Great Britain

From endometriosis to cancer — why the gender health gap is costing women their lives

WOMEN might live longer than men but there is a painful catch: More years with ill health.

The gulf between the sexes extends way beyond salaries.

There is a gender health gap — and it is costing women their lives, Dr Zoe Williams warns.

Fab Daily’s resident GP says research shows women suffer chronic pain for longer and are more likely than men to be misdiagnosed at hospital or the doctor’s.

It’s why the Government has launched a drive for women to share their healthcare experiences to shape a new Women’s Health Strategy to better meet their needs.

Launching the 12-week consultation, to coincide with International Women’s Day today, Health Minister Nadine Dorries said: “Women’s experiences of health care can vary and we want to ensure women are able to access the treatment and services they deserve.”

Mika Simmons, co-chair of the Ginsburg Women’s Health Board and host of podcast The Happy Vagina, says the gender health gap stems from a severe lack of historical research into women’s health issues.

She says: “We can’t change the past but if we work together, we can transform health care for women today and for future generations.”

Athena Lamnisos, CEO of gynaecological cancer research charity The Eve Appeal, says: “Women with ovarian cancer often visit their GP four times before diagnostic tests or a referral to a specialist takes place.

“Early diagnosis is critical in getting a better outcome with gynaecological cancers. For that to happen we need women to be heard.”

Here, Dr Zoe outlines some of the most common health problems affecting women, the signs and symptoms to watch out for and what to do if you think you are affected.

Endo hell

SCIENCE has not prioritised conditions that solely affect women, including common gynaecological problems like heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnancy-related issues and the menopause.

Endometriosis affects one in ten women in the UK.

It can cause severe pain and debilitating symptoms every month, yet the average time to receive a diagnosis is 7.5 years, with 40 per cent of cases needing ten GP appointments before being referred to a specialist.

Endometriosis is when tissue normally found only in the endometrium – the lining of the womb – is found in other areas of the body, such as around the ovaries and Fallopian tubes.

Cells in this tissue respond to hormonal monthly changes; bleeding when you get a period but the blood can’t leave the body, causing women severe pain.

Mind games

WOMEN over 60 are twice as likely to develop dementia as breast cancer.

Of sufferers, 39 per cent are male while 61 per cent are female.

Globally, women with dementia outnumber men by two to one.

In part, it is down to the fact women live longer and age is the primary risk factor.

But women have only been included in clinical trials for new treatments from 1993.

While research is ongoing as to why women are affected in such numbers, oestrogen is also thought to play a role.

The hormone is believed to have a protective effect on brain cells, and levels of it can drop suddenly following menopause.

Warning signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia include memory loss, difficulty concentrating, difficulty carrying out familiar daily tasks and following conversations, confusion about time and place and mood swings.

Speak to your GP if worried.

Get men on your side

ONLY 2 per cent of couples last year made use of shared parental leave.

Getting the men in your life – husbands, partners, brothers, sons and nephews – on board with women’s health issues is vital if women are to get the health equality they rightly deserve.

Most men are feminists, they just don’t realise that feminism means to believe in and support the equality of the sexes.

Educate the men in your life, talk to them about your health including periods, childbirth and menopause.

By bringing supposed “women only” conditions into the public domain, more will be understood and men will be better positioned to support the women in their lives.

Mental health battles

STATISTICS indicate that mental health problems are more common among women than men . . . but this could partly be because men are less likely to seek help.

One in every ten mums experience post-natal depression.

Meanwhile, 20 per cent of older people living at home and 40 per cent living in care homes have depression. The majority of these are women.

Research has also shown the decline in mental health seen since the start of the Covid pandemic is twice as severe for women as men.

Women evolved as nurturers and, anecdotally, a lot of women have done the majority of childcare, home schooling and cleaning in lockdown, as well as holding down their own jobs.

You can self-refer on the NHS for talking therapies – and while waiting lists differ depending on your postcode, it is a good starting point to get help if you feel your mental wellbeing is declining.

The Big C

CANCERS such as breast cancer affect many more women than men.

Around 350 men a year are diagnosed with breast cancer compared to around 55,000 women.

There are also female-specific cancers called gynaecological cancers, which include ovarian, womb, cervical vaginal and vulval cancers

Around 7,000 women lose their lives to these cancers each year.

Ovarian cancer can be incredibly hard to diagnose as symptoms tend to appear late and are often vague, such as bloating or lower tummy pain.

Cervical cancers, however, are often caught extremely early or at a pre-cancerous stage through routine smear tests, which is why it is vital to attend your appointment.

If you experience any unusual bleeding or skin changes to the vulva it’s essential you make a GP appointment and get checked out.

Gut feeling

AT least twice as many women as men in this country are coping with coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition whereby your immune system attacks the lining of your small intestine.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, bloating, indigestion, fatigue, constipation and pain.

The condition can be diagnosed with a blood test, then a biopsy.

Excluding from your diet foods containing gluten – meaning anything with wheat, barley or rye – can prevent the symptoms.

Pelvic floored

IT absolutely shouldn’t be embarrassing to talk about, yet research carried out by Tena shows urinary incontinence remains a taboo.

Only seven per cent of women who experienced light incontinence saw their doctor, with 14 per cent admitting they self-diagnosed.

Pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes, which is why women are told to work on their pelvic floor after giving birth.

Similarly, cystitis affects 400,000 people in the UK each year and around 90 per cent of those are women.

Half of women suffer a urinary tract infection at least once.

Anatomy is largely responsible for this. Women’s urethras, vaginas and rectums are all in close proximity, which means bacteria can move around.

If you are suffering from incontinence, look at the NHS Squeezy app and ask your GP for help.

Break a leg

OF those aged over 50, around one in two women compared to one in five men will break or fracture a bone because of osteoporosis – a condition that causes bones to weaken, become brittle and more susceptible to breaking.

While a high number of men are affected, it is a significant women’s health issue that’s far too often overlooked.

And what’s more, most people won’t know they have a problem until they break a bone.

Women are more at risk because of the hormonal changes during menopause.

Other risk factors include past fractures, long-term use of steroid tablets, heavy drinking or smoking, low body weight, eating disorders or a family history of hip fractures.

If you think you might be at risk, speak to your GP who can assess you and if necessary arrange a bone density scan.

There are lots of treatments for osteoporosis, including HRT for women.

And the best protection is regular strength-building exercises.

Other conditions to watch


FIBROMYALGIA is thought to affect seven times as many women as men, including the likes of Lady Gaga, pictured, and BBC presenter Kirsty Young.

It is characterised by widespread pain and fatigue and can be extremely debilitating.

Sufferers often have poor sleep – which can lead to a host of other ailments including headaches and IBS.

Symptoms can also include dizziness, brain fog, depression and pins and needles.

While the exact cause is unknown, if you think you might have it, keep a pain and symptom diary for a week or two and visit your GP; while there is no cure, symptoms can often be eased once diagnosed.


GIVING birth is the most common reason in the UK women are admitted to hospital yet maternity care only represents around three per cent of health spending.

For far too long, the trauma of what some women endure in childbirth and the perinatal period has been fobbed off as “just what women go through”.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in women between six weeks and one year after giving birth.

Depression affects around 12 per cent of women during pregnancy and anxiety affects some 13 per cent.

PTSD and tokophobia – the fear of giving birth – can result after traumatic births too.

The mental health side of childbirth has come on a long way but is still underfunded and under-resourced.

If you are struggling with anything physical or mental pre or antenatally, talk to your health visitor, make an appointment with your GP or self-refer for available talking therapies.

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