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Improving menstrual health and endometriosis care in the UK

Health researchers at Birmingham City University are helping address prevalent concerns in menstrual health, from informing the first UK guidance for endometriosis treatment to influencing public conversations about menstruation and stigma.

Research from BCU is focusing on improving menstrual health and endometriosis care in the UK

The work conducted by BCU’s health researchers comprises of multiple strands, including endometriosis care, period poverty, period pain and changing the conversations around menstruation.

Raising awareness of endometriosis

Endometriosis is a chronic and painful menstrual health condition that affects as many as one in ten women, but the disease has received very little academic attention.

In order to remedy this, BCU’s researchers conducted multiple studies and contributed chapters that highlighted the intricacies and experiences of the condition.

Elaine Denny’s work has showcased that women often have their pain dismissed, usually as a symptom of a painful or heavy period. Alternatively, they face long delays to an endometriosis diagnosis, on average taking as long as seven and a half years.

Annalise Weckesser and Denny carried out research on women’s experiences of endometriosis treatment, as well as a chapter on the condition in the latest Routledge International Handbook of Women’s Sexual and Women’s Reproductive Health.

Weckesser also recently completed a study exploring UK doctors’ views on treating endometriosis. The study found that endometriosis is challenging to diagnose even for those health professionals actively looking for the condition.

Denny’s endometriosis research informs the first ever guidance for the diagnosis and management of endometriosis, produced by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). 

The NICE guidance helps doctor better detect the condition in order to improve diagnosis times.  A key recommendation of the guidance, as highlighted in The Guardian, is the need to listen to women rather than dismissing and normalising their pain. 

National media outlets have interviewed Denny and Weckesser in recognition of their expertise on endometriosis and the gender health gap (see The New Statesmen and The Independent).  

Assessing teenagers’ experiences with endometriosis

Alongside this research, Amie Randhawa has been undertaking the first UK-based study on teenagers’ experiences and knowledge of endometriosis.

Her study found that, in the UK, only 8 percent of teenage girls (aged 15 to 19) know what endometriosisis is, a rate significantly lower than in other countries (24 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Italy).

The vast majority (86 percent) of teen girls want to learn about endometriosis, with school being their preferred source, and they think that boys should learn about it too (83 percent).

More findings from Randhawa’s study can be found in the Let’s Talk. Period ‘Centring the Voice of Young People’ report for Plan International UK.  

Support for those with chronic health conditions

Gemma Williams carried out a study on the needs of menstruation app users who have disabilities and/or chronic health conditions, which was part funded by Clue (a period tracking app used worldwide by 10 million people). 

The results of the study will help inform future changes to the app to support the needs of those with disabilities and/or chronic health conditions.  She is leading an ESRC-funded study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on period poverty in the UK. 

Williams is also undertaking a doctoral study on the interplay between menstruation and chronic ill health experiences.

Challenging period poverty and period discussions

Collectively, the team have created a series of UK-based ‘period poverty’ research reports for Plan International UK’s ‘Let’s Talk. Period’ initiative.

The reports draw on Randhwa’s doctoral study of teens’ experiences and awareness of endometriosisand collate, share and advance knowledge in the menstruation education, health, policy, and advocacy sector.  The four reports include:

Williams and Weckesser have advised the research stream of the joint Government Office for Equalities Period Poverty Taskforce, ensuring that BCU’s menstrual health research is at the forefront of efforts to tackle period poverty in the UK. 

Recently, Williams took part in a social media campaign to help challenge the way that we talk about periods and menstruation (#mindyourbloodylanguage).

Destigmatising menstruation

Weckesser and Dr Keeley Abbott have launched The VQ collective, a BCU cross-faculty initiative that focuses on destigmatising menstruation, menopause and female pleasure.

The VQ has run several successful public events to encourage safe and open dialogue about menstrual and sexual health, including Birmingham’s first ever ‘pop-up’ women’s sexual health shop which brought together women-led social enterprises from across the country.

More information on VQ can be found via Facebook and Twitter.


Professor Emeritus Elaine Denny, whose work centres on endometriosis care

Professor Emeritus Elaine Denny

Professor of Health Sociology

Elaine has undertaken over twenty years of sociological research on endometriosis in the United Kingdom and is a national expert on women’s experiences of the condition. She has published work on women’s experience of IVF, the experience of endometriosis, and on the occupation of nursing.


annalise

Dr Annalise Weckesser 

Senior Research Fellow

Annalise came to the UK from Canada to undertake doctoral studies in Medical Anthropology at the University of Warwick's School of Health and Social Studies.
After completing her PhD, she joined Birmingham City University's Centre Social Care and Health Related Research, where she currently undertakes qualitative research on gender, sexual and reproductive health. 


Angela Hewett Staff profile

Dr Angela Hewett 

Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology

Angela specialises in health psychology and has a keen interest in gender and health and in health inequalities. Angela has also worked in public health at both Birmingham City University and the University of Liverpool, and has experience of working in practice as a Health Promotion Coordinator, with a focus on mental health promotion.


Gemma Williams

Gemma Williams

Research Fellow

Gemma’s research interests include women’s health (focusing upon menstruation), the experiences of people with chronic health conditions, and mental health. She is currently undertaking a PhD, looking at menstrual equity and chronic health.


Amie Randhawa is a PhD student currently conducting research into teens' experiences of endometriosis.

Amie Randhawa 

Researcher

Amie is a doctoral candidate undertaking the first UK-based study on teenagers’ experiences and knowledge of endometriosis. Amie is one of 50 STEAM Scholarswhose research is funded as part of BCU's initiative to create new subject knowledge and to power cultural, societal and economic improvements in the West Midlands.

Important stats regarding menstruation and endometriosis