Pharmacy has a key role to play in women’s health

Pharmacy has a key role to play in women’s health: signposting to services such as sexual health clinics, local mental health groups, encouraging women to keep up to date with cervical smears and mammograms and reminding women about the need for a healthy lifestyle with supplementation to fill nutrient gaps in the diet.

Well-established pharmacy services and products, such as ovulation test kits, pregnancy testing, BMI and blood pressure measurement, cholesterol and glucose measurement and smoking cessation pharmacy services are important as are some of the newer home-based tests such as Dip UTI for urinary tract infections where pharmacy can add to its own business value and save GP time and NHS money.

Unique issues

Women experience unique health issues – from pregnancy (including pregnancy and pre-pregnancy care issues such as folic acid supplementation), menstrual irregularities, such as PMS and dysmenorrhoea to menopause, vaginal health issues and fertility-related problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.

Some other issues, such as urinary tract health and osteoporosis, affect men too, but may affect women more severely. Other health issues, such as alcohol, poor diet, heart disease and stroke, mental health, stress and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections, which are common to both women and men, may affect women differently.

The effect of STDs can be more serious in women (e.g., leading to infertility if untreated), but may go untreated because symptoms are less obvious or may be confused with candida infections.

Healthy diet

A healthy, balanced diet is the cornerstone of health. Women, like men, should enjoy a variety of healthy foods including whole grains, fruit and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish and/ or plants, lean protein and low fat dairy or a plant-based equivalent.

It is also important that women balance food intake with activity, and maintain good hydration for which teas, including fruit and herbal teas, make a pleasant and healthy alternative to water.

Such dietary choices are important throughout women’s lives including when planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy and breast-feeding, during and after menopause and later in life.

UTI & technology

Urinary tract infections are common in women with more than half of them experiencing cystitis. An innovative smartphone app to help detect urinary tract infections is now being launched nationally as part of a fast track test and treat service for urinary tract infections (UTIs). The app and the service allow women to test for a UTI and access prescription-only medicine when appropriate without seeing a GP.

The Dip UTI test kit, for example, a clinically proven home-use kit developed by Healthy.io, the creators of next generation smartphone-powered urinalysis with an innovative smart phone app combines the traditional dipstick test used by GPs, a no-mess pop-up cup to collect a urine sample, a proprietary colour-board which ensures a highly accurate reading and the intelligent smartphone app — which is the first technology to transform a smartphone camera into a clinical device equivalent to lab-based analysers.

If a woman suspects she has a UTI, she simply visits a participating pharmacy, where a pharmacist will ask a few questions to make sure a homebased test is appropriate. If it is, she will then be recommended one of the easy-to-use Dip UTI test kits.

She then downloads the free app, and a virtual nurse called Emily will talk her through the test, giving precise instructions on how to collect the urine sample, how long to dip the reagent strip, when to place it in the special colour-board provided, and when to use her smartphone to scan the reagent strip and see the result.

After she completes the test, she visits any participating pharmacy where a specially trained pharmacist will assess her condition based on the test results and symptoms. If the test and symptoms indicate she has a bacterial infection, the pharmacist can supply a three-day course of prescription-only medicine, under a patient group direction (PGD), without the need to see a GP.

Heart health

Coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as does breast cancer in the UK every year, yet it’s still perceived to be a ‘man’s disease’. All women over the age of 40 should be recommended to have a have a heart risk assessment, which could be undertaken in the pharmacy, including factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, BMI, diet and physical activity.

Stress is thought to be increasing in women and affects more women than men. Stress can lead to anxiety and depression as well as lack of sleep and can affect brain health and cognition. Eating healthily, maintaining good hydration, seeking out supportive relationships and having plenty of exercise help to manage stress and its impact on brain health.

Dr Catherine Hood is a women’s health expert.

This article also appears in the August issue of Pharmacy Business.

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