Uk News Women's pain has been ignored for so long they are being forced to try 'self-care' United Kingdom news
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! Have you ever put up with agonising pain, suffering in silence with some paracetamol and a hot bath, rather than going to see your doctor? You’re not alone. A new Gender Pain Gap Index, published by Nurofen and supported by women’s health charity Wellbeing of Women, suggests nearly three quarters of women regularly opt for self-care over seeing a healthcare professional about painful symptoms, including gynae and period pain, headaches, back and joint pain. Many plump for options like massage, acupuncture and exercise, or rely on over the counter painkillers, even when living with pain that has a significant impact on their everyday life. The gender pain gap itself is nothing new: research over the last two decades has highlighted biases and inequalities in the way women’s pain is treated. But the fact that so many women are managing pain without medical support is a worrying indication of the impact that gender gap is having. For many women, it seems, the medical system simply doesn’t have the time or space to take their pain seriously.“I’m not surprised that 74 per cent of women turn to self-care. We have a system that’s set up in such a way that women are too often left to their own devices,” Dr Nighat Arif, a GP, tells me. “Issues around healthcare professionals not taking women’s pain seriously are something I and lots of other GPs have been banging on about for ages.” She too sees patients turning to over the counter painkillers, as well as deep heat gels, hot water bottles, cold packs, or purchasing TENS machines – a device commonly used during childbirth and treatment of other types of pain, which works by administering a mild electrical current to the skin. Alternative therapies are also popular, she adds, with women using herbal and Chinese teas, massage, acupuncture, reflexology and osteopathy, as well as seeking private physiotherapy for joint and muscle pain.For Dr Arif this comes down to three key factors. Firstly, she explains, women’s health issues like periods, pregnancy and menopause have been normalised to such an extent that even severe symptoms are seen as par for the course and not in need of medical intervention.More from OpinionThe reaction to Angela Rayner’s breast implants shows the sexism facing women in Westminster23 November, 2022Talk of Swiss deals with EU and Sunak's denials can't hide the stone cold reality of Brexit23 November, 2022Labour will never win the immigration culture war22 November, 2022Secondly, women have internalised the message – including from other women, like our mothers – that pain is just something we have to put up with. This, she adds, “is something I see particularly in Black and Asian communities, who have historically been ignored when it comes to medical research.” Finally, Dr Arif says, there is still such shame attached to talking about women’s health issues that often it’s easier to “shut up and put up.”These barriers to seeking help, she adds, are compounded by an NHS system in which GPs simply don’t have the capacity to delve into the causes of women’s pain. “We only get 10 minutes per patient, which isn’t long enough, and doctors aren’t appropriately educated about women’s health issues anyway. We also have a problem with the referral system, because there aren’t enough gynaecologist and outpatient appointments to refer patients on for specialist support,” Dr Arif explains.Indeed, a report published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) earlier this year found that gynaecology waiting lists have increased by 60 per cent since the start of the pandemic – more than any other medical speciality. Speaking at the time, RCOG President Dr Edward Morris put this down to women’s health problems being routinely dismissed as “benign”, and therefore given less priority over other specialist areas.In reality, of course, the pain women experience can be profound. Forty one per cent of the 2,604 women surveyed by Nurofen said their pain causes them trouble sleeping, while 24 per cent said it has led to them feeling depressed. This makes it all the more worrying that such a high proportion opt to self-diagnose and self-treat rather than seeking medical care.The survey results do however provide some insights into the reasons behind this, many of which tally with Dr Arif’s perspective. More than half (56 per cent) of the women surveyed felt their pain was ignored or dismissed, and almost one in four women (compared to one in six men) reported that no one took their pain seriously. Meanwhile, nearly a third (31 per cent) of women said they didn’t want to waste their healthcare professionals’ time, and 27 per cent said it was easier to self-diagnose due to waiting times.“Women are very good at coping with pain and don’t complain because we often feel like we are being a nuisance or are worried we will be dismissed,” says 53-year-old Katie Taylor. Over the last 40 years, spanning her entire reproductive life, Katie has experienced pain from adenomyosis (a uterine condition, similar to endometriosis, where tissue similar to the womb lining grows inside the muscles of the womb, typically causing painful and heavy periods); a miscarriage, which she says was brushed off very flippantly by a male gynaecologist; perimenopausal migraines, back and joint pain; and gall bladder pain that was initially dismissed as food poisoning or indigestion.
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. Growing up as a doctor’s daughter, I never had a day off school unless I was basically dying, and the generation above us was very much ‘just get on with it’,” she says.“Then, because I was dismissed early on in my adult life by the doctor who dealt with my miscarriage, I just felt like I was causing trouble. Similarly, during my perimenopause journey, I felt like I was a hypochondriac because doctors didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. You don’t want to keep going back because it’s embarrassing,” Katie adds.Like so many of the women Nurofen surveyed, Katie has repeatedly turned to self-care in an attempt to manage her pain – particularly during perimenopause. “I thought perhaps it was my diet, or I wasn’t exercising enough, so I tried cutting out sugar and carbs, eating less, and started running. I thought maybe it was stress, so I tried working less and treating myself to the odd massage. For me personally, nothing made any difference until I went on hormone replacement therapy,” she says.Of course, the fear of wasting your doctor’s time is one that many of us will feel particularly conscious of given the intense and growing pressure on GPs since the start of the pandemic. While there are times when self-care may be appropriate – for example, by seeking advice from 111 or your local pharmacist first – Dr Arif is very clear that women should not be neglecting their own health.“We can’t properly fix everything in a 10 minute appointment, but you can empower yourself by knowing your normal, tracking your symptoms, and using the resources out there to try and understand what’s going on,” she says. When you’re making an appointment, her advice is to ask if there’s a doctor or nurse in your GP practice who specialises in women’s health.If possible, Dr Arif adds, ask for a double appointment and take someone with you who may be able to help advocate for you. Then, when you go in, lay out what the problem is, the impact it’s having on your life, what you’ve already tried, and any suspicions you may have about the underlying cause.Of course, none of these issues should be solely down to the patient to solve but, under the current system, Dr Arif says these are the best tips she can give as an NHS GP. Ultimately though, it’s clear that we need a much bigger overhaul of the whole system to ensure all women in pain can access the medical care they need.“The report highlights the urgent need to address the stark inequalities around women’s pain. We must all work together to close the gender health gap once and for all, by improving research, and ensuring better access to information, care and support for women,” says Janet Lindsay, CEO of Wellbeing of Women. “Only 2.1 per cent of public medical research funding goes into women’s gynaecological health and childbirth. More research will lead to better tests, treatments and cures.”In my own work too, writing about the gender health gap, I’ve seen how women’s experiences of being dismissed, or not receiving the care they expected from their doctors, can erode their faith in the medical system. Like Katie and Dr Arif, I’ve also seen how many women have been sold the pervasive lie that pain and suffering are an inevitable part of the female experience – not worthy of medical care, even when those symptoms are having a significant impact on their quality of life. Gaps in medical knowledge, combined with damaging cultural narratives about women’s pain, have created a perfect storm. It’s a worrying state of affairs, particularly when it means those women delay seeking help and struggle on alone. Improving research, medical education, and access to information and support are all high on the agenda for the government’s Women’s Health Strategy, published earlier this year. But, for the women currently at the sharp end of the gender pain gap, that change can’t come soon enough.Rebel Bodies, A Guide to the Gender Health Gap Revolution by Sarah Graham is out 5 January 2023 (Bloomsbury Green Tree)
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