Women’s health refers to all health issues that affect women, not just problems affecting the female reproductive organs. Whilst all of our GPs are able to advise on women’s health, we understand that some women may prefer to consult with a female GP for more intimate women’s health issues. There are currently 8 female GPs based between Eaton and Australind Medical Centres. These doctors can be found in our doctor’s profiles.
Common areas of concern are:
- Bone Health
- Bowel & Bladder Health
- Heart Health
- Contraception and Sexual Health
- Breast and Cervical Screening
- Mental Health
Menopause is a natural part of life for women and occurs when the ovaries run out of eggs and hormonal changes occur. This generally happens between age 45 – 55 years. Some women may experience symptoms of menopause such as:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Problems sleeping
- Pain in your joints and tiredness
- Anxiety or mood changes
- Dry vagina, low libido
- Overactive bladder
Your GP is able to provide advice on treatment and lifestyle strategies to minimise the effect of these symptoms should they be bothersome.
Bone health is important, particularly in post-menopausal women. A fractured hip from osteoporosis is a common cause of entry to a nursing home. The decline in oestrogen with menopause predisposes women to a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis occurs when the bones lose minerals such as calcium, faster than the body can replace them causing a loss of density in the bones and making them brittle and prone to fracture. While menopause is a major risk factor, there are also other risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances of developing osteoporosis including:
- Family history.
- Insufficient calcium and vitamin D.
- Certain medical conditions / medications:
- Long-term use of oral steroids – e.g. for rheumatoid diseases
- Early menopause
- Thyroid conditions
- Conditions causing malabsorption – e.g. coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis
- Chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic liver or kidney disease
- Lifestyle factors:
- Low levels of physical activity
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Weight – both thin body build and obesity are risk factors
Talk to your GP about your risk and strategies to maintain strong bones. Your GP may suggest having a bone density scan (DEXA scan). This is a simple scan that takes about 10-15 minutes. You remain fully clothed and lie on a flat padded bench while the scanning arm passes over your body.
Bowel & bladder health
Bowel and bladder issues can affect women at all stages of life but particularly post-childbirth and menopause. This is because of factors such as mechanical strain on pelvic floor muscles and hormonal changes. Problems may
Bowel cancer is a common cancer affecting women as well as men, and early detection is important. A 2 yearly stool screening test is recommended between age 50 -74 years This is done in your home, with an easy-to-use test kit (faecal occult blood test, FOBT).
Cardiovascular disease (disease affecting the heart and blood vessels) is the leading cause of death in Australian post-menopausal women; women are 4x more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer. Research has shown that oestrogen is linked with a cardioprotective effect, and that HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can reduce future risk of cardiovascular disease when taken within 10 years of menopause.
Although age and family history are risk factors that can’t be changed (non-modifiable), there are a number of other risk factors that can be targeted, negating any potential increased risk as a result of menopause. These include:
- Smoking – both active smoking and second-hand smoke
- High blood cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity and being overweight
- Depression, social isolation and lack of quality support.
Your GP can actively screen and manage these risk factors. As minimum, it is recommended that:
- blood pressure and weight is checked 2 yearly (more frequently if at higher risk),
- a diabetes check is done 3 yearly after turning age 40 (more frequently if at higher risk, and earlier if history of gestational diabetes),
- a cholesterol check is done 5 yearly after turning age 45 (more frequently if at higher risk).
Periods change over a woman’s lifetime; in some women they get heavier after pregnancy and during perimenopause (the transition time to menopause), then lighter and shorter close to menopause. It is important to discuss with your GP if you are experiencing: increasingly heavy periods, periods lasting more than 8 days, periods coming more than 2-3 months apart, painful periods causing you to stay home, bleeding between periods, bleeding after intercourse.
Contraception and sexual health
Your GP is able to provide advice on all available methods of contraception, safe sex and pregnancy planning.
The risk of getting a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) remains a lifelong concern, and it is recommended to have a check-up for STIs before having sex with a new partner or if you have any concern that you may be at risk.
About 60% of Australian women report 1 or more sexual problems (sexual dysfunction), usually defined as ‘not being able to experience sex as you wish, causing distress’. There can be a complex interplay of physical and psychological factors impacting on arousal/libido/orgasm/frequency. Your GP is able to assist you in identifying the areas affecting your sexual health, and help you work on solutions.
Breast and cervical screening
Throughout life, female breast tissue is subject to hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
It is important, however, that you see your GP for review if you have: a new lump or lumpiness, changes in the breast shape/contour, changes in the nipple including discharge, puckering/dimpling of breast skin, persistent pain in one breast, persistent nipple or breast itching/rash.
1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. The earlier a breast cancer is detected, the better the chance of successful treatment. Australian women are invited for a screening mammogram every 2yrs, from age 50 -74 yrs. However, this may be done from age of 40, as well as on an annual basis if clinically indicated. Remember, screening mammograms through BreastScreen WA are for women without symptoms – if you have any of the above signs or symptoms, please see your GP for a check-up.
From December 2017, the Australian government replaced Pap smears with a more accurate test called the ‘cervical screening test’(CST). It is collected in the same way as before, but processed differently in the lab, specifically looking for the cause of abnormal cells – the humanpapillovirus (HPV). Most women will be recommended to have this test with their GP 5 yearly, and instead of commencing at age 18, women will be advised to be tested from age 25 -69 years, with a final test between ages 70 – 74 years.
Poor mental health is a major problem affecting the Australian population, with women being disproportionately affected. Reproductive hormone fluctuations throughout a woman’s life-cycle can have a significant impact on mental health. Examples of this include:
- Premenstrual dysphoria (PMS or PMT)
- Postnatal depression or psychosis, and
- Perimenopausal depression
Women are also more susceptible to develop mental illness as a result of past trauma such as domestic violence or sexual abuse (both as children and adults). Your GP can help to identify, treat and co-ordinate mental health care.
Please consider booking a long appointment (specifically for ‘women’s health check’ or ‘mental health consult’) so that you and your GP have sufficient time to address your main issues.