could be down to putting far too much pressure on yourself to succeed. This is an extreme but possible example and highlights the need for more conversation around fertility, menstruation and where to find help.
As we like to remind our patients “knowledge is power” so let’s take a look at some gynaecological disorders, how to recognise them and where we can find more information:
This is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Endometriosis can affect women of any age but often isn’t diagnosed until late 20s/early 30s due to symptoms being thought of as normal, such as painful periods, lower abdomen/back pain during period and a heavy flow. Many women just chalk this up to bad luck! Further investigation often doesn’t happen until they face difficulty trying to conceive.
If you experience any of these symptoms along with pain during or after sex, pain during urination or bowel movements while on your period, difficulty getting pregnant (defined by 1 year trying unsuccessfully), then please call your GP to discuss your symptoms and how it is impacting your daily life. They will be able to guide you through the investigation process and treatment options if you are diagnosed.
More information can be found here: Endometriosis UK.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
This is a condition where the ovaries are not releasing eggs properly. According to the NHS, 1 in 10 women in the UK have PCOS, more than half do not have any symptoms. Signs and symptoms usually become apparent in your mid/late 20s. The three main symptoms are:
- irregular periods – which means your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation)
- excess androgen – high levels of “male” hormones in your body, which may cause excess facial or body hair
- polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs that surround the eggs (despite the name, you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS)
Other symptoms can also include, no periods at all, difficulty getting pregnant as a result of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate, weight gain, thinning hair and hair loss from the head, oily skin or acne. PCOS is also associated with developing other health conditions later in life such as Type II diabetes and high cholesterol.
More information can be found here: BUPA.
Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the uterus. The growths are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue, varying in size. Many women are unaware they have fibroids because they do not have any symptoms and are diagnosed with then by accident during a routine gynecological exam – another reason to go to your cervical screening test!
Around 1 in 3 women will have have symptoms and may experience, heavy or painful periods, abdominal pain, lower back pain, a frequent need to urinate, constipation, or pain/discomfort during sex. It is in rare cases that fibroids can affect pregnancy or cause infertility usually due to the size of the fibroids being particularly large.
More information can be found her: NHS website.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
This is an infection, which can be caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting the upper female genital tract, which includes the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. PID can damage and scar the fallopian tubes, making it virtually impossible for an egg to travel down into the uterus.
PID often does not cause any obvious symptoms. Most women have mild symptoms that may include, pain around the pelvis or lower abdomen, discomfort or pain during sex that’s felt deep inside the pelvis, pain when urinating, bleeding between periods and after sex, heavy or painful periods or unusual vaginal discharge, especially if it’s yellow or green. A few women become very ill with severe pain in the abdomen, a fever and feeling nauseous or vomiting.
Delaying treatment for PID or having repeated episodes of PID can increase your risk of serious and long-term complications. This means it’s important to visit a GP or a sexual health clinic if you experience any of these symptoms. If you have severe pain, you should seek urgent medical attention from your GP or local A&E department.
This also highlights the importance of regular STI screening if you are sexually active and not using condoms. The best place to find this service is at your local sexual health clinic who have the greatest expertise in testing and treatments for STIs. You can find your nearest one here: Find my nearest sexual health clinic.
You can also go to:
- your GP
- a young people’s sexual health service – call the National Sexual Health Helpline on 0300 123 7123
- a community contraception clinic
- a pharmacy
These options may be able to offer tests for some infections but not all, however they can offer you further advice on where to go for more help.
There are other fertility disorders, this article seeks to touch on the more common causes and signpost women in the direction of where to find information.
So how do we fit into this discussion?
During your first appointment at Wisbey Osteopathy, Sam will ask about your menstrual cycle as part of the extensive medical history questions. This is for a number of reasons:
- Often women have noticed a change and have been meaning to make a GP appointment but haven’t got around to it. They now have the opportunity to mention their concerns and get advice that can signpost them in the direction of more help.
- Some women may find it embarrassing to talk about and have been putting off seeking help. Sam is always professional and aims to create a relaxed, comfortable environment for you to discuss all your medical concerns. As a medical professional she isn’t embarrassed to ask the “personal” questions and it can often be easier to talk about it with a professional who displays confidence when discussing stigmatised topics. Not to mention that by the time she asks any questions about your menstrual cycle she will have already covered bowel and urinary habits!
- The patient may not know there are any symptoms in the first place. A women will have her first period between the age of 9 and 14 in most cases; if they have always experienced a very heavy flow or excruciating pain they may assume that is normal – it’s Sam’s job to pick up on anything that may need further investigation.
- It gently opens the door for further discussion about the effect gynaecological disorder symptoms or diagnosis is having on a womans life, if needed. Experiencing these symptoms and feeling unable to talk to friends can be a lonely, heavy burden, some women can encounter feelings of depression, or even (misplaced) inadequacy if they are struggling to conceive. Having a professional to confide in knowing the conversation will be kept confidential can lift that burden and even help improve the pain they have originally sought an appointment for as pain can be amplified by stress.
- The pain you have booked your consultation to discuss may be linked to a diagnosed or undiagnosed gynaecological condition. Sam is able to assess your symptoms and decided whether your pain in linked to an existing condition, whether you need further investigation at the GP for something that has gone undetected until now, or whether she can reassure you it is unrelated.
To all the strong women – may we celebrate them, may we be them, may we raise them!