Cervical Health and Fertility: What You Need to Know-image

Cervical Health and Fertility: What You Need to Know

This January as part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we explore how to improve your cervical health to prevent cervical cancer, enhance your fertility and improve your overall reproductive health. Quick facts: Understanding cervical health Cervical health refers to the health and functioning of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. To check your cervical health, you need to attend regular cervical screenings, (known as the smear test), and ensure you have your HPV vaccination. Your cervical fluid changes throughout your menstrual cycle and understanding these changes can give you insight into your fertility. Knowing what your cervical fluid looks and feels like throughout your menstrual cycle can help you identify your optimal fertile window (when you’re most likely to get pregnant). Usually, it becomes more slippery, slimy like egg white around ovulation, to help the sperm swim up towards the cervix. Cervical cancer Every year, more than 3,200 people are affected by cervical cancer in the UK. Two women lose their lives to cervical cancer every week and nine more receive a life-changing diagnosis. Despite this, 1 in 3 people don’t attend their smear test. Yet, if it’s caught early, cervical cancer can be treated. Some countries, like Sweden, predict that they will have eliminated cervical cancer by 2030, while the UK aims to eliminate it by 2040. Ensuring that you have your HPV vaccination and also attending your Cervical Screening when you’re invited is the best way to protect against cervical cancer. With the NHS, you should be invited to a smear test every 3 years between the age of 25-49, and every 5 years after that until to turn 64. The frequency may increase depending on if you have any abnormal results. These cervical screenings check the health of your cervix. It’s not a test for cancer, but it’s a test to help prevent cancer. They are crucial in spotting any changes in the cervical cell which could be signs of an infection or cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer often remains undetected because not everyone will always experience symptoms so ensuring your cervical screening is up to date is an important preventative measure.Symptoms like a change in your vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, or during or after sex, unexplained pain in your lower back or pelvis, or pain and discomfort during sex can all indicate cervical infection or cervical cancer. Cervical cancer awareness month Cervical Cancer Awareness Month aims to encourage more people to attend their cervical screening appointment and take their HPV vaccinations, (in case they haven’t already got it) to prevent cervical cancer as well as raise awareness about common signs and symptoms. You know your body better than anyone. Becoming attuned to it will empower you and help you spot anything out of the ordinary.If you notice anything that doesn’t feel normal (symptoms like bleeding between periods, or unusual vaginal discharge, for example) when it comes to your reproductive health, especially if you’re trying to conceive or plan to have a baby in the future, speaking to a healthcare professional and getting the necessary tests early in the process is key. The connection between cervical health and fertility First, let’s talk about the cervix and how it’s related to your fertility.  Your cervix is a narrow, cylinder-shaped passage, this is where all the uterine lining will pass through during your period. It is the mouth of the uterus and connects it to your vagina. When in labour, the cervix is also the part that dilates, so the baby can be delivered, but it’s more than just a passageway. The cervix plays a key role in conception. When you ovulate, your cervical fluid (sometimes called cervical mucus) becomes watery to help transport the sperm from the vagina towards the cervix and to the egg to become fertilised (the first step of conception). Your cervical health can affect your fertility in various ways. Infections, cervical cancer and structural abnormalities can lead to your cervix not functioning properly. Without the cervical fluid that helps to transport the sperm, and the protective barrier your cervical fluid creates during pregnancy, a poorly functioning cervix could have led to complications. After ovulation, your cervical fluid becomes sticky and thick, acting like a barrier to the sperm. If this happens around the time of ovulation, it could inhibit sperm from reaching the egg, preventing fertilisation and conception. If you do become pregnant, poor cervical health can cause miscarriage or preterm labour. Infections of the cervix, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can negatively impact fertility. Infections cause inflammation and scarring of the cervix, which can affect its normal function and increase the risk of infertility. Common cervical health issues affecting fertility Cervical infections can affect fertility Infections of the cervix, such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can negatively impact fertility. Infections cause inflammation and scarring of the cervix, which can affect its normal function and increase the risk of infertility. Cervical polyps can affect fertility Cervical polyps are growths that can develop on the cervix. Polyps are usually (benign) harmless and do not often cause any symptoms, but they can sometimes cause fertility issues, or increase the risk of miscarriage.  Once found, the treatment is usually to remove them. The process of removal depends on the size, type, location, visibility and number of polyps. Cervical dysplasia can affect fertility Cervical dysplasia is a cervical condition in which abnormal cells grow on the surface of your cervix. Cervical dysplasia (also known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN) is not cancer but if left untreated, it can develop into cervical cancer and affect fertility. Early detection and treatment is key. Cervical dysplasia is often termed “precancerous”, which can sound scary, but if you get timely treatment, most people who get it do not get cancer. If you have abnormal cells from your screening test, you may be invited to have a colposcopy test to look closer at your cervix. The treatment you need for abnormal cervical cell changes […]

The BWHI Launch Event – Wrapped-image

The BWHI Launch Event – Wrapped

On Wednesday, the 15th of February, we hosted our first community event to launch our Black Women’s Health Initiative. It was a privilege to have brought together so many people who were actively engaged in the topic.  The event provided us with such insightful information and has helped us not only hone our commitments to change but also acted as the first step in our journey as a company. We are still learning and growing as a young seed-stage start-up, but that doesn’t stop us from having big aspirations, and we hope to build on these year after year. We are so thankful to everyone who attended the event. We really appreciate the time, energy and support each person gave.  It was an incredibly proud moment to be able to share the findings from our recent research looking into the role that ethnicity played in access to fertility testing and reproductive healthcare. A roundtable discussion followed, moderated by Hertility’s CEO and founder Dr Helen O’Neill, where we heard from clinical gynaecology experts, community leaders, and patient advocates Dr Christine Ekechi, Dr Stephanie Kuku, Noni Martins and Sophia Ukor. In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of what was covered: The changes to Black women’s reproductive healthcare over the years All the panellists agreed that they are seeing a positive trend, with more conversations being had around women’s health in general, and increased awareness and advocacy from colleagues within the healthcare system and doctors for their patients. We heard about positive interactions with healthcare providers  or seeing positive changes in healthcare delivery in the last five years.  “I feel there is a change with the language, culture and even the way they listen to you. They listen and you feel understood. I felt seen, I did not feel alone. The language, the care and the attention is evident.” – Sophia Ufy Ukor, Founder & CEO of Violet Simon We heard from Dr Christine Ekechi that not only is there an increased awareness of conditions that are more prevalent in Black women, but they are more cognisant of their experiences.  We briefly touched on the current state of the healthcare system and what needs to be done to support healthcare professionals further to provide compassionate care. As the healthcare system becomes more stretched and there is continuous pressure to shorten GP appointments, there will be limitations on the capacity of doctors. It is no surprise that the average GP appointment in the UK lasts just 9.2 minutes, with an average of 2.5 health concerns being discussed (1), and there is not enough time to allow for a  comprehensive discussion about someone’s reproductive health or pregnancy history. Women whose first language is not English and/or who have had a negative experience with a healthcare practitioner are at more of a disadvantage.  “We all swear on the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, but if the system works such that the resources and the human capacity are lacking, there is a dearth of compassion. As a result, unfortunately, I think that, as with everything in life, some people are going to suffer more than others, and the human reflexes are that when you have no capacity, you are less likely to treat people the same” –  Dr Stephanie Kuku Advisor, Consultant and Health Technology Executive (MBCHB MRCOG MD) However, Dr Christine Ekechi also highlighted that the majority of UK-based doctors are willing to learn to improve the care of Black women and there is room for positive impact.  Looking to the future, we heard from both the event and post-event feedback about the importance of framing positive conversations around Black women’s reproductive health to stop the further victimisation of Black women and ethnic minority groups and to empower them so that we can help give women strength and power in healthcare situations, instead of reinforcing currently accepted narratives. The power of knowledge and tips on advocacy Throughout the discussion, a salient theme that shone through was the value and power of having the right information in a healthcare setting, especially when it comes to advocating for ourselves. Noni Martins emphasised the importance of going into GP appointments with symptom diaries and the knowledge about what is going on with your body, as no one knows your body better than you. Dr Christine Ekechi also highlighted that everyone deserves a right to a second opinion if they feel they do not understand or agree with the outcome of their appointment.   “One thing about doctors, particularly doctors now, is that we are cognisant about working in partnership with you…Of course, you’re not going to go into a consultation and understand everything about gynaecology, but you should leave with an understanding of what the concerns are and what the approach is going to be. For me the key is if you come away thinking I have no idea what they said, then you ask for a repeat explanation or ask for a second opinion” – Dr Christine Ekechi Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and Co-Chair, Race Equality Taskforce, Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. We briefly spoke about the prevalence of myths in reproductive health, fertility and women’s health more generally. We know from the Women’s Health Strategy that many women get their information from the NHS website (2), so as Dr Christine Ekechi said, “it’s about going to the trusted sources and addressing those gaps by filling it in with the correct information”. “I think my biggest concern when we have these kinds of discussions is for people who don’t have that voice. I worry about the people who, in their homes and in their communities, cannot speak out about the fact that they have been trying to conceive and it is not working out. I’m always thinking about how we can get to those people, I don’t have the answers. I hope that by being someone who looks like them and talking about it, we can draw them out. Even if you are having a […]

 What are the Main Symptoms of Endometriosis?-image

 What are the Main Symptoms of Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a common reproductive health condition that affects 1 in 10 in the UK. It’s characterised by painful, heavy periods as well as other, often debilitating symptoms. Here we go through each of the main symptoms in detail, so you know what to look out for and when to get checked.  Quick facts: Endometriosis in the UK In the UK, endometriosis affects around 1.5 million women and people assigned female-at-birth (AFAB). That’s 1 in 10 who are currently living with the condition, regardless of race or ethnicity (1). People with endometriosis often experience very painful periods as well as a host of other symptoms. Many people live with endometriosis for a long time before getting diagnosed. Sometimes up to 7 years or more.  This is often the result of a general lack of awareness about the condition, dismissal of women’s pain and symptoms having a lot of crossover with other conditions. So what are the main symptoms of endometriosis? Here’s what to look out for if you suspect you, or someone close to you, may have the condition. What is endometriosis? Endometriosis is a chronic reproductive health condition where cells similar to those lining the uterus grow in other parts of the body. Endometrial tissues and lesions are found in the ovaries and Fallopian tubes.  They can sometimes also grow in the vagina, cervix, vulva, bowel, bladder and rectum. Rarely, do they appear in other parts of the body, like the lungs, brain, and skin (2). Just like the lining of the uterus, these cells build up and eventually shed. But unlike your period which drains through the vagina, this blood and tissue has nowhere to go. This can cause inflammation, crippling pain and a long list of other symptoms. Endometriosis can affect women of any age, including teenagers. What are the main symptoms of endometriosis? Here are the most common symptoms of endometriosis (3):  Severe period pain  Severe period and pelvic pain are often reported to be the most debilitating symptoms of endometriosis. This pain is often described as ‘a razor blade pain’.  During your menstrual cycle, the lining of your uterus (endometrium) is built up to support a potential pregnancy. If its baby-making dreams are not fulfilled, your body releases chemicals called prostaglandins.  Prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract and your endometrium sheds. Cue, your period. These contractions are what cause period pain. With endometriosis, the endometrial-like cells that have grown outside of the uterus also build up and shed. This internal bleeding leads to inflammation, intense pain and a buildup of scar tissue and adhesions (a type of tissue that can bind your organs together).  Usually, the first or second day of your period is the most painful. But in cases of endometriosis, the crippling pain usually kicks in a few days before your period’s arrival. It can also make an unwelcome return during ovulation or even throughout the month.  People can also experience chronic pain, increased lower back and pain around their legs which increases around their periods. “Endo belly” is a common term used to refer to the uncomfortable abdominal symptoms associated with endometriosis. Heavy periods Another common endometriosis symptom is heavy periods. Heavy periods are defined as: If your periods are painful or heavy it’s important to seek medical advice. Monthly heavy bleeding can increase the risk of anaemia (iron deficiency) which can result in symptoms of fatigue, feeling cold often and hair thinning. Pain during or after sex Another common symptom of endometriosis is pain during or after vaginal penetration. This can be caused by endometrial lesions growing in the pelvic region and becoming inflamed during or after sex. This pain is called dyspareunia. It has been reported to feel like a stabbing shooting pain, usually felt deep inside the pelvis. Any unwanted pain during sex is not normal. If you experience any pain during or after sex or any bleeding, get it checked out. There is also mental health support available if you feel your intimacy is being affected by pain during sex. Bowel and urination pain Endometrial lesions can sometimes find their way to the surface of the bowel or even penetrate its wall. This can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as pain when urinating or passing bowel movements or noticing blood in your urine or poo. Pain during urination can sometimes be misdiagnosed as a UTI. If you’re in pain when passing urine or poo or if you notice any blood in either, get it checked out to understand what might be the cause. Bloating and gastrointestinal issues People with endometriosis can also experience bloating and gastrointestinal issues. These symptoms are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Including diarrhoea, constipation and bloating. These symptoms are often affected by your cycle and can worsen in the days before your period. Fertility problems Unfortunately, endometriosis can affect your fertility. Infertility affects about 30-50% of those with endometriosis, but there are no definitive answers (yet) as to why—only theories.   However, this does not mean that if you have endometriosis you can’t conceive. Even in cases of severe endometriosis, natural conception is possible.  Mental health impacts Living with a chronic condition can be tough and often isolating. Endometriosis can affect various aspects of life from personal to professional relationships, which can impact your mental health.  If you feel like endometriosis is impacting your mental health, there are online support communities like Endometriosis UK. You can also talk to our Fertility Counsellors for any mental health concerns relating to your fertility.  Getting to the bottom of symptoms Just like any reproductive health condition, endometriosis varies from person to person. Not everyone with endometriosis will experience all of these symptoms to the same severity. Some people may not experience any of these symptoms at all.  Having severe pain or very heavy periods is not necessarily a sign of more severe endometriosis. It’s also important to remember that each of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions.  If you’re experiencing any of the […]

Managing Endometriosis: Treatment Options Post-Diagnosis-image

Managing Endometriosis: Treatment Options Post-Diagnosis

Have you been diagnosed with endometriosis? Discover our top tips for managing endometriosis pain and the treatment options available to you. From painkillers to surgery.  Quick facts: Living with endometriosis If you live with endometriosis, you probably know that one of the biggest symptoms of endometriosis is pain… a lot of it. Experiencing chronic pain amongst other, often equally debilitating symptoms, can have big physical and emotional consequences.  Sadly, there is currently no cure for endometriosis. And with limited research and understanding of the condition, it can be difficult for both doctors and endo warriors to get a handle on managing endometriosis symptoms.   But you don’t have to put up with pain. There are several treatments available to manage symptoms and help improve your quality of life. Lots of people report huge improvements with these treatments—it’s just about finding what works for you. Medication for managing symptoms The first step in managing pain is usually exploring the use of painkillers. Your doctor may recommend taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (aspirin, ibuprofen) or paracetamol as a first line of treatment to manage any pain.  However, there are lots of different types of painkillers and your doctor can help you to find ones that work for you and your pain level.  Depending on the severity of your endometriosis pain, you may try a course of painkillers for a few months until you assess whether or not they are working for you.  But if you’re finding that these aren’t making the cut and you’re unable to go to work, uni, school, work or other plans, don’t suffer in silence! This is just the first option for managing endometriosis, so push your doctor for alternatives. Tips for endometriosis pain management Endometriosis UK suggests some extra tips for pain management: Heat and comfort Hot water bottles, heated wheat bags or special heat pads can really help to soothe pain, cramping and inflammation.  Remember to never put them directly onto the skin and always have a layer in between. Partnered with your comfies, hopefully, this can help you to feel more comfortable. Physiotherapy Physiotherapists can develop a programme of exercise and relaxation techniques designed to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, reduce pain, and manage stress and anxiety. TENS machines Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS) machines are small devices with electrodes that send electrical pulses into the body. This can block the pain messages as they travel through your nerves. Pain clinics Your doctor can refer you to your nearest pain clinic to see chronic pain specialists. Push for your doctor to get you the expert advice you deserve to manage your endometriosis pain. Hormone treatment for endometriosis When you’re diagnosed with endometriosis, hormone treatment is another common avenue to explore. You should discuss hormone treatment with your doctor or specialist to decide if it’s right for you. For those with endometriosis, similar cells to those lining the womb exist outside of the womb (usually in the abdomen).  These cells also respond to your sex hormones, particularly oestrogen and progesterone, in the same way as your womb lining. They thicken, break down and bleed during your period. This bleeding causes inflammation and scarring, leading to chronic pain.  Hormone treatment is commonly used to reduce the growth of this endometrial tissue.  How does hormone treatment help endometriosis? Hormone treatment aims to maintain low levels of oestrogen in the body, as oestrogen has been found to encourage the growth of endometrial tissue. Hormone therapy can help reduce heavy flow or even stop periods and therefore improve symptoms.  Whilst most endo warriors find that hormonal treatment reduces their symptoms, it is not a permanent fix to manage endometriosis. Types of hormonal treatment used to manage endometriosis? There are lots of different types of hormone treatment available. Some of the most common are also used as contraceptive methods including: Unfortunately, not everyone gets on with hormonal contraception and side effects can be common. It’s important to consider which hormone treatment is right for you. Surgery for endometriosis A last resort if the above treatments aren’t keeping your symptoms at bay, is endometriosis surgery. This aims to remove or destroy areas of endometrial tissue.  This can include laparoscopic surgery or a hysterectomy. The kind of surgery you have will depend on where the endometriosis is and how much of it there is. Laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis Initial surgery will almost always involve gynaecological laparoscopy for both diagnosis and excision. In laparoscopic surgery, also known as keyhole surgery, your surgeon inserts a small tube with a light source and a camera, through a small incision near your belly button.  They use this to be able to look inside your tummy or pelvis and then use fine tools to remove endometrial tissue (excision) or use intense heat to destroy the tissues (ablation). They can also remove any scar tissue that has built up in the area.  This form of surgery can be difficult, as many of the lesions are below the surface and not visible, so a highly skilled practitioner is required to remove them.  It might be the most long-lasting treatment, and people do notice relief in symptoms, but many who undergo surgery find their endometriosis grows back over time. This is why endo warriors may have to undergo surgeries multiple times. Hormone treatment might be used after surgery to help get better, longer-lasting results. Hysterectomy for endometriosis Sometimes healthcare professionals will also suggest undergoing a hysterectomy, a surgery where the womb is removed. This can be a very big decision as post-surgery, you will no longer be able to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy.  If you want children, you can discuss egg freezing before this procedure with your doctor. This means that you will then have the option of trying to have a baby using fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with the help of a surrogate. In some cases, someone might still experience symptoms after getting a hysterectomy done as a form of endometriosis management. If the ovaries […]