Sexual health check

STIQ Day is a national awareness day that happens each year on 14 January. It is all about getting the nation thinking about their sexual health and how to protect both themselves and others from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

If sexually transmitted infections are left undiagnosed and untreated there is a risk that they could cause complications and long term health issues for both men and women including pelvic inflammatory diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes including ectopic pregnancy, abortion and premature delivery along with neonatal and infant infections, urology-related issues such as urethral strictures and also genital malignancies.

Below are some common sexually transmitted infections. If you notice any symptoms or are concerned about your own or your partner’s sexual health, we encourage you to get in touch and arrange a sexual health check.

Chlamydia & Gonorrhoea

Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK as most people do not notice any symptoms and therefore are unaware that they have them. Although often described as ‘silent’, it can take several weeks for symptoms to appear. These include unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum, pain when urinating, bleeding during or after sex and abdominal pain in women during sex.

If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause infertility and could lead to the development of inflammatory pelvic disease (PID) which is linked to fertility issues. Both chlamydia and gonorrhoea are treated with a simple course of antibiotics.

Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is characterised by weeping blisters around the genital area which can cause painful and itchy open sores which could last for several days or weeks. These symptoms generally clear up on their own however there is no treatment for this infection and the virus can lay dormant within the body for a long time.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a highly contagious infection that is passed on through unprotected sex. This infection is characterised by sores on the genitals, rectum or around the mouth which generally develop around 2 or 3 weeks after contracting the bacterial infection. This won’t go away on its own and if left untreated can lead to serious health problems. Fortunately, it can be cured with a short course of antibiotics.

HIV and AIDS

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and is transmitted through sexual contact, through injecting contaminated blood or blood products and from mother to child in the womb. AIDS is at the end of the HIV spectrum when the immune system has become so badly damaged from HIV that the person becomes seriously ill.

Get A Sexual Health Check at SureScan

Here at SureScan for Women, we can put both you and your partner’s minds at rest through our full range of sexual health testing, advice and treatment options. Get in touch today to book a Sexual Health Check with one of our dedicated gynaecologists.

Pregnant women

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have expressed their disappointment that the Government has not prioritised pregnant women for the COVID booster vaccine. This comes after the Government announced that the booster will now be offered to everyone over the age of 18 in England.

The concern stems as studies show that 98% of pregnant women who are admitted to hospital are unvaccinated, along with higher rates of admission to intensive care.

Increased Risk of COVID in Pregnancy

Current evidence from the UK suggests that although pregnant women are no more likely to contract COVID than other healthy adults in the population, there is an increased risk of them becoming severely unwell.

Data shows that although not all pregnant women with COVID develop symptoms, those that do develop severe symptoms are more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications, particularly during the third trimester.

A recent study revealed that pregnant women who tested positive for COVID at the time of birth were more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, require an emergency caesarean, along with the risk of stillbirth increasing by twofold.

Pregnant Women Prioritised for Vaccine

Vaccination against COVID is recommended in pregnancy and is considered to be the safest way to protect women and their babies. The NHS and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) are campaigning for pregnant women to be prioritised in the vaccination and booster programme.

Key Advice for Pregnant Women

  • Receiving two doses of the vaccine along with a booster is the safest and most effective way of protecting from COVID.
  • Pregnant women may choose to limit close contact with those not in their support bubble in order to reduce the level of virus transmission. This is particularly important during the third trimester.
  • Keeping hydrated, mobile and active with a balanced diet including folic acid and vitamin D supplementation can help to support a healthy pregnancy. It is however vitally important that you discuss supplementation with a health professional before adding to your routine.

Get In Touch

Here at SureScan for Women, we understand that pregnancy can be a time full of apprehension, especially during a global pandemic. We can help to offer reassurance and support with our early pregnancy scans. Get in touch today to book a consultation with one of our dedicated healthcare professionals.

Fibroids and polyps

Uterine fibroids and polyps are extremely common among women and around 80% will experience them at least once during their lifetime.

Both of these conditions cause growths to form within the reproductive system and can cause similar symptoms. However, it is important to know the difference between the two so that you can seek the appropriate treatment.

What are Fibroids?

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop around the uterine wall or within the uterine cavity and are made up of muscle and fibrous tissue. They can vary in size, starting from the size of a pea and increasing to the size of a melon.

Fibroids are extremely common and around 1 in 3 women develops them at some stage in their life, but the most common age is between 30 and 50 which is linked to oestrogen levels and reproductive age.

Typically fibroids are found in young women who often have symptoms such as heavy bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, constipation and frequent urination. They can lead to infertility and pregnancy-related complications. Issues with fertility are caused due to disruptions to implantation and embryo growth.

How Do Fibroids and Polyps Differ?

Uterine polyps are growths that are formed from endometrial tissue and are attached to the inner wall of the uterus which then extend into the uterine cavity.

The exact cause of these is unknown but studies suggest that they may be linked to the changing hormone levels as these fluctuations cause the uterus lining to thicken and shed during different stages of the menstrual cycle.

Polyps can grow from a few millimetres up to a few centimetres. They will only typically cause pain if they protrude from the uterus into the vagina.

Some common symptoms that develop include irregular periods, heavy bleeding, spotting between cycles, vaginal bleeding after menopause and difficulty in conceiving. Polyps can cause issues with fertility as they can stop a fertilised egg from attaching to the uterus or may end up blocking the fallopian tubes or cervix.

Treating Fibroids and Polyps?

Removal of fibroids and polyps is advised if you want to get pregnant, however, if you do have symptoms, it is important to determine whether one of these conditions is the cause.

In order to help identify what is causing symptoms associated with fibroids and uterine polyps, SureScan can offer a gynaecology scan with one of our specialist professionals which can help to identify any abnormal pathology through a simple scan of the uterus and ovaries.

Get in touch today to book a consultation with one of our dedicated health professionals.

Recurrent miscarriages

December marks the start of National Grief Awareness Week when awareness is raised surrounding grief. One area of bereavement that is often overlooked, is that following a miscarriage.

New guidance published for consultation by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is hoping to change the amount of support offered to women after having a miscarriage – including support in their coping with miscarriage loss and future support with early pregnancy scans.

What is a Miscarriage?

A miscarriage is the natural loss of pregnancy within the first 23 weeks of pregnancy. Miscarriage is the most common form of pregnancy loss and it affects around 1 in 4 pregnancies. The main indications of a miscarriage are vaginal bleeding or spotting with or without abdominal pain or cramping. However, there are often no obvious signs at all.

Even though a miscarriage is unfortunately common, there are still gaps in knowledge as to the cause which means that most women do not find out the cause of their loss which can be an extremely difficult thing to process.

External link: The Miscarriage Association: Pregnancy loss information and support

Late and Recurrent Miscarriages

Although most miscarriages occur within the first 12-13 weeks of pregnancy, a late miscarriage refers to a pregnancy loss within the second or mid-trimester between 14 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

A recurrent miscarriage is defined as having three or miscarriages in a row, even if you have had previous healthy pregnancies.

Changes in Guidance

Currently in the UK women can only access specialist support and additional investigations after they have experienced three miscarriages in a row. However, new guidance issued by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) hopes to move towards a more individualised approach to care and allow women to access specialists earlier.

To begin, the RCOG feel that any woman who suffers even one miscarriage should receive information and support in order to help them cope with their loss and get help in order to plan for future pregnancies.

Furthermore, anyone who has two miscarriages should be automatically offered an appointment for clinical investigations with a specialist health practitioner. After three miscarriages it is proposed that a more in-depth exploration of health should be carried out.

Our Recurrent Miscarriage Service

At SureScan for Women, we offer a comprehensive Recurrent Miscarriage Service. This service is for anyone who has experienced three or more miscarriages in a row and would like help from a professional to investigate the cause and discuss treatment options for a successful future pregnancy.

If you would like to find out more, get in touch to book a consultation with one of our specialist consultant gynaecologists.

Missed periods

When a woman misses a period, it might be something to celebrate when the cause is pregnancy. However, a few missed periods with no natural cause can be concerning and might be a sign of an underlying health issue.

It is possible that too much exercise can cause missed periods. However, it is important to understand why this happens, and not to ignore it, especially when you are planning to get pregnant.

Here we look at one cause of missed periods, functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) – and how this can affect a woman’s reproductive health.

What is Amenorrhea?

The absence of a period is referred to as amenorrhea and this is perfectly normal during pregnancy, breastfeeding and throughout menopause however, some women do experience this for pathological reasons.

Amenorrhea can be split into two main categories: primary and secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is when a female fails to start their period by the age of 16. Whereas secondary amenorrhea refers to when a woman has missed at least three periods without a natural cause. It is estimated that secondary amenorrhea affects around 3-5% of women.

Can Periods Stop Because Of Too Much Exercise?

One of the most common forms of secondary amenorrhea is
functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) which is a reversible hormone imbalance where bleeding stops. This can be stress-related, weight loss-related and sometimes it is caused by excessive exercise. This can influence a woman’s reproductive health.

External link: Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea and its influence on women’s health (nih.gov)

It is often thought that in the case of excessive exercise that only elite athletes can have this condition – but home or work-related stress can also contribute.

How Are Missed Periods Linked to Infertility?

When the body is experiencing stress, the hypothalamus in the brain becomes idle which then stops the production of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). It is this hormone that usually signals the ovaries to produce oestrogen. Without these correct signals, the body reproductive system does not prepare for ovulation and therefore is unable to successfully conceive.

These hormone changes mean that a woman with FHA can suffer from other health problems, affecting the skeletal system, cardiovascular system, and mental health. Therefore, it is important that if your periods have stopped, that you seek a diagnosis from a professional so that you can discuss treatment options and prevent long-term health issues.

Speak to a Professional

If you are concerned about missed periods, get in touch to book a consultation with one of our specialist gynaecologists. They will be able to assess you and identify any causes of stopped or delayed bleeding.

After a tailored consultation, a gynaecological scan may be carried out to help determine the cause for concern. Get in touch today to find out more information.

Stress and conception

Attempting to get pregnant comes with many challenges. Around 1 in 7 couples report having difficulty in conceiving and only around 84% of couples actually get pregnant within a year of having regular unprotected sex.

There are a number of different reasons why you might not be able to conceive after actively trying which can range from age, alcohol intake and weight. But did you know that stress and conception are also linked?

Here we look at how your stress levels can affect conception, and look at some ways to overcome stress for a successful pregnancy.

The Role of Stress

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain in which the body responds both emotionally and physically. When the body is exposed to a threat or is exposed to excess pressure the body thinks it is under attack and therefore switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode.

This leads to a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine being released which help to prepare the body for physical action.

How Are Stress and Conception Linked?

The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormone signals in the brain and each month the ovaries release an egg after it has matured – this is known as ovulation. The egg enters into the fallopian tube and down to the uterus where it will be ready for fertilisation.

However, stress can interfere with these monthly hormonal shifts and can cause regular patterns and signalling to go off track. This can lead to abnormal cycles and therefore difficulty in conceiving.

In 2018 a study revealed that women who reported feeling more stressed during their ovulatory window were approximately 40% less likely to conceive compared to other less stressful months.

Natural Ways To Beat Stress

Although reducing stress levels isn’t an overarching cure for infertility, there are a number of things that could help. Meditation is one way to reduce stress levels. But also consider taking more regular exercise, or perhaps try holistic therapies like acupuncture, massage therapy or foot reflexology.

All of these methods aim to counterbalance some of the negative effects of stress on the body, in particular, the reproductive system without depending on pharmaceutical interventions.

Fertility Health Checks

If you are concerned about stress and conception, SureScan offers fertility health checks for individuals or couples struggling to get pregnant. One of our dedicated consultant gynaecologists will give you the opportunity to discuss any questions you or your partner might have in a calm and relaxing environment.

If you would like more information then don’t hesitate to get in touch and book a consultation.

rest during pregnancy

Historically exercising during pregnancy has been frowned upon as childbirth is considered to be a high-risk time in terms of health. For centuries women have been told to rest during pregnancy.

However, experts are now concerned that too much rest during pregnancy may not, in fact, be such a good idea.

Lying In

Historically, you may have heard the term ‘lying in’ used which involves limiting movement by remaining in bed or seated for the majority of the day. For centuries, doctors routinely advised limiting movement in order to reduce the risk of pregnancy or postpartum complications. However, this stationary effect can potentially cause harm.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

During pregnancy, blood plasma can increase by up to 40-50% along with changes to clotting ability. These changes help to provide nutrients for the foetus and also help to safeguard against excessive bleeding during labour. However, prolonged periods of immobility significantly increase the chances of developing clotting issues such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

A DVT is a serious condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein within the body, commonly the leg. The symptoms of a blood clot can include pain, swelling and tenderness in the area along with a heavy ache and warm, inflamed skin.

This condition is very serious and requires emergency treatment.

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy can bring with it many benefits both physically and for mental well being. There is evidence to suggest that active women are less likely to experience issues in later pregnancy and in labour.

Building a regular exercise habit can help to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression whilst also increasing self-confidence and mood.

If you do choose to exercise during pregnancy then you should aim to still be able to carry out a conversation. If you become breathless, then you are pushing too hard and will need to slow down to a safer level. Exercise does not need to be strenuous to still be beneficial.

Questions About Rest During Pregnancy

If you are unsure how much you should exercise, or rest during pregnancy, or if you have any other concerns, then please get in touch with our friendly team. We can give you advice and organise an appointment with one of our Pregnancy Service consultant gynaecologists.

female discharge

Vaginal discharge is not often a hot topic for discussion. It is completely normal for all women to experience discharge, and most of the time there is nothing to worry about. Female discharge is an important fluid that helps to keep the vagina clean, moist and also to protect it from infections. The mucus membrane of the vagina and glands on the cervix produce the discharge in order to maintain the health of the reproductive system.

What is ‘Normal’ Female Discharge?

Normal vaginal discharge should not have any strong or unpleasant smells. It is usually either clear or white and can be both thick and sticky along with feeling slippery to touch. The amount present will vary from person to person and also changes in line with a woman’s menstrual cycle throughout the month.

Menstrual Cycle and Female Discharge

Egg white discharge is a sign that ovulation is approaching. The egg white consistency of the discharge creates the perfect sticky fluid for sperm to travel through the cervix ready for fertilisation.

Creamy discharge usually occurs before or after the ovulation stage. This is primarily due to the dominant levels of progesterone which turn vaginal discharge from a clear fluid into a thick white mucus.

As long as the vaginal discharge does not have a bad odour these are both completely normal.

Other Causes of Female Discharge

If you notice changes in vaginal discharge for example in smell, colour or texture this could be a sign of infection that should not be ignored. The following conditions may be a cause of discharge, that you should get checked if you have any symptoms:

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of unusual vaginal discharge which often causes a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex. This condition is not serious, however, it is important to be treated with antibiotics to reduce the chances of further complications.

Thrush

Thrush is a common yeast infection that can occur in both men and women. The common symptoms for women include a white vaginal discharge, often described as a cottage cheese consistency that does not usually have an odour. Thrush is usually harmless but can be uncomfortable if left untreated.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)

Sexually transmitted infections can cause vaginal discharge to change as the harmful bacteria replace the healthy bacteria. This change often causes the vaginal discharge to become thin, watery, change in colour (sometimes to yellow and green) and increase in the amount present. If left untreated this can cause severe complications.

Get It Checked

For reassurance or if you are concerned about abnormal vaginal discharge then get in touch today to book a consultation with one of our experienced specialist gynaecologists. They can carry out a gynaecological scan and provide a diagnosis. They can also discuss treatment options with you.

male fertility

It is a biological fact that as women and men age, the likelihood of conceiving decreases alongside fertility health. In fact, the combination of both partners’ age could determine the chance of a healthy pregnancy. It is true that across the population, women who are younger than 35 and men who are younger than 40 are believed to have a better chance of having a child than those who are older.

When it comes to fertility, women’s health is often the hot topic however male fertility decline plays a contributing factor in 30-40% of infertility cases.

Age and Fertile Eggs

Women are born with all of their fertile eggs at birth, known as the ‘ovarian reserve’ which is estimated to be around 2 million. By the time puberty and fertile age is reached, this number is thought to have reduced to around 400,000. This number continues to decrease further with each menstrual bleed as this involves the shedding of the unfertilised egg and uterine lining each cycle.

Evidence suggests that from puberty through to menopause only around 400-500 eggs will actually reach maturity and be released from the ovary to be potentially fertilised in the female reproductive system.

Age and Fertile Sperm

For men it is slightly different as in contrast to the limited amount of eggs women have, men, create up to 100-200 million fresh new sperm every single day. To put it simply, this means that there is no risk that men will run out of sperm as they age.

However, there are a number of factors that do affect male fertility including reductions in sperm health and sperm motility (moving sperm). And these are both thought to continually decrease between the ages of 20 and 80.

Pregnancy and Birth Risks

Due to the changes evidenced in both eggs and sperm as we age, children of older parents have a higher risk of developing birth defects and genetic abnormalities. The risk of mental health issues and autism spectrum disorder is also marginally higher in those with fathers older than 40.

A 2018 study reveals that higher paternal age was associated with an increased risk of premature birth, low birth weight along with a low Apgar score (a checking system used by midwives and doctors to assess newborn health).

Book a Fertility Health Check

If you are planning a family, but are concerned about how your age might affect your chances of conceiving, then get in touch with Surescan. We can carry out a Fertility Health Check to assess several factors that affect your fertility, including a semen analysis. We can check for low sperm count and low sperm motility, but also assess any other problems that may affect your chances and discuss treatment options with you and your partner.

menstrual cycle

It is well known that the menstrual cycle plays a huge role in many aspects of life, including exercise. The bodies fluctuating hormone levels throughout the month can cause energy levels and performance to dip up and down depending on the menstrual phase.

Instead of eliminating all exercise, it is really important to gain an understanding of the different parts of the menstrual cycle and what this means in terms of exercise.

Working With Your Cycle

There are many benefits to be gained from exercise, especially during a period as it can trigger an endorphin and serotonin release. Exercise can help to manage depression, enhance mood and provide elements of natural pain relief which can be great for eliminating abdominal period cramps.

The menstrual cycle consists of several phases which are controlled by hormone fluctuations:

1. Menstrual Phase

This is the first phase of the menstrual cycle and is when a woman experiences bleeding. Progesterone and oestrogen drop to their lowest levels during menstruation as the body sheds the uterine lining. These drop-in hormones and blood loss are usually paired with a lack of energy.

Low-intensity exercises such as restorative yoga are ideal for this phase as it allows the body to flow and relax without the stress of high-intensity activities. This practice can also help to relieve symptoms of bloat, heavy bleeding and PMS.

2. Follicular Phase

During this second stage the body signals for the ovaries to release an egg, whilst oestrogen levels rise to thicken the uterine lining in preparation for the arrival of an egg. This rise brings with it increases in energy levels making it the perfect time to step up the intensity with exercise.

During the follicular phase when energy is high, it could be a great time to push yourself a little more with your training. This could be vigorous aerobic including high-intensity workouts, strength training, running and spinning which all use all of the major muscle groups.

3. Ovulation Phase

The ovulation phase sees oestrogen levels peak, which signals to the pituitary gland to release a surge of hormones causing the ovaries to release a mature egg. Energy levels during this phase still remain high which means great for continuing the high energy workouts of the follicular phase.

4. Luteal Phase

The last phase of the menstrual cycle that is just before menstruation is called the luteal phase. At the end of this phase oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone peak before then, declining until they hit their lowest point just before bleeding occurs.

During this phase, the body’s metabolism speeds up along with resting cortisol levels. It is advisable to avoid high-intensity workouts during this time and opt for gentler movements such as yoga, pilates or non-cardio strength training.

Speak To Our Specialists

If you would like to find out more about understanding your menstrual cycle or are suffering from symptoms such as pelvic pain that could be putting you off exercise – get in touch with SureScan today to speak to one of our specialist gynaecologists.