80% of women suffered reproductive health issue in past 12 months, poll finds

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Four in every five women have experienced a reproductive health issue in the last year, a new poll has found.

A survey of more than 7,300 women from England found that 80% had experienced “unwanted reproductive health symptoms” in the last 12 months such as heavy menstrual bleeding, severe menopausal symptoms or postnatal symptoms.

The survey among women aged 16 to 64 also found that less than half with symptoms sought help for their problems.

Leading GPs said it was “concerning that many women do not seek help for conditions which can often be very serious”.

The poll, part of some new research by Public Health England (PHE), found symptoms were more common at the beginning and end of women’s reproductive lives – with younger women reporting menstrual problems and older women reporting symptoms associated with the menopause.

Overall, 31% of all women said that they had suffered “severe” symptoms.

Officials also conducted small focus groups with some women and found that while reproductive symptoms often affected women’s ability to carry out their daily activities, many concealed symptoms, particularly from work colleagues.

The authors said that embarrassment was a common barrier to accessing support.

“There was often a perception that symptoms were normal and should be endured, and, consequently, women feared they might not be being taken seriously or that they would be judged negatively for needing help,” they wrote.

Dr Sue Mann, public health consultant in reproductive health at Public Health England, said: “Our research has highlighted that while individual reproductive health issues and concerns change throughout a woman’s life, the feelings of stigmatisation and embarrassment were almost universal.

“The report reveals the need for an open and supportive approach in the workplace and in the health system. We encourage women to seek support from their workplace, and for workplace management to be aware of how reproductive health symptoms can affect women’s daily life.”

Commenting on the report, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, added: “Even though in the modern day we don’t expect there to be social stigmas around women’s health matters, unfortunately – as this research shows – stigma does still exist and it is concerning that many women do not seek help for conditions which can often be very serious.

“As GPs we strive to offer a safe space for all our patients to discuss any health matter they may be experiencing, and women should feel reassured that GPs deal with a wide range of female and sexual health consultations that are often of a sensitive and complex nature.

“This research also highlights the urgent need to encourage more public conversations around women’s health matters to assure women that they will be taken seriously, and that they should never feel ashamed to talk openly about their health concerns whether that be their periods, miscarriage, infertility, menopause or something else.”

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