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Women feel they ‘can’t take time off work’ for gender specific health conditions

Penny Lancaster went to see a GP to help with the menopause

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The UK’s largest online pharmacy Pharmacy2U has found that 50 percent of British women feel unable to take time off work for conditions, including endometriosis, menopause, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and more. All of these diagnoses have one thing in common – they only target those with a uterus and ovaries. However, one in four still worries that taking time off to manage these symptoms could jeopardise their job.

Melanie King, Pharmacist at Pharmacy2U, said: “There is still a stigma attached to female ill health and sadly, it’s one that women who manage things like menopause will be especially familiar with. 

“What’s most worrying is that women quite often feel they can’t take time off work or don’t believe their symptoms warrant a break.”

Women are “hesitant to prioritise” their health, despite being almost twice as likely to struggle with health issues compared to men, the research explained.

The most common reason why they feel this way was due to the feeling their symptoms weren’t “significant enough”.

How can symptoms of these conditions impact every day and work life?

Endometriosis

Endometriosis describes a condition in which tissue, similar to the lining of your uterus, starts growing in other bodily parts.

King explains: “The most common symptom of endometriosis is pain, which is often experienced during or around the period in the lower abdomen and back areas. 

“Many sufferers can’t go about their daily lives.”

Menopause

Characterised by a drop in oestrogen levels, menopause occurs when you stop having your periods.

The pharmacist said: “Every woman experiences menopause differently. 

“The most common physical symptoms include night sweats, hot flushes, vaginal symptoms (for example dryness) and headaches.”

Signs like night sweats and hot flushes can affect your sleeping patterns, which consequently lowers your energy levels, the Mayo Clinic states.

King adds that people going through this change can also experience “issues with concentration and memory” – all of which can potentially affect your day-to-day life.

PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome impacts how your ovaries work, as well as your periods and hormone levels.

When it comes to symptoms, King noted: “Like menopause, not all symptoms of PCOS are physical. 

“You might also experience fatigue, mood changes, sleep issues and depression.

“These can have a big impact on your quality of life, as daily activities can become more challenging.”

When it comes to managing these conditions, it often depends on the exact symptom or complication you’re trying to target. And while painkillers might offer some aid in certain cases, others require a more targeted approach. 

What needs to be done so women feel safe to take time off?

The expert said: “As pharmacists, we speak to women regularly who live with a gender specific health condition. 

“It’s a very normal part of everyday life and it certainly shouldn’t be a taboo subject. The more we talk openly about the subject, the better chance we have at breaking down the stigma.”

However, it might also come down to the workplace. She said: “Leadership comes from the top, and we support companies who are looking to improve their infrastructure to help any women in their workforce deal with their health conditions. 

“Many companies are looking at period leave and other important policies – such as Monzo, who recently created a pregnancy loss policy for their workforce.”

King added that having role models in the workplace, who openly speak about these issues, could also help kickstart the discussion and make women feel safer.

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