Clinical update

Menopause symptoms and period pain: identify women’s health conditions with confidence

Updated RCN resource also includes information on pregnancy, continence and sexual health

Essential facts

Every woman will experience physiological changes throughout their life, related to stages such as menstruation and the menopause, says the RCN .

Women may also experience physical or mental health issues, or issues relating to sexual and reproductive health, including access to contraception, fertility and pregnancy-related health issues.

Some women are also more vulnerable to social economic challenges.

The provision of womens healthcare services across the UK is varied and is covered by the acute sector, primary care and the independent sector, and nurses are involved at all levels of care.

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Essential facts

Every woman will experience physiological changes throughout their life, related to stages such as menstruation and the menopause, says the RCN.

Women may also experience physical or mental health issues, or issues relating to sexual and reproductive health, including access to contraception, fertility and pregnancy-related health issues.

Some women are also more vulnerable to social economic challenges.

The provision of women’s healthcare services across the UK is varied and is covered by the acute sector, primary care and the independent sector, and nurses are involved at all levels of care.

What’s new

In November 2020, the RCN published its updated Women’s Health Pocket Guide.

Beginning with female anatomy and physiology, the 84-page guide was once published in three separate parts but has now been brought together into one resource.

The aim is to help nurses and midwives identify and treat women for a range of conditions, including:

  • Menstruation difficulties, such as menorrhagia (heavy bleeding), dysmenorrhoea (painful periods) and amenorrhoea (absence of periods).
  • Menopause.
  • Pregnancy and related issues, such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and surgical termination.
  • Continence.
  • Sexual health and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • Cervical and breast screening.
  • Cancers, including of the cervix, vagina, vulva and ovary.

The guide also addresses mental well-being support and sources of help for vulnerable girls and women.

It includes information on causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and investigations, treatment options, possible complications and best practice.

The guide signposts to relevant specialist organisations and sources of further information.

The new version includes information about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) - an extreme form of premenstrual tension.

Often not recognised or diagnosed, PMDD affects an estimated one in 20 women of reproductive age, says the guide, with disabling symptoms, including poor mental health and pain every cycle.

How you can help your patient

Nursing staff may be involved in women’s health, often providing sources of support and further information, helping women to make the best decisions for their own care and treatment.

The pocket guide suggests questions nurses may ask in different circumstances.

On mental health, it recommends following up an initial enquiry into how someone is feeling with supplementary questions, such as: Do you take time to look after yourself? Are you sleeping poorly? Are you tearful, angry or anxious? Do you have anyone to talk to about your concerns and the impact they are having?

The guide stresses the importance of considering vulnerability at every contact, reminding practitioners they are responsible for safeguarding those in their care and must respond to any concerns.

Expert comment

Carmel Bagness

Carmel Bagness, RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health

‘Unfortunately, some women’s health issues are still seen as a taboo subject, with many women feeling embarrassed about seeking help.

‘Some symptoms can be difficult to identify, resulting in women waiting longer for a diagnosis that will eventually lead to the help or treatment they need.

‘While some conditions can be managed, not knowing what is wrong can be stressful and damaging to physical and mental health and well-being.

‘We want women to be able to get treatment for conditions that they may have been putting up with because they don’t know what’s wrong.

‘Aimed at specialist and non-specialist colleagues, this guide will increase awareness for nurses and midwives, providing them with specific information to help them identify women’s health conditions with more confidence.

‘We know that early diagnosis of illnesses means quicker and more effective treatment for the women in their care.’

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