(Tina Dawn/ VM-Med) –– International Women’s Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on March 8, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse perpetuated against women. It’s also an opportunity to remind women to prioritize and take care of their own physical and mental health and well-being –and that includes their gynecological health.
Seen traditionally as the main caregivers, women have always been and continue to be under immense pressure to prioritize everyone else but themselves. Sandwiched between aging parents, young children, and demanding jobs, juggling roles and responsibilities, women often don’t have the time to take care of their own needs. Recent studies have revealed that women neglected or delayed important medical exams like routine mammograms and Pap tests during the pandemic.
But one can’t help others if they can’t help themselves. And nothing is more important than women empowering themselves through better awareness, prioritizing their own health, and being their own best health advocates.
Feel comfortable asking all questions
A woman’s biology is complex and requires attention throughout her life. From pre-menopause to her child-bearing years, to peri- and post-menopause, women’s gynecology requires both education and vigilance.
There’s no shortage of gynecological issues that affect women, and when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health, women should feel comfortable asking questions.
That includes questions and concerns about painful periods, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, unnatural growths, vaginal odor, urinary leakage, STDs, and any infertility risks associated with them. Nothing should be off limits for you and your doctor. Your medical practitioner, at the same time, should also make you feel comfortable, heard, and respected.
Women’s complex biology
There’s no shortage of medical issues women may need treatment for and it’s important that they have a comprehensive gynecological team of experts who can tend to their basic sexual, reproductive, and maternal health needs.
One of the most basic issues impacting millions of women around the world are period pain or excessive bleeding during their periods. Abnormal uterine bleeding is usually associated with excessive cramping and fatigue, and, of course, excessive menstrual bleeding. Many of the consequences are anemia and possible infertility.
Even when a woman’s menstrual life comes to an end, the complications don’t necessarily also end. For many women, perimenopause and post-menopause are times in their lives associated with other, equally disagreeable, symptoms. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, are just some of the uncomfortable side-effects of hormonal changes.
Other related issues are endometriosis and fibroids. Endometriosis is often difficult to diagnose. It causes painful and often heavy periods, pain during intercourse, and infertility. Fibroids are very common in women, but they, too, can cause painful periods and severe menstrual bleeding and infertility. They can also complicate a pregnancy, increasing the possibility of miscarriage or early labour.
Urinary tract infections are very common in women. If you’re experiencing blood in the urine, a burning or painful sensation while peeing, or frequent urination, you need to see a doctor. Your physician will require a urine culture and antibiotics will be prescribed.
Pregnancy and labour may be a natural part of a women’s biology for those wanting children, but that still doesn’t mean that complications can’t occur. Your gynecologist will follow you closely, ensuring that diabetes or hypertension won’t lead to further issues, like early labour or a miscarriage. Geriatric pregnancies also need to be followed very closely as the risks increase substantially.
A woman’s sexual life is closely associated with her reproductive biology. Vaginal infections and STIs, like bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis, or viruses like HPV, are quite common, and need to be addressed quickly. Your doctor needs to diagnose them and recommend the appropriate treatment. Untreated STIs can lead to infertility.
Common cancers for women
Two of the most common cancers affecting women are breast and cervical cancers. Early detection saves lives. It’s important that women don’t neglect their annual Pap tests and visits to their gynecologist, and get a mammogram when required, depending on their age and family history.
Women should pay attention to any changes in their breasts. Any unusual lumps in the breast, dimpling of the breast skin, or nipple discharge may be signs of cancer. Early diagnosis improves the outcome and it’s important for women to be familiar with self-breast exams for early detection. Breast ultrasound and mammograms may also detect cases early, increasing the chance of a positive outcome.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women. It’s vital that all sexually active women undergo regular Pap smears to detect them early. HPV vaccinations can also prevent HPV infections and may reduce the risk of cervical cancer. If you notice bleeding between periods or after sex, or a foul discharge, consult your doctor.
As another International Women’s Day rolls around, it’s more important than ever to make progress towards gender equality and invest in women’s and girls’ health around the world.
But women’s health worldwide starts with their own here at home. By women educating themselves about their own bodies and their own health, as well as their own medical needs and concerns, they empower themselves to demand better for themselves and all the other women in their lives.