From where I sit sometimes I feel like I get glimpses into the next millennium - hearing about and having access to some of the most incredible high-tech ideas, companies and science around the world - yet when it comes to women's health sometimes you'd hardly know its 2015. While there are some exciting things going on in terms of tech so little of it boils down to the day-to-day life of women with these kinds of health concerns and it's not just a few of us. Here's the nitty-gritty on just a few of the super important women's health issues that need so much more awareness & research:
- approximately 300 million people in the world have thyroid disorder & women are affected 8 times more than men. Half are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Patients, globally, are begging and sometimes "marching" for improvements to testing and treatment but it seems to fall on deaf ears and the standards aren't changing. Untreated thyroid disorder causes issues such as: infertility, miscarriage, low IQ in infants and there is a form of postpartum mood disorder that is related to the thyroid which often goes undetected (see below).
- Endometriosis effects 8.5 million North American women yet they suffer for 10 years (on average) before getting diagnosed!
Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 7 million North American women and is recognized as one of the most common endocrine/metabolic disorders of women, yet many women haven’t heard of it and aren’t being screened for it even though they have the symptoms. Part of the issue is the confusion - guidelines and diagnostic criteria are frequently changing.
- Infertility – getting and staying pregnant - affects 6 million American couples. There's so much misinformation on this topic and it is a daily roller coaster ride for anyone who experiences it. It's like grieving for someone every month and hard to really explain to someone who hasn't gone through it. Sadly, some women I know have been encouraged to go for costly and invasive IVF before being adquately screened for other possible issues. Thankfully new treatments, genetic testing and technology is creating rapid change.
- Ovarian cancer is the second most common and deadliest form of gynecologic cancer. It is referred to as the “silent killer” of women because it is usually only discovered when it is stage 3 or 4. Early detection would save lives - 94% of stage one ovarian cancer is considered curable (www.cancer.org), yet screening for the early signs of ovarian cancer doesn't happen because most of the signs overlap other disorders or seem vague. Many women and doctors don’t recognize the early signs - so know the symptoms and don't delay in seeing your doctor. Find the symptom checklist here: National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
Dense Breast Tissue:
- at least 40% of women have dense breast tissue, the percentage is higher for post-menopausal women. For these women mammograms, alone, are an inadequate screening tool for this huge number of women. What's worse is that we often aren't told that whether or not we have dense breast tissue - the way to know is through a mammogram. Women with dense breasts can request additional screening such as Automated 3D whole breast ultrasounds.
- Check out: Are You Dense? and Each One Tell One
Perinatal Mood Disorders:
- 10 - 15% of women suffer from what is commonly referred to as Postpartum Depression (PPD) but is really better described as Perinatal Mood Disorders. Women aren't being routinely screened, women feel shame and stigma and often don't seek help, a lack of understanding about these disorders, women are forced to advocate for themselves and be informed about the possibility of physiological causes such as postpartum thyroiditis and hormone imbalances. Women need to know PPD is treatable.
- This is such a broad topic and although it affects millions of us, it is still met with confusion, misunderstanding, lack of awareness and often just downright ignorance! I constantly hear stories from women who have had their concerns minimized or even completely disregarded. Even young women are experiencing hormone imbalances today that are being addressed by the typical standard of care: birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and anti-depressants (SSRIs).
Women in perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause often experience fear and confusion, still not knowing whether to take hormones or not because there is so much controversy and self-interested parties it's hard to know what the right decision is. The WHI (Women's Health Initiative) study was launched in 1991 and from a patient's perspective after 24 years the results still bring about confusion.
- 90% of hysterectomies are medically unneccesary. Enough said?
It might seem like I'm in a gloomy mood about the state of women's health but I just think that to effect change we need to know that starting point. As women, we need to know we aren't alone and to see these kinds of stats helps us realize that we can and should advocate for ourselves. And although it's a bit dismal from where I sit sometimes - it's not ALL gloom and doom. There are incredible things happening thanks to entrepreneurs, doctors, e-patients, advocates and scientists in areas like home testing and monitoring, genetics, participatory and integrative medicine. I promise I'll share some of the wonderful things happening soon too.