Women’s health conditions are not “all in the head”

A campaign to improve treatment and quality of life for women with debilitating reproductive health conditions is challenging the perception among doctors that “it’s all in the head”.

It can take ten years or more for a condition such as interstitial cystitis to be diagnosed, during which time a woman may have had dozens of courses of antibiotics, suffered pain and embarrassment, had employment challenges because of time taken off work – and despite all that she may have been told or had it implied that there’s actually nothing wrong with her.

And there are many other conditions featured in the EveryWoman Day campaign which are similarly difficult to define and diagnose, including endometriosis, fibroids, overactive bladder syndrome, dyspareunia and lichen sclerosus.

Since there is very little research and development in these areas of health, EveryWoman Day encourages women to share their experiences so that other women can learn from them, and help to manage their conditions too.

Dr Karen Gardiner, founder of EveryWoman Day, said:

I was at a medical conference recently where a consultant talking about chronic cystitis actually told me:

What you have to remember is that most of these women are mad.

It would be nice to think that was a one-off but this appears to be an opinion that isn’t isolated. It belongs in a long-gone era. There is a shocking lack of research into women’s health conditions and therefore they are poorly understood and difficult to treat, but these distressing and debilitating conditions are definitely in the body and not ‘only in the mind’. They can happen to anyone, regardless of background or social status, and that’s why we called the campaign EveryWoman Day – it’s to highlight the ordinary women who achieve extraordinary things sometimes just to keep daily life ticking over, because their conditions give them so many challenges.

With less than 2.5% of publicly funded research funds spent on the whole area of female health conditions, it’s not as if new medicines and therapies are being found every day.

EveryWoman Day is backed by Dr Pixie McKenna from TV’s Embarrassing Bodies.

The campaign uses visually striking “belly selfies” for women to share their experiences about how they cope with diseases that traditionally aren’t talked about.

Women write a headline on their bellies and tell their stories alongside their photo. The belly part is significant because it’s where the problems lie and because these embarrassing “women’s troubles” have traditionally not been talked about, so this is a way to bring them into the open, without the need to show your face.


About EveryWoman Day

EveryWoman Day aims to raise awareness, funds for research and support, and hope.

Women have to learn to manage their pain and symptoms. Often lifestyle factors can have a significant impact, but what works for one woman doesn’t necessarily work for every woman.

The more women share their experiences, the more women learn how to cope with their own conditions. The more awareness is raised, the more women will seek help, and the more pressure there will be to research cures. People can donate via buttons for relevant charities on the EveryWoman website.

Dr Karen Gardiner, founder of EveryWoman Day, said:

The average time to diagnosis for endometriosis is seven years. For interstitial cystitis is can be 10 years. Around two-thirds of menopausal women have vaginal dryness but only one in four of them will ask for help. These things need to change.

The EveryWoman campaign is practical, but it’s more than that. It’s also about inspiration.

It can be desperately difficult just to get through the day when you are in agony, or when you are up 22 times in the night to pee, or when you are bleeding so much that you need to double up sanitary pads and tampons. Yet women keep turning up for work, getting the kids to school and activities, looking after elderly relatives, and pulling off all sorts of extraordinary things to make ordinary life tick over.

How do they do it? Sharing these stories will help and inspire other women to manage their own challenges.

That’s why we have launched the EveryWoman Day Award, with £250 of M&S/John Lewis vouchers as a prize for the most inspirational story, which can be uploaded until October 1st. We want to recognise the incredible women who quietly go about their business with untold problems in their bellies.

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