The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Awareness gap in well-woman world

Women have, for years, neglected their own health. And leading the list of problems pushed under the carpet is, probably, menopause. Lack of awareness amongst doctors and patients alike have prevented women from seeking treatment that can make this transition less traumatic, physically and psychologically.

To reach out to such patients, Apollo Gleneagles Hospital has started a thrice-weekly menopause clinic. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm, doctors will provide check-ups in a ‘well-woman package’, including a gynaecological examination, a pap smear (to detect cervical cancer), an ultrasound and mammography, with a lipid profile offered to some, all for Rs 800. Consultations with a dietician and lifestyle adviser, who will calculate risks for certain diseases, will also be on offer.

Actress Rati Agnihotri, who has been associated with the cause of building awareness on menopause, was present at the launch of the clinic. “At 42 years, I am very close to the age where menopause sets in. From the time we get married, we are so involved with looking after everybody else… What about the I' Go see a gynaecologist, go see a doctor,” urged Agnihotri. Proper medical care is essential to deal effectively with this “phase of life”.

Education is the key, feel doctors, in women accessing the right care. “The main problem is the lack of awareness amongst both patients and doctors,” says gynaecologist attached to the hospital and clinic Bhaskar Pal. Awareness programmes at different clinics and with women’s social groups are lined up to help develop a “holistic view”.

There are other hurdles to treating menopause. A major one is the reluctance to take hormone replacement therapy. “We counsel all patients on the benefits and side-effects of hormone replacement therapy,” says Pal.

Oestrogen pills have been available for a while, but there are risks, including increased chances of cancer. But with treatment alternatives, in smaller doses and non-hormonal, now available, women should not be fearful of seeking help. “There are different kinds of patients — active women and those who need short-term symptom control,” explains the doctor. Treatment plans are worked out according to individual needs and preferences, and generally costs between Rs 400 and Rs 500 a month.

Symptoms of menopause and peri-menopause (when the menstrual cycle starts becoming irregular) include excessive sweating, night sweats, hot flushes (sometimes as often as every 10 minutes), irritability, depression, difficulty in having intercourse and skin changes.

“In our man-oriented society, women rarely come forward for help. Men far outnumber the women who come in for our master health-check programme,” says Pal. But if menopause is to emerge from the shameful shadows and receive the attention it deserves, women must stop ignoring their oft-hidden pain.

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