Wednesday, 3rd July, 2019

Top Tips for Women's Health

Confused about the pill? Does it burn when you pee? Are you pelvic floor savvy?

It's not easy being the fairer sex, but fear not, when it comes to looking after women's health, we've got you covered.  

As a nod to International Women's Day our Clinical Pharmacist, Pooja, answers all your burning (excuse the pun) questions on women's health. Read on for her top tips on everything from breast checks to cervical smears. 

Be breast aware

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK - 1 in 8 women are diagnosed at some point in their lives. Knowing what sort of changes to look out for can be crucial in diagnosing cancer sooner, leading to more effective treatment.

Changes in your breasts can happen for various reasons, but it’s important for you to know how they normally look and feel so you can see your GP if there are any unusual changes.

Breasts can vary in size, shape and consistency, and they may change throughout your menstrual cycle. Some women may experience tender or lumpy breasts around their period. You should follow up with your GP if you notice changes in size or shape, how the skin looks or feels, a new lump, unusual discharge or bleeding from your nipple, or new pain or discomfort in one breast.

Not all breast changes will be cancer, but if you notice any breast changes that aren’t normal for you, you should see your GP as soon as possible. As the most common cancer in the UK, it is important to be mindful of the possible symptoms.

Matters of the heart 

While women tend to be more aware of things like breast cancer, they may be less likely to spot symptoms related to heart disease which can actually pose a bigger risk. Women who are pregnant or going through menopause may be at further risk of heart complications. It’s important to know about risk factors for heart disease and what you can do to reduce your risk. Preventative measures such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key to reducing your risk of developing heart disease. Follow up with your GP if you’re concerned about risk factors or experience worrying symptoms.

Strengthen your pelvic floor

Pelvic floor muscles are a layer of muscles between your pubic bone and the base of your spine. They form the base of the pelvis and support the pelvic organs, such as the bladder and uterus. You can strengthen these muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises, which can help to prevent urinary incontinence, prolapse, and improve your sexual health and pleasure. The exercises can be particularly helpful during pregnancy, to help reduce the chances of experiencing incontinence postpartum.

So how do you exercise your pelvic floor muscles? First, you should know where they are.  You can feel them contract if you try to stop your urine flow when you go to the toilet (but don’t do this regularly as it can harm your bladder!). Get comfortable, and squeeze the muscles 10-15 times consecutively. You shouldn’t tighten surrounding muscles at the same time nor hold your breath while doing this exercise. While this blog focuses on women’s health, both men and women can benefit from pelvic floor exercises!

Don’t fear your smear!

A smear test (or cervical screen) is carried out to prevent the development of cervical cancer, by testing for unusual changes in cervical cells. The doctor or nurse will take a sample of cervical cells in order to be sent off for testing.  

Smear tests are carried out every 3 years between age 25-49, and then every 5 years until the age of 64). It’s rare for women under 25 to develop cervical cancer, and cervical changes are fairly common so smear tests aren’t required for women below this age. You’ll most likely get a letter from your GP when you’re due a smear test, but don’t be afraid to ring your GP and check.

It’s totally up to you whether you want to go for it, but a smear test is one of the best things you can do to help protect you from cervical cancer. Spotting abnormal changes early on means they can be treated and prevented from developing into cancer, it's an awkward five minutes that could save your life.

Bladder bugs

We’ve all been there - the sudden burning sensation while peeing, you’ve just left the bathroom and you need to pee again for the fifth time this morning, and then it dawns on you-you've got a UTI.

UTIs (urinary tract infections) are a pain (literally), but most can be easily treated with antibiotics. It can affect your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). UTIs are more common in women than men due to having a shorter urethra, meaning the bacteria have a shorter distance to travel. Although common, it’s important not to ignore a UTI as leaving it untreated may cause the bacteria to spread upwards and lead to a kidney infection. Symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation or pain when peeing
  • A sudden need to pee more often than usual
  • Cloudy pee or blood in your pee
  • Slight pain in your lower tummy or pelvis

You may be prescribed antibiotics to treat a UTI, but there are  other things you can do to help:

  • Placing a hot water bottle on your tummy can help to relieve pain
  • Drink plenty of water and try not to hold in your pee (even if it hurts), this will help to flush out the infection
  • Wipe from front to back after peeing
  • Pee after sex (this can help to reduce the risk of getting a UTI in the first place)
  • It can also help to avoid sex until you feel better, as it may feel uncomfortable
  • Some people believe that cranberry juice can help treat or prevent a UTI, however, there is a lack of evidence to suggest if it’s an effective treatment

It’s also important for you to know when your symptoms might actually indicate if you have an STI (sexually transmitted infection). See your GP or nurse if you have recurrent infections or if they become severe.

Contraceptive pill- myths debunked

Are all contraceptive pills the same?

Nope! There are two types, the combined pill (which contains different combinations of oestrogen and progestogen, depending on which one) and a progestogen-only pill; your GP or nurse can help to find the one that suits you best.

Can the pill affect future fertility?

It is unlikely that taking the pill for a long time will cause future fertility problems; it’s possible to become pregnant very quickly after stopping the pill, so you may want to use another form of contraception if you don’t intend to get pregnant. However, it may take some time for your body’s natural hormones to kick back in and for your menstrual cycle to settle again after stopping. You should see your GP or nurse if you experience ongoing irregular periods.

Can the pill only be used for contraception?

Your GP may prescribe the pill for its other benefits such as regulating your menstrual cycle or treating acne. They will help you decide whether or not it’s suitable for you to take.

Does the pill start working straight away?

When you start taking the pill, it depends where you are in your menstrual cycle that determines how soon it’s effective. You may need to use another contraceptive method in the meantime, so it’s always best to check with your GP or nurse.

Can I take the combined pill every day without the 7-day breaks?

It can sometimes be suitable to change how long your break is, or if you have one at all. Speak to your GP or nurse to discuss this further. 

If you have trouble keeping track of when to take your medication, Echo sends you daily reminders of when to take your medication and when you're about to run out, making it one less thing for you to worry about.

From all of us at Echo to all of our readers - happy International Women's Day!

If there's anything else you'd like us to write about, please tweet us @echo_healthcare and let us know.