Women's health symptoms

The gender health gap is real, and one sad result is that women are often reluctant to ‘bother’ their doctor with symptoms that they aren’t sure are definitely a problem. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated this, as of course we all want to avoid any unnecessary trips out. Not to mention overburdening the health service.

But there are some things that are absolutely worth a trip to the clinic. We’ve compiled a list of women’s health symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

Weight loss

Now, if you’ve been on a diet then of course shedding a few of those extra pounds is a good thing – worthy of celebration, not a trip to the GP. But if you’re losing weight and you’re not sure why, this can be a danger sign and you should book to see your doctor ASAP.

Sometimes we lose weight without meaning to, simply because we’ve been eating a bit less or exercising more. But unexplained weight loss can also be a symptom of something more serious, so do get it checked out.

Abdominal bloating

If you feel like your stomach is looking swollen, or you are experiencing a bloated, full feeling after eating, it could be worth paying the doctor a visit.

Keep an eye on it. If it’s just happening every now and again it could well just be something you’re eating. But if it’s a regular thing and is happening even after quite small meals, then it might be a sign that something’s not right.

Sudden changes to your urinary/bowel movements

Everyone experiences the occasional urgent need to run for the nearest toilet. But what if you find you are suddenly feeling this urgency every time you need to go to the toilet? Or you might be suffering from incontinence without any obvious reason (such as recent childbirth). In either case, you should book an appointment with your GP.

Pelvic pain

If you’re experiencing persistent pelvic pain, and particularly if the onset was sudden, it is important to get it checked out by a medical professional.

While pain can be a normal precursor to menstruation, you know what is normal for you, and if this doesn’t feel right do contact a doctor.

Any of the above plus a family history of cancer

If you’ve been suffering from one of the symptoms above but aren’t quite sure if it warrants a doctor’s appointment, explore your family’s medical history. Some cancers, particularly breast and ovarian cancers, have a strong genetic link. If a family member has had it, the chances of your getting it are increased.

In fact, if you aren’t suffering symptoms but have a family history of cancer, it is worth getting a screening. You can check if you have the mutation that could lead to cancer in later life.

None of these symptoms is necessarily anything to worry about, but it is important to get them checked out, if only to put your mind at rest.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us at SureScan Women’s Health Clinic.

Postpartum health

The topic of pregnancy and childbirth as related to the workplace can be a thorny one. Whilst there have been huge advances in provision for prenatal care, and the introduction of shared parental leave has gone some way to improve women’s options, the return to work after childbirth still proves very difficult for many women.

Pre- versus post-natal care

During pregnancy, employers are obliged to give us time off to attend midwife appointments, or even prenatal yoga sessions. We are then able to take up to a year in maternity leave to bond with our baby. But should we decide to return to the workplace at the end of that twelve months, that’s where the special treatment ends.

It is well known that mothers tend to bear the brunt of any infant illnesses. When a child is sent home from nursery or school, it’s often the mother who takes time off to care for them. And this is often to the detriment of their career progression.

But it’s not just the children themselves who are unwittingly hampering their mother’s chances of promotion. Embarrassing postpartum health issues can also hold women back.

Postpartum health concerns

The most common problem that women experience after childbirth is incontinence due to pelvic weakness. And this isn’t a problem that just goes away by itself. A casual conversation with any mother you know will reveal that grandmothers are just as likely to be afflicted as new mums.

In a recent survey of women in the workplace, 30% said that pelvic health issues had affected their performance at work. 36% said they had felt uncomfortable, embarrassed or anxious at work because of issues linked to their pelvic health. 41% said they had taken time off for health problems they did not feel comfortable discussing with their boss or co-workers.

Another global study predominantly covered the US and the UK. It found that 95% of women thought it would be beneficial for employers to receive training in employee welfare. And it would include postpartum health modules.

Tackling the problem

Women handle this issue in the workplace in any number of ways. Some insist on a desk stationed close to the toilets, and some avoid attending long meetings. But these can be career-limiting choices.

Arguably, lockdown has been a positive change for these women. It is much easier to slip away to the comfort of your own bathroom without the discomfiting gaze of your colleagues. And no one will notice a quick toilet break in a Zoom meeting amid all the various household interruptions everyone is experiencing.

But while some companies may be considering home working as a long term option, it isn’t really a solution. Both women and their employers need to be better educated about postpartum health issues and what can be done about them.

Bladder weakness doesn’t have to be a permanent part of your life. Here at Surescan we specialise in women’s health, and our team can offer help and advice to overcome postpartum pelvic health issues.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us.

trying for a baby

If you’re trying for a baby – or if you think you might be soon, you will want to do everything you can to improve your chances of success.

In light of the current pandemic, you might not want to risk a trip to the doctor for advice. So to help you, we’ve come up with some of the most important things you can do to boost your fertility.

1. Eat and drink well

It may seem obvious, but eating a balanced diet is important when it comes to both improving your fertility and making your body a safe place to grow a baby. Try to avoid junk food and instead eat foods that will provide all the nutrients you need.

Red meat (in moderation), green leafy vegetables and complex carbohydrates like oats and whole grains are all beneficial in their nutritious content. They also keep you feeling fuller for longer so you aren’t tempted to snack on less healthy foods.

It is also important to drink lots of water, and to avoid alcohol. Think of this as a practice run for pregnancy!

2. Get more sleep

Lack of sleep has been linked to fertility issues, so do your best to get as close to the full eight hours as possible every night.

Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Exercise (but not too close to bedtime) – fresh air and exercise are both great to help you sleep. But avoid any vigorous exercise in the two hours before bedtime, as it can also be stimulating
  • Avoid screens before bed – try to put your phone down and switch off the telly at least an hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted from digital screens has been shown to decrease levels of melanin, the sleep hormone
  • Maintain a regular bedtime – studies show that going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps to set your body clock so that you sleep better

3. Avoid stress

This is a tricky one, but if you can keep your life as calm and stress free as possible, it will boost your chances of conceiving.

Following some of the advice above will help. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding alcohol should help keep your stress levels on an even keel. By taking regular exercise and avoiding checking your email late at night can go some way to keeping you calm.

4. Get a fertility MOT

If you’re already doing some or all of the above, but want some reassurance about your fertility levels, why not book in for a fertility MOT?

We can perform blood tests and an ultrasound to check your pelvic health and hormone levels as well as your ovarian reserve. Even if you’re not actively trying for a baby yet, a fertility MOT can be a useful tool to analyse how soon you need to be thinking about it.

And while a clean bill of fertility health isn’t a guarantee of conception success, it can help to remove stress. And it might just help you sleep better at night.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us.

Woman's health

Much has been made in the media recently of the so-called ‘gender health gap’. Both medical professionals and members of the public believe that women’s health has long been neglected.

Taking note of this growing discontent, the government plans to launch a new ‘Women’s Health Strategy’. The aim is to equalise healthcare for men and women.

To help them ensure the strategy is as effective as possible, the Ministry of Health is calling for the public to put forward their views on women’s healthcare and how it can be improved.

Why the focus on women’s health?

One of the issues is a gap in the data. Pregnant women and women of childbearing age are often underrepresented in clinical trials, which means we know less about many female-specific conditions and how to treat them.

Many girls and women have had their symptoms dismissed as ‘women’s troubles’ and so have not received a diagnosis that could have resulted in life-changing treatment.

One glaring example of this is endometriosis, which has a staggering seven to eight-year average wait for diagnosis. That’s up to eight years of women living with often debilitating pain.

How can women help themselves?

Hopefully the new Women’s Health Strategy will make a big difference to the diagnosis and treatment of women’s health issues. And it is very clear that it is the health system that needs to change, not its users.

However, while we wait for the effects of the strategy to trickle down through the health system, there are some ways in which women can help themselves to get the treatment they need:

Listen to your body – if you feel like something isn’t quite right, have confidence in your convictions. We are often told it’s ‘normal’ to experience abdominal pain, heavy periods, spotting, etc. But if it’s not normal for you, it’s worth getting checked out.

Stand firm – don’t let the doctor fob you off. Insist on an examination and a referral to a gynaecologist if necessary.

Women’s health specialists

Here at Surescan, we specialise in women’s health, so if you feel like your GP is not taking your symptoms seriously, or you just want a bit of extra reassurance, you can rest assured that we will leave no stone unturned in trying to find the root cause of your problem.

So whether you’re concerned about abdominal pain, heavy periods, fertility issues or the menopause, at Surescan we are here to help. Women’s health is our number one priority.

For more information or to book an appointment, please contact us.

smear test

Smear tests, like so many other ‘routine’ checks and treatments, have been somewhat swept under the carpet over the past year. Of course, it’s understandable, given the wider context of a global pandemic, but should we take this to mean that smear tests don’t really matter?

Short answer: NO

Without wanting to resort to hyperbole, smear tests can quite literally save lives. Cervical cancer is practically symptomless in the early stages, which means by the time it is picked up it can often be too late.

Doctors recommend at least one smear test every three years for women aged between 25 and 49. This means that any abnormalities can be detected before you start to show symptoms, so treatment can commence early.

How common is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, and is most common among sexually active women aged between 25 and 49. If diagnosed early, it is also one of the most treatable cancers. This is why regular smear tests are so important.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

As mentioned above, in the very early stages there are no symptoms. But as the cancer gets more advanced, symptoms can include irregular bleeding, often before or after intercourse. Also, pain during intercourse, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain.

All these symptoms can also be linked to a number of other conditions, so screening is vital to rule out cervical cancer. Screening within a gynaecology-specific environment will speed up the process of diagnosing the root cause.

What causes cervical cancer?

In 99% of cases, cervical cancer is linked to infection with HPV, an extremely common sexually transmitted disease.

Can I get a smear test during lockdown?

Officially, smear tests should still be happening during lockdown. But the reality is that within the NHS, routine screening tests are being subjected to delays and cancellations.

You can, however, book to have a smear test performed privately. Here at Surescan, we offer a combined smear test and HPV screening, to provide added peace of mind.

We are also a specialist centre for women’s health and fertility issues. If you are seeking a smear test because you are experiencing symptoms associated with cancer of the cervix, we are able to investigate other causes of your symptoms. We can hopefully come up with a diagnosis that can offer you some relief.

If you would like to find out more about our cervical cancer screening programme, or to book an appointment, please contact us.

sleep and fertility

We all know the value of a good night’s sleep. Particularly in these trying times, a full eight hours can be the difference between a bearable day and one where you’re fighting to keep your head above water.

But did you know that sleep can also have an impact on your fertility?

Sleep and hormones

Sleep is essential for our body and brain to refresh and replenish themselves and, among other things, to regulate our hormones.

Hormones are useful for all sorts of things. They help us to grow, to regulate our metabolism, control our moods and have many other essential functions. But perhaps their most famous role, particularly in women, is in the reproductive system.

When we lose sleep, for whatever reason, this can affect hormone production, including those which are responsible for fertility. In fact, it is the same part of the brain that regulates the sleep/wake function, which releases our daily dose of reproductive hormones.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that one or two bad nights’ sleep will render you infertile, but in the long term, lack of sleep could certainly increase your chances of needing to seek help with your fertility.

What causes a lack of sleep?

It’s well known that there is a strong link between insomnia and stress. And sadly, it works both ways, resulting in something of a catch-22: the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to have difficulty sleeping, but the less sleep you are getting, the more stressed you are likely to be.

But stress isn’t the only thing that leads to insomnia. Fresh air and exercise are known to help us get a good night’s sleep. So it stands to reason that a lack of either could start to take its toll.

Screens are also prime culprits when it comes to difficulty sleeping. The light emitting from TVs, phones, computers etc. can decrease production of melanin – the hormone we need for sleep. So looking at screens late at night should be avoided if you want to get a full night’s sleep.

All starting to sound a bit familiar?

Yes, we know: stress, a lack of fresh air and exercise, late-night screen use – these are all things that are near-enough unavoidable during lockdown. Even if you are managing to get out for a run every day, the likelihood is you’re not spending nearly so much time outside as you would normally.

And using your laptop into the small hours is essential if you’re working from home and having to fit your job around everything else in your life.

If you are worried that a lack of sleep might be affecting your fertility and would like to talk it through, we can help. The chances are that there isn’t a problem, but if you are really worried, why not book in for our Fertility MOT to put your mind at rest? For more information, get in touch with us.

Lockdown and Women's Health

In a recent Guardian article, Baroness Tanni Grey Thomson raised the issue of the unprecedented pressure on women’s health caused by the latest lockdown.

Teaming up with Kate Dale, the campaign lead for This Girl Can, Grey Thomson was mainly focusing on the loss of exercise. But are there other ways that female health has been affected by lockdown?

Mental and emotional wellbeing

It was this issue that was addressed in the Guardian. Grey Thomson argued that over the course of three lockdowns, women have taken on more responsibility than ever. Furthermore, they had even less time to address their own needs.

A considerable number of men have of course stepped up and taken on their fair share of parental responsibilities. But the figures show that on the whole it is women who have shouldered the burden of homeschooling. This, alongside the normal household obligations of washing, cooking and cleaning, often whilst also trying to hold down a job.

For many, this has meant working from early in the morning until late into the night to get everything done. This leaves little time for exercise, which can be key to maintaining our physical, and our mental health.

“Women are facing unprecedented pressure on their health due to lockdown, not least when trying to stay active,” she said. “There should be serious concern about the impact of lockdown on our overall wellbeing, particularly without the same opportunities to stay active for our mental and physical health.”

Sleep

Sleep is an essential part of life, and lack of it can have a far-reaching impact. So although this does of course link in with our mental wellbeing, we thought it warranted a section all of its own.

The lockdown is affecting women’s sleep in a number of different ways. Most commonly, women are having to reduce their sleeping hours in order to fulfil all their professional, household and parental obligations. It’s just not possible to fit a full-time job as well as six hours of homeschooling into a sixteen-hour day. Even less when you factor in time for meals, washing, cleaning and all the myriad daily tasks that so often go unseen.

But then there’s all the hours of sleep lost because of anxiety. Worries about Covid, about our children’s mental health, or about how to achieve everything we need to do the next day.

More urgent health issues

Lack of exercise is absolutely a major concern for women in lockdown. But the pandemic has also raised some rather alarming issues around more serious diagnoses.

As the NHS has been forced to shut down all but the most urgent of non-Covid treatments, women are missing out on ‘routine’ checks such as smear tests and mammograms. And while in many cases this doesn’t cause an issue, sadly for some it means that what could have been an early diagnosis has been lost.

Surescan is still open and offering smear tests, ovarian cancer screening and other diagnostic tests, so if you are concerned about the impact lockdown is having on your health, we are here to help. Please contact us to find out more.

talk about periods

Supermodel Natalia Vodianova might be best known for her work on the catwalk, but she’s also a passionate advocate for human rights. She has now been named by the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA as its latest Goodwill Ambassador.

Ms Vodianova’s aim in the role is to ‘culturally redefine menstruation’ as a normal bodily function. And she wants to remove the taboo that surrounds it within many cultures.

Why talk about periods?

In Western society, raising awareness of periods might seem unnecessary. That’s because on the whole we are already aware that they are a natural part of life. Most of us just accept that it happens, we have access to sanitary items and our life can continue as normal.

In many countries around the world, however, this simply is not the case. According to the UNFPA (officially known as the UN Population Fund), in some countries there are taboos surrounding the issue. This can leave women and girls very vulnerable and can even be life threatening. They can be excluded from public life and denied sanitation and basic health needs.

Making the change

It’s no simple matter to reverse centuries of tradition, as obvious as it may seem that those traditions are harmful to women.

In fact it could easily be argued that we still have a long way to go in this country. We may not be forced to remove ourselves from society when we are on our period. But there are instances of diagnoses being missed because women are reluctant to discuss menstruation.

So how does Ms Vodianova plan to address the issue? Well she’s already made a start. Over the past three years, she has teamed up with the UNFPA to chair a series of ‘Let’s Talk’ events. These aim to target policy makers as well as civil society and the private sector, worldwide. She wants to help tackle the shame and discrimination faced routinely by millions of women and girls around the world.

Why a supermodel?

UN goodwill ambassadors are often celebrities, as a recognisable face can garner more attention than an unknown. But Natalia Vodianova has a particular personal interest in human rights, and especially women’s rights.

Brought up in poverty in Russia by a single mother, Vodianova also helped care for her half sister, who has cerebral palsy and autism. This start in life has given her a unique insight into the struggles faced by women in poverty. She is now keen to use some of her fame and fortune to help make life a little bit easier for others.

Speaking about her appointment, Vodianova has said:

“As UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador, I will stand up for women and girls everywhere. I won’t stop speaking up about what I know is right until we are able to raise the standard for women’s health around the world.”

Perimenopausal

Once you reach a certain age, it is tempting to see everything as a sign that you are perimenopausal. But what are the signs you should really be looking out for?

Changes to your menstrual cycle

It might seem obvious, but changes to the frequency or duration of your period is often the first sign that something is afoot.

Some women find their periods get much heavier as they approach the menopause, others get lighter. Some get their period every two or three weeks, some will go months without bleeding at all, then bleed non-stop for a fortnight.

Really, any change at all in your menstrual cycle is a sign that something is going on inside. However, these things can also be a symptom of other gynaecological conditions. So it is important to consult with a doctor, who will be able to confirm whether the changes you are seeing are due to perimenopause or something else.

Hot flushes

Aside from changes to your period, hot flushes are probably the most widely known symptom of perimenopause.

A hot flush is often described as a sudden overwhelming feeling of heat that seems to come from nowhere. They are usually short in duration, and for some women they occur infrequently and don’t cause much of a problem. Others might have several hot flushes a day and find them inconvenient and embarrassing.

There are a few things that are thought to increase the frequency of hot flushes, including:

  • spicy food
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • smoking

Insomnia

Perimenopausal women often have difficulty sleeping. They either struggle to get to sleep at the beginning of the night, or wake up during the night.

Over a prolonged period this lack of sleep can have a cumulative effect, impacting on your mood during the day. It can exacerbate another symptom of perimenopause…

Mood swings

Every woman knows that anything which affects your hormones is also going to have an effect on your mood. Perimenopause is no different.

Many women report feeling very low in mood or experiencing increased anxiety during the perimenopause period. Others find that their mood will change dramatically for seemingly no reason.

If you are experiencing mood changes, it is important to be kind to yourself and keep a watch on your mood. If at any point you feel the mood swings are getting out of hand, or you feel like you are becoming depressed, get in touch with a doctor, who should be able to help.

Recurrent UTIs

A lesser-known symptom of perimenopause, urinary tract infections can be very unpleasant and painful. They are thought to occur more during menopause as your oestrogen levels drop dramatically, increasing muscular pressure around your urethra.

Symptoms of UTIs include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Needing to urinate more frequently or with more urgency
  • Blood in your urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • A high temperature

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it might be worth investigating whether you are perimenopausal.

Here at SureScan, we provide a full menopause healthcheck to help your path through the menopause run that much smoother. For more information, please contact us.

Covid and fertility

There is no doubt that for many of us the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is wonderful news. Bringing us that much closer to a time when we can get together again with friends and family. But there are people who do have some concerns.

Fertility matters

When you are trying for a baby, it is natural to be extra careful about what you are putting into your body. In recent weeks, there have been some rumours spreading on social media that the Covid-19 vaccine could affect fertility. Some posts have even gone so far as to suggest that the jab could cause recipients to become infertile.

Here at SureScan, fertility treatment forms a large part of our service. We take a great interest in anything that could have an impact on fertility. With that in mind, we decided to investigate these claims a little further. So, could the Covid jab really affect fertility?

‘No evidence’

The rumours surrounding the Covid vaccine and infertility have not just affected members of the general public. Even healthcare workers have been put off having the jab.

In January, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) issued a joint statement to dispel these rumours. They confirmed that there is ‘no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 vaccines will affect fertility’.

And whilst it’s true that a lack of evidence does not mean it’s an impossibility, Dr Edward Morris, president of the RCOG, went on to reassure the public that there is ‘no biologically plausible mechanism by which current vaccines would cause any impact on women’s fertility’.

Covid-19 and fertility

Not only will having the jab not affect your chances of having a baby, there is a growing body of evidence to show that the pandemic is impacting the efficacy of fertility treatment. So it could be argued that the sooner we roll the vaccine out, the sooner couples can begin to get the help they need to conceive.

Fertility treatment in the UK stopped altogether between March and May 2020, and has been operating on a reduced service since. A recent study from Aberdeen University shows that these delays is having a disproportionate impact on women aged 40 plus.

The study looked at the impact of delays in the onset of fertility treatment of six months or twelve months. Women in five age categories, from under 30 to 40-42, were affected in some way. However, the biggest impact was seen in the 40-42 category. Here there was estimated to be an 11.8% reduction in live births after a six-month delay, and a 22.4% reduction if the treatment was delayed by a year.

The authors of the study have said that they hope the results will inform a phased reintroduction of IVF in the NHS. And women aged 40 plus would get priority.

For more information about fertility treatment, please contact us on 0121 308 7774.