There are research gaps across all different areas of women’s health and the research that can be found today is usually quite old (we’re talking 30 to 60 years old!). Unfortunately, comprehensive studies evaluating these gaps aren’t frequently conducted due to a general lack of funding in this area. Up-to-date evidence from reputable sources is scarce or simply non-existent.
No surprise that current technology for women’s health that is based on ancient scientific findings is outdated, old-fashioned, and not fit for women of today!
In cases where technology has evolved – mainly if it can also be useful for men – it is not commonly used for women’s health, even though it is available. Let’s take ultrasounds for example: it's hard to believe that the majority of OBGYNs in the developed world still mainly use 2-dimensional ultrasound (or no ultrasound at all!) for uterine check-ups beyond fetal health, although there are 3D and even 4D options available today. 2D black and white sonographic imaging can often be hard to read even for Healthcare Professionals themselves. The minute it involves a fetus - that could potentially be a male - the technology couldn’t be more state-of-the-art. The standard use of newer technologies during annual check-ups could help diagnose certain diseases more easily and in a quicker fashion, potentially preventing disease progression with more accurate diagnoses. This phenomenon even led as far as the healthcare community to believe, until just recently, that the uterine cavity is a flat (2D) organ (unbelievable!). Even the dictionary defines a cavity as a space, and just like we are 3-dimensional human beings that can push out 3D babies, our uterine cavity is a 3-dimensional powerful organ. Uterine technology, however, that was developed over 60 years ago, is mainly 2-dimensional and comes with significant drawbacks that affect quality of life, can cause injuries that require surgeries, and often lead to discontinuation, when put inside a 3D space that constantly contracts. And if that wasn’t enough, those devices are then checked (if at all!) through an ancient black & white imaging technology that half the time cannot be read correctly. If only women complaining about their side effects would be taken more seriously!
Being taken seriously seems to be a luxury as a woman when we look at diseases where there is little to no diagnostic technology available still today. 1 in 10 women suffers from endometriosis – a painful condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. This number might even be higher yet is underdiagnosed due to a lack of diagnostic tools. On average, it takes 10 years from the onset of symptoms to get an accurate diagnosis of endometriosis due to a general lack of knowledge among the medical community — not to mention the fact that endometriosis research is, like other women’s health pain points, extremely underfunded. Women who experience pelvic and menstrual pain (due to conditions like endometriosis) are often told that it’s simply a natural part of being a woman or merely «hysteria». In ancient Greece, “hysteria” (derived from the Greek word “hystera,” meaning uterus) referred to the idea that the uterus would wander from its spot in the body and lead to physical symptoms. They believed that the cause of such an event was due to not having kids. Through the next couple of centuries, hysteria evolved into a catchall condition marked by unexplained physical symptoms. Might this have been endometriosis I wonder?
Another painful experience is uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumours on the inside, outside, and muscle of the uterus, that impacts up to 70-80% of women by the age of 50. Black women are more likely to get fibroids with the risk of those myomas coming at a younger age, being larger, and producing more symptoms.
And even though more than 70% of people with chronic pain conditions are female, 80% of pain studies used male mice or humans. For a long time, the primary animals used in preclinical research were male rodents because researchers believed that female rodents’ estrous (menstrual) cycles made interpreting the results too complicated, just like in the case of humans.
From 1977 to 1993, the FDA completely banned females of reproductive age from drug trials. Researchers assumed that male and female bodies were essentially the same and worried that the fluctuations of hormones during the menstrual cycle would influence their results. Not to mention pregnancy and infertility fears that could delay or hinder product launches. Even today, clinical research often fails to identify the sex and race of its participants. What this implies is that researchers were probably aware that women’s bodies function differently, but instead of letting their research lead to helpful discoveries, women were just excluded entirely.
More (inclusive!) research and funding thereof are desperately needed to develop better, less invasive medical treatments and diagnostic tools that are designed with the female anatomy in mind – at least the little we know about it today - taking women’s pain points more seriously!
Written by Daniela Schardinger, VP Marketing & Medical Affairs at OCON Healthcare