Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is launching new health information on persistent pelvic pain. Here, we ask Jean Hailes CEO Dr Sarah White five questions on why the organisation has decided to focus more on this area of women’s health.
Pelvic pain affects one in five women, but it’s often suffered in silence. Why?
Dr White: Pelvic pain has many causes, from period pain to endometriosis to bladder problems. Unfortunately, a lot of women believe they should put up with pelvic pain, that it’s part of being a woman. Some are too embarrassed or too ashamed – perhaps for cultural reasons – to talk about it. Others believe that there is nothing that can be done about the pain, so they don’t seek help or advice.
In a recent Jean Hailes survey on pelvic pain, nearly half (44.9%) of respondents said the pain sometimes had an impact on their quality of life, stopping them from working, exercising and having sex. Were you surprised by this?
Dr White: I wish I could say I was surprised by the finding, but we have been listening to women’s stories about their pain and its devastating effects for many years. This survey gave us a sense of the size of the problem. These results remind us that we cannot think about pelvic pain just in terms of health or quality of life, but also in terms of financial stability for women whose pain is preventing them from pursuing a career or earning a wage.
The survey revealed that almost a third of women diagnosed with pelvic pain needed 10 or more visits to a health professional to obtain a diagnosis or treatment plan. What’s the impact of this?
Dr White: The impact is extraordinary on multiple levels. We know that, quite apart from pain stopping women from enjoying their lives and doing the things they need to do over an extended period, the feelings of frustration and anxiety about not getting the help they need take a toll. In addition, the cost of seeing a doctor so many times and the time it takes to make and get to an appointment is considerable and unfair.
What do you hope to achieve with the new health information being released by Jean Hailes?
Dr White: We want women to understand what is normal and what is not when it comes to persistent pelvic pain. We want women to feel comfortable talking to their doctors about the pain, and asking for understanding and support from the people around them.
We want women to feel comfortable talking to their doctors about the pain.
Providing words and descriptions that will make that conversation with the doctor or friends and family easier to manage is a really great start.
Our health information will hopefully give women the confidence, skills and knowledge they need to understand and describe their pain in ways that will assist the doctor to provide more effective treatment or refer women on to other specialist health professionals.
What else needs to change?
Dr White: Women who experience persistent pelvic pain should not be suffering in silence. Any pain that affects people’s lives must be believed and addressed, particularly if it is affecting their quality of life and ability to earn a living.
We need to make sure that all doctors are listening to women who report they are in pain, and that they are empathetic and proactive in treating and supporting women to reduce that pain.
More generally, we need society to be more understanding of the impacts of persistent pelvic pain and how it affects women in the workplace and in the home.
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Interview by Muriel Reddy.
Published September 2023
This article is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government.