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Women’s Health: Key symptoms you should look out for

By Bupa Global Sponsored | 31 July 2020

Brought to you by Bupa Global

Have you been setting aside your normal health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic? Online searches for women’s health services have significantly declined in recent months, as women turn to self-help measures to address their concerns at home instead. But if you’re worried about any symptoms or have noticed unusual changes in your body, it’s important to get them checked out as soon as possible.

There are lots of healthcare services still running which you can now access from home. Many GPs are offering phone, online, or video appointments where they can discuss your concerns and let you know if you need any further investigations or treatment.

Dr Samantha Wild, GP at Bupa Global, spoke to us about some of the most common health concerns facing women, and explained the key symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.

Breast cancer

Cancer is caused when cells in your body grow in an uncontrolled way. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK, but seeking help as soon as possible gives you the best chance of treatment and recovery.

Some symptoms of breast cancer to look out for:

  • A lump or swelling in your breast, armpit, or upper chest
  • Discharge or bleeding from nipple(s)
  • A change in the way your skin looks and feels, for example redness, puckering, or dimpling
  • Redness, rashes, or crusting on or around your nipple
  • A change to the shape or direction of your nipple
  • A change in the size or shape of your breast
  • Pain or swelling in your breast or armpit that’s there most of the time

It’s important to check your breasts regularly and know what feels normal for you, so you can spot any changes early. Remember to check the whole area of both breasts, as well as your armpits and up to your collarbone. If you notice any changes to your breasts, it’s important to contact your GP, even if you feel well otherwise.

Cervical cancer

Your cervix is where your lower womb and the top of your vagina joins up. Cervical cancer is caused when the cells of your cervix grow and multiply in an unusual and uncontrolled way. The main cause of cervical cancer is a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). In the UK, women between 25 and 64 are invited for cervical screening (a smear test) every few years to test for HPV. If you’re found to carry the virus, then the cells taken during your smear test will be examined further. This can detect any changes as early as possible and help to prevent cervical cancer.

Some symptoms of cervical cancer to look out for:

  • Having heavier periods than normal
  • Bleeding in between your periods, during or after sex, or after the menopause
  • Painful sex
  • A change to your discharge, for example an unpleasant smell, or changes in colour and consistency
  • Pain in your lower back or between your hip bones (pelvis)
  • Recurring urinary tract infections

If you’ve received an invitation for cervical screening, contact your GP surgery to make an appointment. They will be able to tell you what safety measures they have in place.

Menopause

Menopause refers to the time when women stop having periods and can’t get pregnant anymore. It happens as a result of changes to hormones when the ovaries stop producing eggs, and iis a normal part of getting older. It most commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60, although this can vary, and the average age is around 51. Unfortunately, menopause can sometimes come with some unpleasant symptoms that can last several years.

Some symptoms of menopause to look out for:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flushes or night sweats
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vaginal dryness or itching
  • Pain during sex
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Aches and pains in your muscles and joints
  • Urinary problems, such as an infection, leaking, or needing to go more often
  • Feeling very tired and having trouble concentrating

Menopause can be a difficult time even under normal circumstances, so dealing with symptoms throughout the pandemic may be even more challenging. Your symptoms could be worse if you’ve been feeling stressed, drinking more alcohol, eating an unhealthy diet, or not exercising properly during lockdown.

Try to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to help ease your symptoms, by maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake, and managing your stress levels as best you can. If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms, don’t just suffer at home. Contact your GP for support and advice.

It’s also important to note that many of the symptoms of menopause listed above may be caused by lots of other conditions. Try not to be alarmed if you do experience anything unusual, but make sure to get it checked with your GP as soon as possible.

Other key symptoms to look out for

The most important thing you can do is to get to know your body and what’s normal for you. If you display any unusual symptoms, make sure to contact a medical professional for advice and don’t delay getting help.

Other symptoms that may be related to health conditions affecting women include:

  • Severe period pain
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Painful urination or blood in your urine
  • Pain in your lower tummy, thighs, pelvis, or back
  • Pain when you do a number two
  • Swelling in your tummy
  • Needing to wee more often or urgently

Look after your mental health

While it’s normal to feel anxious about your health if you’ve developed any unusual symptoms, your worries may well be heightened due to the coronavirus pandemic. You may also be concerned about delays in screening services, accessing treatment, and your safety if you do go out to a clinic or hospital. Remember to look after your mental health, take time out for relaxation and self-care, or speak to a friend or family member to get things off your chest.

Contact your GP surgery to arrange a phone or video appointment. Your GP will be able to answer any questions you have. They can also help put your mind at ease, give you an assessment, and decide if you need a referral. If your GP does recommend a face-to-face appointment, remember that there are lots of extra safety measures in place to help keep everyone safe.

Sources

  • How might COVID-19 have affected people’s ability to see their GP? The Health Foundation. www.health.org.uk, published 1 May 2020
  • Next steps on general practice response to COVID-19. NHS England. www.england.nhs.uk, published 19 March 2020
  • Menopause. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised March 2017
  • Menopause. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated October 2019
  • Breast cancer. Patient. www.patient.info/doctor, last edited 3 July 2016
  • Breast cancer symptoms and signs. Breast Cancer Now. www.breastcancernow.org, last reviewed August 2019
  • What is breast cancer? Breast Cancer Now. www.breastcancernow.org, last reviewed March 2020
  • Cervical cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk, accessed 1 July 2020
  • Cervical cancer symptoms. Jo’s cervical cancer trust. www.jostrust.org.uk, last updated 14 May 2020
  • Symptoms of cervical cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk, accessed 1 July 2020
  • About cervical screening. Jo’s cervical cancer trust. www.jostrust.org.uk, last updated 11 June 2020
  • Endometriosis. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised February 2020
  • Fibroids. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised December 2018
  • Breast screening. Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearch.org, last reviewed 18 October 2017

Bupa Global

DISCLAIMER: This article was designed and produced by Bupa Global by searching internal and external data and information for information provision and reference purposes only. Any views or information mentioned and set out in this article/webpage is based on general situations. Readers should not regard them as medical advice or medical recommendations. Before making any decisions about the theme of this article, you are recommended to seek independent advice from suitable professionals (such as doctors, nutritionists, etc.). It is clearly stated that Bupa Global will not bear any responsibilities for others’ usage or interpretation of the information listed in this article. When preparing and/or updating this article, Bupa Global endeavours to ensure that the content is accurate, complete and updated but will not bear any responsibilities nor make any warranty or guarantee for the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the information or for any claims and/or losses caused thereby.

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