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In honor of the 19th Annual National Women’s Health Week, we’ve curated a special edition of The Rundown to highlight issues and advancements that affect women. This week is “an opportunity to honor the importance of women across America and renew our pledge to support their health and wellbeing,” the president said in an official statement. So join us in celebrating our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and friends and spotlighting the challenges women uniquely face so that together we may work toward a solution.
New Research Sheds Light on Menopause
Menopause often entails several unpleasant, well-known side effects: hot flashes, night sweats, depression, insomnia, and vascular aging which, unlike the others, is both difficult to detect and dangerous. However, new research has linked the degree of menopausal arterial stiffening with the severity of hot flashes. “With fluctuating and then declining estrogen during the menopause transition, it is important to monitor mood, blood pressure, lipids, blood sugars, and body composition,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, North American Menopause Society executive director. These symptoms can serve as an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in postmenopausal women. Similarly, recent research in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that a diet rich in fish and legumes and low in refined carbs may delay natural menopause. The study included more than 35,000 women between the ages of 35 and 69. The consequences, however, are ambiguous; early menopause is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease while a later onset increases the risks for breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.
Massive Innovation in Women’s Health Technology
A “femtech” boom is underway! Between 2015 and 2018, the industry has received more than $1 billion in funding, and financial speculators believe this trend may exceed $50 billion by 2025. Furthermore, women’s wearables are gaining traction as an industry. Fitbit, who recently partnered with Google, unveiled software updates that include health-tracking features for women wearers. “Female health tracking will empower women with a greater understanding of their menstrual cycles in conjunction with their physical and mental health, as they start to recognize what are normal trends over time versus what could be an issue to share with their doctor,” explains Fitbit advisor Dr. Katherine White. The collected data would also create a database of metrics to add to women’s health research. Another wearable, the Ava bracelet, which predicts peak fertility with 89 percent accuracy, has gained considerable clout as well. Recent trends indicate that femtech is headed away from a family planning-centric focus toward one that encompasses disorders that predominantly affect women, such as arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease.
>>Read More: Fitbit Versa: the Smart Watch For Women
A Possible Cure for a Misunderstood Illness
A recent study established a correlation between mental health issues and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects 7–10 percent of childbearing-aged women. Characterized by high levels of insulin and male hormones, the condition is the leading cause of infertility. Data gleaned from nearly 17,000 women suggests that the condition correlates to not only adverse mental health in women, but also that children of PCOS-diagnosed mothers were more likely to have autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Additional research indicates that PCOS is transferred from mother to fetus by an overexposure to the anti-Müllerian hormone. While no FDA-approved drug exists for treatment of PCOS, the study proposes a treatment plan involving in-vitro fertilization drug, cetrorelix. A cure could reduce infertility, lower adverse mental health in women, prevent some instances of type-2 diabetes, and save an estimated $5.46 billion in the U.S. alone.
Technology Leads the Fight Against Breast Cancer
Innovative researchers have pioneered a new tool in breast-cancer treatment, and it’s an easy pill to swallow. The pill acts as a molecular imaging agent to better visualize—and therefore more accurately diagnose—the location and type of tumor. According to Lead Researcher Greg Thurber, benign tumors are often removed unnecessarily by surgery or chemotherapy, a process that is difficult for the patient and a $4 billion-per-year expense nationally. The pill, which releases an infrared-reactive intravenous dye, could prevent this emotional, physical, and financial cost for patients. Two new tests were recently invented to identify breast-cancer biomarkers with more than 95 percent accuracy. The inexpensive, non-invasive breath and urine tests could aid in early detection, a key factor in breast-cancer survival. The tests could be especially effective for women with dense breast tissue, which obscures readings, and the 15 percent of breast cancers that appear between annual mammograms.
>>Read More: Breast Cancer: Innovative Pill May Aid Diagnosis
Journalist Investigates Healthcare’s Gender Disparities in New Book
Maya Dusenbery tackles the weaknesses of women’s healthcare in her new book, Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. The journalist and blogger examines how women’s symptoms are dismissed or deemed hyperbolic, thereby leading to longer emergency room waits, difficulty obtaining certain prescriptions, and misdiagnoses that can lead to unnecessary, painful complications. Dusenbery identifies medical schools as one source of unconscious bias by fostering a “trust gap,” or, the “tendency to not believe women’s reports of their symptoms.” Other systemic issues include male-dominated participation in testing, drug trials, and observational studies. Consequently, drugs often fail to take into account factors such as metabolism, hormones, enzymes, and weight that differ between sexes and can lead to ineffectiveness or, worse yet, greater harm. Dusenbery concludes that female-centric patient advocacy is a positive first step in achieving greater equality in healthcare.
New Solutions Benefit Maternal and Neonatal Care in America
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists proposed a multifaceted solution to lower maternal and neonatal morbidity in the U.S., which ranks last in terms of infant mortality and first in “severe maternal morbidity” among developed nations according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan emphasized care during the “fourth trimester,” or months immediately following childbirth. “To optimize the health of women and infants,” the report read, “postpartum care should become an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each woman’s individual needs.” However, a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics determined that stillbirths and neonatal deaths fell 11.5 percent—from 37,813 to 33,457—between 2007 and 2015 in the U.S. The evidence suggests that this downward trend is correlated to an increase in safer, near-term births.