The pain gap exists. Health-related gaslighting is all too common among women. Almost any woman can tell you about a time her physician failed to take her seriously. For many, getting treatment for pain has always been a key concern, instead, they’ve been misdiagnosed, negated, dismissed, or told it’s anxiety.
Thankfully, there has been a shift in the UK, and officials are beginning to listen. As part of the government’s first women’s health strategy, a survey of almost 100,000 women revealed that menopause had been cited as the number one health concern for women between the ages of 40 and 59.
Managing symptoms of menopause have not been taken seriously in the UK for some time, with women facing constant challenges in obtaining hormone replacement therapy. Women even reported that some providers were unwilling to prescribe it. As a result, many had to suffer from severe symptoms of menopause, which negatively impacted their daily lives. However, there is now hope of finding relief.
As reported by The Guardian, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will now be sold over the counter in the UK for the first time. After a safety review, starting in September, the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) noted that Gina 10 microgram vaginal tablets (containing estradiol) will be available from pharmacies without a prescription.
Gina HRT tablets are intended for women aged 50 and over who haven’t had their periods for a least a year. Gina aims to treat vaginal symptoms related to oestrogen deficiency such as dryness, soreness, itching, burning, and uncomfortable sex.
Chief healthcare quality and access officer at MHRA, Dr. Laura Squire, told The Guardian, “This is a landmark reclassification for the millions of women in the UK who are going through menopause and experience severe symptoms that negatively impact their everyday life.”
Echoing Dr. Squire’s words, Maria Caulfield, the minister of state for health, told The Guardian, “Menopause affects hundreds of thousands of women every year, but for some, its symptoms can be debilitating and for many, they can be misunderstood or ignored. Making Gina available over the counter is a huge step forward in enabling women to access HRT as easily as possible, ensuring they can continue living their life as they navigate menopause.”
While we celebrate this milestone for our sisters in the UK, we lament the lack of progress on women’s health in the United States. In 1998, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) conducted a study on the effect of HRT on postmenopausal women. Initial evaluations of the data suggested the risks, namely increased risks of coronary heart disease and breast cancer, outweighed the benefits of using HRT.
Since then, there have been numerous scrutinies of the WHI’s methods and analysis, such as the fact that a majority of participants were more than a decade past their final menstrual period. Another limitation of the controversial study included that only one type of HRT and delivery method was tested. Moreover, a lot of the positives of HRT, such as decreasing the risk of diabetes, colon cancer, and osteoporosis never made it into the public narrative.
Despite more recent studies negating the initial findings of the WHI study, this data has not received the same media coverage that has unfairly harbored a negative view of HRT in the public’s mind.
We’re hopeful that this monumental moment in the UK is the first step of many to reframe the narrative around HRT in treating menopausal symptoms and providing relief to the millions of women out there suffering in silence.