Women's Health Base

A look at women, the world and the web

Stonewall poster campaign highlights lesbian health issues

Posted by hannahflynn on September 16, 2009

Gay rights group Stonewall has launched a new poster campaign with the Department of Health encouraging lesbian and bisexual women to take better care of themselves.

The move follows the results of ‘Prescription for Change’, the first major survey ever conducted into lesbian and bisexual women’s health in Britain, which has revealed half of the UK’s 1.8 million lesbians report a recent negative NHS experience. The Stonewall research used over 6,000 lesbian and bisexual women in the study.

Stonewall has developed the slogan ‘Love your inner lesbian’ which is going to accompany the campaign. The research, released last year, found deeply disturbing levels of self-harm, substance abuse and exclusion from routine testing for cervical cancer.

The survey also found lesbian and bisexual women are reluctant to be honest about their sexual orientation when talking to doctors. The poster campaign which will hit healthcare centres and clinics soon, aims to encourage women to talk frankly to their doctors about their healthcare needs.A series of posters is now been available depicting the slogan, as well as key statistics from the report – including smear testing, lesbian parenting, mental health issues and drink and drug habits.

The lack of attendance to cervical screening by lesbian and bisexual women is worrying considering the increasing trend for sexually transmitted diseases which can lead to the development of abnormalities on the cervix which can lead to cancer. However, 30% of cervical cancers  occur without pre-exposure to HPV; a cancer causing virus, meaning groups which are not in a high risk group for HPV, Chlamydia and gonorrohea i.e lesbian women, are still at risk of developing the disease. The report suggested their is an increased cost in treating lesbian and bisexual women who usually present with a disease later than their heterosexual peers.

One of the recommendations of the report is to make lesbian health issues more visible so women are more comfortable discussing them with a doctor.

Source: Utalkmarketing.com


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Socialised medicine, obesity, the pill and guessing games

Posted by hannahflynn on July 17, 2009

Because it’s Friday, here’s a round up of a week in the blogosphere:

  • The American Medical Association endorsed Obama’s healthcare reform bill, marking the end to nearly a century of opposition to ‘socialised medicine in the United States. The White House Blog has a video of the speech Obama made explaining why reform is needed now.
  • Dr Kathryn Clancy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The University of Illinois, gives her opinion on the effects of the pill when considering the population as a whole in her three part series, What does this anthropologist think about hormonal contraception?.
  • Twitter fave, His Boys Can Swim are running a contest to see who can guess the time their baby will be born. ‘Jane’ is currently 39 weeks pregnant and has been providing an account of her pregnancy through Twitter since the beginning.

Send your news and round ups to the comments box.

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5 Reasons Health Forums are a Bad Idea

Posted by hannahflynn on July 15, 2009

1) It’s not medical advice – Obvious, but something which is often forgotten. People responding to your queries or the queries of others are offering an opinion, not medical knowledge. Plus, though some forums such as Yahoo! Answers has a system which allows medical experts to identify themselves, there are few ways of authenticating the claims of respondents.

2) It’s US dominated – Fair enough if you are living in the United States and have very comprehensive medical insurance, but many people don’t fall into this category. Therefore anybody without patient choice, i.e. most European individuals, are unlikely to be able to use a lot of the ‘get  a second opinion’ advice. The same goes for people without medical insurance in the United States.

3) The anecdote rules – Have you heard the one about the 44 year-old woman who had been trying to conceive through IVF for years and then after giving up, conceived healthy twins? Well it was a one-off and it’s probably not going to happen to you. These forums almost never quote statistics but provide you with stories about how one ‘cure’ worked for someone. Its worst on pregnancy forums too. Every single twinge, absence of twinge, weird feeling and bodily function is analysed within an inch of its life by expectant mothers. Useful for support perhaps, but dangerous if used in place of medical advice at such a vulnerable time.

4) The advice is narrow – As few of the respondents are likely to be medical experts the range of potential causes and complications being discussed is exceedingly narrow. Most threads come to the conclusion the subject is either pregnant or has endometriosis. Sometimes polycystic ovaries. And fften advice is given with only minimal background information provided. A doctor, nurse or midwife is indispensable when it comes to taking medical backgrounds and using them appropriately to diagnose rarer or more complicated problems.

5) It will tell you what you want to hear – Type ‘late period’ into Google and the world will tell you that you are undoubtably pregnant. No matter what your background or circumstances, that is what they will say. Why? Because the internet is dominated by pregnancy forums with women desperate to get pregnant. I recently found a forum where a women who had experienced cramps and bleeding (i.e. a period) was told this was a sign of early pregnancy by numerous women who had experienced the same thing when they were trying. This is confusing and simplified at best, and dismissive and dangerous at worst.

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Epidurals prevent bonding according to male midwife

Posted by hannahflynn on July 14, 2009

The Associate Professor in Midwifery at Nottingham University has caused a furore over the last few days by suggesting pain during childbirth is a rite of passage, helps strengthen the bond between mother and child and that women should forgoe epidurals as they increase the risk of intervention.

The Daily Mail quoted him saying, “A large number of women want to avoid pain, but more should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.” He also said, “emerging evidence shows that normal labour and birth prime the bonding areas of the mother’s brain more than Caesarean or pain-free birth.”

Much of the focus has been on the Associate Professor’s sex – Dr Denis Walsh is a midwife and a man – rather than the evidence behind his research. Published in Evidence Based Midwifery Dr Denis Walsh has claimed epidural rates are already too high and are rising.

His terminology has rightly been called into question by Maureen Freeley in Comment is Free in The Guardian. She has asked “Even if this man had a degree in anthropology, I’d want to question his terms. And what the hell does he know about Bonding with Baby?” She goes on to argue this most recent commentary on childbirth is typical, “As is so often the case in discussions about motherhood, it is laden with moral assumptions.”

The Times’ Alpha Mummy blog points out “his attitude that pain prepares women for motherhood sounds a bit old Testament to me.” The Alpha Mummy team go on to argue that yes, childbirth is a natural process, but so is infant mortality. They also make the interesting point the tables appear to have turned on the assumption The Man was trying to push interventionist approaches to childbirth on women, but now things are going in a different direction.

In the good old-fashioned name of balance the papers have been providing other expert opinions on the matter, many of which are surprisingly blunt in suggesting Dr Walsh’s analysis is lacking.”He’s exaggerating the risks of epidurals. They aren’t overused. In the main they’re a good thing and almost always necessary.” says Dr Justin Clark, an ObGyn based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital in The Telegraph.

Our very own Dr Maggie Blott, mother and head of the Royal College of Obstetricians warned the BBC, “Do not under-estimate the pain of having a baby – it is a very, very intense and painful experience. If it is happening hour after hour in a very prolonged labour it is very tiring and wears people down and I think epidurals are very useful in that situation.” She was backed up in her comments by Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives who said, “At the moment it is very easy for most women to ask for an epidural, and if they want one they definitely should get one.”

For a more irreverent look at the realities of obtaining an epidural on the NHS, have a look at Zoe William’s brilliant Anti-Natal column in the Guardian here.

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The Buddy System

Posted by hannahflynn on July 4, 2009

Today, the wonderful Scarleteen website published an article on ‘The Buddy System’, explaining the benefits behind using two forms of contraception at a time. 

After a lot of statistical scribbles, the women behind this website have found that no combination leaves you with less than a 95 percent protection rate. The most effective form of contraception is the implant with condoms. 

They are careful to admit that adding a third contraceptive method makes such a slight statistical difference that it is not worth dealing with and some pairings are not suitable, for example two hormonal forms of contraception or the nuva ring and spermacide. 

In a time when the focus of contraceptive choice is being questioned, with more and more doctors recommending long term forms of contraception and the public appearing resistant to the suggestion, then ‘The Buddy System’ seems like a sensible half-way house. 

You can find the article and Scarleteen’s calculations of the rates of protection for various combinations here.

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Endurance training could cause heart problems

Posted by hannahflynn on June 29, 2009

Endurance training could exacerbate heart problems, particularly among middle-aged individuals according to scientists this month. They are adding to the ongoing debate on whether endurance training can cause heart attacks, by claiming cycling and marathon running can increase the frequency of cardiac arrhythmias in certain participants.

The researchers from Spain however, stress any risk is very low and may only occur in people with pre-existing heart problems. Sports scientist Dr Luis Mont, who led the research team said pre-training screening is crucial, but more research needs to be done. He said, “It is certainly of great interest to define which recommendations for sport should be implemented in an individual patient, and how best to manage arrhythmias in participants.” at the European Society of Cardiologists conference last month.

The paper he presented is the latest in a long line of papers which have debated the problems endurance training can cause.

Ellen Mason, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation says any risk to triathletes is very low explaining, “There is a term called athlete’s heart syndrome that is sometimes used for this condition.

“The general feeling is that having an athletic heart is a good thing overall, and does not pose significant risk. Although the ventricles can become thickened and the heart larger, the risk of dangerous heart rhythm disturbances is low.This is compared to people who have heart muscle dysfunction caused hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), where the heart is enlarged and the muscle thicker. The risk of dangerous ventricular rhythms in people with HCM is often quite high, requiring treatment including anti-arrhythmic drugs and/or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). Basically one condition is considered generally benign and HCM is pathologically abnormal. 

“The reason for testing young athletes at the start of their careers, with an ECG and echocardiogram is to identify any with underlying cardiomyopathies”

Not all is lost though, the study suggests that the drug losartan could be used to counteract the most common causes of heart arrhythmias in endurance

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Controversy over effectiveness of HPV screening with cervical smears

Posted by hannahflynn on June 22, 2009

Controversy over the effectiveness of HPV screening in addition to basic cervical smear testing has been reported by Pulse magazine today.

Currently, cervical screening involves liquid-based cytography to detect abnormalities on the cervix. This, according to Professor Henry Kitchener’s lab at The University of Manchester is adequate for effective screening which currently prevents 70 percent of cervical cancer cases in this country alone.

He claims HPV screening alongside cervical smears is no more effective than liquid-based cytography tests alone. HPV is a virus which can cause cervical cancer.

However, Professor Jack Cuzick claims in Pulse magazine that, “‘I think this study has some major issues. About another dozen studies show HPV results are better, and all other literature contradicts the results of this study.’

The University of Manchester study will continue for another three years in order to investigate if HPV testing could results in a need for fewer cervical smear tests for women in this country.

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Who’s job is it anyway?

Posted by hannahflynn on June 21, 2009

“What is crystal clear is that he didn’t spot how the growing size and increasing connectedness of financial institutions was making the Bank of England’s sterling work in controlling inflation the equivalent of re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic.” said Robert Peston on Mervyn King’s attempts to stabilise inflation last year.

The BBC Business Editor may have had a point about King’s feeble attempts to nudge and poke the economy into shape, but following last week’s explosive Mansion House events, we have to ask if the Governor of the Bank of England had enough power to do any thing else? Last week King said it was not clear how the Bank could complete its legal duties “if we can do no more than issue sermons or organise burials.” hammering a final nail in the coffin for the tripartite system of bank regulation.

The legal duty to the Bank of England to analyse financial threats was only handed over last year, some could argue it was a token gesture when the depths the recession could take the economy became clear. Then, this month, while reform plans were being unveiled in both the UK and the USA, King made it clear he desired more authority to be able to tell the banks what to do. This is a significant departure from the current regulatory system, introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997, which has up until now been defended by the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats are behind King, but the Conservatives have failed to deliver any detailed proposals…yet.

This is an interesting and brave response by King, as he has said exactly what the Labour Party and the banks did not want to hear. If the Bank of England can not tell the banks what to do, then who can?

Darling has responded to the financial crisis by tinkering with Brown’s holy trinity of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Bank of England and the Treasury: the tripartite system which King claims does not stand up to the power of the banks. Darling has also refused to blame the current regulatory system for being responsible for the financial crisis, instead insisting the bank boardroom is the first line of defence against risky decision making.

The speech by Darling at Mansion House resonated strongly in the wake of sweeping reforms by the US Treasury which many claim are being made far too late. However, perhaps now is the time Darling should heed the admission by the US Treasury that: “the government could have done more to prevent many of the problems from growing out of control and threatening the stability of the financial system”, as we await the effects of the UK reforms over the next couple of months.

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Women should have babies before 35

Posted by hannahflynn on June 16, 2009

The Daily Mail has been the first to report the recent findings of a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which has highlighted the difficulty many women face reproducing after the age of 35.

The study claims the optimum age to have children is between the ages of 20 and 35. One of the most likely reasons for this is the risk of preeclampsia which increases in frequency in pregnancy women under the age of 20 and over the age of 40.

Since the story was published earlier today on the Mail’s website, comments have been predictably split. Though, it is Jillie in London who almost hits the nail on the head:

Outrageous advise ( if you can call it that) responsible people might want to be financially secure, or have a partner/husband on the scene when they start a family, to scare and badger women into having children before 35 is unforgivable, or is this a ploy by the government to ensure that there are enough young bloods to provide pensions in the years to come?”

The issue of social responsibility to reproduce or not reproduce has become increasingly antagonistic, particularly since the Optimum Population Trust launched their Stop at Two Pledge. However, this has never been an issue in Scandinavia.

Norway in particular, is responsible for launching social policy which enables women to reproduce during the optimum time period without loss of finances and therefor loss of taxes paid. Many of the Nordic countries, unlike many other developed Western countries have an increasing birth rate. It is believed that this is due to the implementation of policy including extended parental leave, subsidises child care and economic support packages for families.

Interestingly a study published in Demographic Research in 2004, showed longer maternity leave with better pay had a positive impact on the number of women reproducing in their twenties and thirties, suggesting policy can have a significant effect on when women chose to have children.

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Mooncup sales on the rise

Posted by hannahflynn on June 8, 2009

Many advocates cite the environemental benefits

Many advocates cite the environmental benefits. (Distributed under the Creative Common's license)

Sales of menstrual cups have increased dramatically over the last year in the UK, mainly due to their increasing presence on the high street.

High street chemist Boots stocked the menstrual product in only 300 of its stores last year, but you can now buy them in 1,300. Sales have grown by 37 per cent since April 2008.

Kath Clements, a spokesperson for Mooncup UK  said, “It is now a normal thing to do rather than a fringe product. I think it has become popular during this financial crisis because it saves a lot of money and some women like the fact that it is an environmentally friendly product.”

Their product has received a lot of attention recently with a recent positive Which? review. Expert Alison Eastwood said, “four out of seven testers [became] enthusiastic converts, won over by the cost, how well it works and the convenience of not having to carry tampons about and dispose of them” 

In the same year, Mooncup has been awarded ‘Best Buy’ status by the Ethical Consumer Magazine.   The Mooncup is also the top rated sanitary product in The Good Shopping Guide (New Edition).

So what is the Mooncup?

Basically, it is a small silicon cup which you use in place of a tampon. It is reusable so you only need to buy one. They currently retail for around £19, but the company and coverts claim the savings quickly add up. It is registered with the Vegan Society.

Many women use it for the environmental benefits, but more use it because of heavy periods or conversely light periods. The Mooncup holds on average three times as much as a tampon or pad, but because it isn’t absorbent it can be used by people with light flows without being uncomfortable.

Mooncup UK are based near Bristol and are an ethical company which employs only eight people

Mooncup UK are based near Bristol and are an ethical company which employs only eight people. (Distributed under the Creative Commons license.)

So, what’s wrong with it. Firstly it could cause problems if you are prone to urinary tract infections as it can press on the urethra in a similar way to the diaphragm. Originally, supporters of The Mooncup cited it did not carry the risk  of toxic shock syndrome which tampons did, but current medical advice suggests you do not leave anything in your vagina for longer than eight hours. The manufacturers of The Mooncup also admit their product requires a “hands on approach” which women who are used to modern products may find hard to become accustomed too.

Now the big one. Carrying it around in public is a bit of a bore. The only thing which is provided to hold it is a pretty cotton drawstring bag. It is attractive but: white, absorbent and porous. Plus, there is the issue of rinsing it out in public. The company suggest carrying a bottle of water with you to use in the cubicle, but that could end up seeming more cumbersome than what you are currently using.

Have you used the Mooncup or are you thinking about doing so? If so drop me a line on what you think of this innovative product.

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