My work on sexual and reproductive health in August covered everything from heavy vaginal bleeding to painful (and even traumatic) vaginal childbirth, as well as looking at the lesser known (and surprisingly common) sexually transmitted virus HPV. 2018 marks the ten year anniversary of free HPV vaccines for girls over the age of 12 on the NHS. In July it was announced that these vaccines will be extended to boys of the same age from next year. But, despite growing awareness, do many of us really know what HPV actually is? I wrote a need-to-know guide for Patient, exploring how HPV is transmitted, who it affects, and what it does.
Also for Patient, I spoke to The Eve Appeal’s gynae nurse Tracie Miles about possible causes of heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding – from benign fibroids to gynaecological cancer. And I wrote for Grazia Daily about two recent reports on women’s treatment options during childbirth.
‘It Was A Shadow Hanging Over My Whole Pregnancy’: We Need To Talk About The C-Section Postcode Lottery – for Grazia:
Giving birth by caesarean section has long been seen as the “too posh to push” option for expectant mums. Either dismissed as “the easy way out” (which it isn’t; it’s major surgery!), or criticised for not being the “natural” or “maternal” way of bringing your child into the world, the C-section generally gets a pretty bad rap.
But for some women and their babies it is the best option – either in the form of an emergency caesarean following labour complications, or as a birth plan in its own right. Sadly, women pursuing the latter continue to face stigma and obstacles at what’s already a challenging and emotionally charged time.
Research published on Tuesday by maternal human rights charity Birthrights found that: “the majority of NHS Trusts in the UK make the process of requesting a caesarean lengthy, difficult or inconsistent, adding anxiety and distress to women at a vulnerable time.”
According to the charity’s director, Rebecca Schiller, maternal request caesareans are the number one reason women contact the Birthrights advice service. Their reasons for wanting a C-section are varied, but most couldn’t be further removed from the “too posh to push” stereotype.
What causes heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding? – for Patient:
Whether you’re 13 or 53, abnormal or unexpected gynaecological bleeding can be a massive source of stress, worry and confusion. But, while it could be an early sign of uterine or cervical cancer, it may also be a sign of something far more benign. The difficulty is knowing how to tell the difference!
We speak to specialist gynae nurse Tracie Miles, from charity The Eve Appeal, to find out what your bleeding might be a symptom of, and when you should be concerned.
Firstly, Miles says, it’s important to understand what ‘abnormal bleeding’ might look like.
“Bleeding is not just necessarily that Snow White moment of fresh red blood on a white panty liner,” she says. “It could be a sort of sludgy brown staining, like the kind you might get towards the end of your period, or it can be a mucus with a bit of a pink tinge. Be aware of any kind of abnormal discharge or bleeding, and any changes to your ‘normal’ monthly cycle.”
What Do Different Pain Relief Options In Childbirth Actually Feel Like? – for Grazia:
Pain relief during childbirth is an emotive topic – from whether you have it at all to the type of pain relief you go for. And now a recent study has challenged the routine use of pethidine – a drug that’s been widely used to relieve labour pains since the 1950s.
With so many different debates raging on the subject, how the hell are you meant to know which choice is best for you – especially when you’re trying to get an entire person out of a space far smaller than the average head? We’ve got the (non judgmental) lowdown on the most common options available.
What you need to know about HPV – for Patient:
In 2008 the NHS introduced free vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV) for girls over the age of 12 years. Ten years on, it was announced in July that this vaccination programme will be extended to cover boys. But what exactly is HPV, who is it most likely to affect, and why is it a threat to public health?
HPV is a common virus that affects the skin and moist membranes around your body. In fact, it’s so common that 80% of people will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
“There are about 200 different types of HPV and, for the majority of them, they won’t do you any harm at all. There are no symptoms, and the body’s immune system will usually clear the virus without the need for any treatment,” explains Kate Sanger from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
So far, so good… The problem arises, however, with certain strains of HPV that are considered ‘high risk’. These forms of HPV can cause genital warts and are responsible for around 5% of cancers worldwide, including virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Until recently therefore, vaccinating girls to prevent cervical cancer has been a clinical priority. But HPV can also lead to other forms of cancer – including anal cancer, penile cancer, vulval and vaginal cancer, and cancers of the head and neck, like throat and mouth cancer.
IF YOU NEED SUPPORT
Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you need help or advice with, please check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.
However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.