Women's health has been a crucial issue over the centuries, but the healthcare system has been slow to take it seriously. Lack of education, gender bias, and systemic issues have often caused misdiagnosis—or in worst-case scenarios, conditions affecting women remain a total mystery.
Women's medical concerns are often dismissed at a higher rate than their male counterparts. For example, many women say doctors have dismissed their pain, and several studies show that women's pain is often ignored.
However, things are slowly changing for the better, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requiring sex to be considered a biological variable in its funded studies.
Even today, women's health concerns are continually blamed on stress, hormones, and even imaginations. To help you understand, let's dig into the history of women's health and the slow progress in taking it seriously.
How Women's Healthcare Has Improved Over the Decades
There have been numerous advancements in women's healthcare over the last century, with awareness expanding beyond the narrow compass of the reproductive system. The healthcare system is slowly but surely expanding its knowledge to include health issues such as menopause, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Some of the notable improvements include:
- Introduction of the birth control pill, which gave women more control over their reproductive health
- Introduction of breast cancer screening and treatment using mammography and chemotherapy, saving countless lives
- Availability of prenatal care, reducing maternal mortality rates significantly
- Efforts by medical professionals to understand and treat conditions that affect women, such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
But despite these advances, there is still much work the sector needs to do to improve women's healthcare. For instance, investing in research and innovation can help build progress made over the past century and ensure that all women have access to high-quality healthcare.
The History of Menopause Education
Menopause has been misunderstood and mistreated for centuries. Until recently, people believed it was related to madness.
The belief persisted until the end of the 18th century when medical science advanced and scientists isolated ovarian hormones. This gave physicians and more realistic perceptive on menopause, consequently replacing the belief that it was a sign of madness.
Women have also been misled about menopause, specifically the perimenopause stage and hormonal therapy. In some cases, they have been prescribed high doses of hormones, leading to harmful side effects. This has made many women wary of the treatment, perceiving it as inappropriate for menopausal symptoms.
Luckily, increased research and understanding of menopause have shifted attitudes toward it. The National Institute of Aging funds studies that seek a better understanding of the effects of menopause on women's health and quality of life, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it as a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years.
Given society's view of women's health, there's a need to raise awareness about menopause and its impact on women's health and wellbeing. The healthcare system also needs to provide appropriate care during this transition. With the proper research, the system can continue to develop effective and safe therapies for managing menopausal symptoms.
Changes Still Need to be Made
Although there's evident progress in women's health, much still needs to be done to improve the issue and health education for women. Some of the most crucial areas that the health sector needs to improve on include the following:
While NIA-funded studies seek to understand menopause as a whole better, there is still much that physicians need to learn about this important transition in women's lives. For instance, researchers need to understand the impact of menopause on bone health, given that women are at high risk for osteoporosis during post-menopausal.
On the other hand, clinical trials have shown that systematic hormonal therapy can improve menopause-specific quality of life. However, there is still a need for more effective and safe treatments for managing menopausal symptoms.
Primary Healthcare for Women
Primary healthcare is crucial in responding to women's unique health needs. However, significant health disparities persist among different populations of women, particularly Black women.
The sector can address these disparities by prioritizing women's and girls' health and healthcare daily. It can achieve this by promoting health equity by addressing social determinants of health like poverty, education, and access to care and improving healthcare systems to ensure women receive appropriate care that meets their needs.
Championing Research and Policy that Improves Women's Health
The healthcare sector can champion research and policy to improve women's health in various ways. For instance:
- Investing in research that addresses the under-representation of women across health and care research helps improve the understanding of women's unique health needs.
- Governments and the private sector must increase their investment in health systems to ensure that women and girls have equal access to care.
- Advancing women in healthcare leadership can lead to impactful organizational strategies, practices, and policies that promote women's health.
- Promoting research on women's health can help identify scientific advances that improve our understanding of women's health.
- Developing comprehensive plans like the Healthy People 2030 underpins actions to improve women's health inequalities by raising awareness around women's health, improving access to care, and addressing social determinants of health.
Championing research and policy that addresses the unique healthcare needs of women is essential for ensuring that all women receive high-quality care that meets their individual needs.
Addressing Social Determinants of Health to Improve the Overall State of Women's Health
Addressing social determinants of health, such as income, social support, early childhood development, education, employment, housing, and gender, improves health and reduces longstanding disparities in health and healthcare. The sector can achieve this by focusing on Healthy People 2030's overarching goals, including creating social, physical, and economic environments that promote attaining the highest possible standard of health for all people.
Some of the strategies that have demonstrated success in reducing impediments include:
- Increasing access to affordable housing
- Providing job training and education programs
- Expanding access to transportation
- Transforming primary healthcare systems to address gaps and barriers in women's primary healthcare by proposing a framework that meets the unique needs of women
Women's health has been a neglected area of healthcare for far too long. However, with the progress made over the past century, there is hope for the future. Educating ourselves and others about women's health concerns and advocating for change in the healthcare industry can improve women's overall health and well-being worldwide.