DUBAI // Women in the UAE are dangerously unaware of serious medical conditions that can cause infertility, cancer, diabetes, obesity and even death in the most serious cases.
A survey of 1,000 Emirati and expatriate women found 91 per cent lacked sufficient knowledge of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which often manifests itself as intense period pain.
The YouGov survey found that about 70 per cent of women aged 25 to 29 were not familiar with endometriosis despite it affecting an estimated 55,000 women in Dubai and 176 million worldwide. Awareness was lowest among Arab expats (77 per cent) and Asians (66 per cent).
Although the age group questioned were most commonly associated with the onset of the condition, most women wait more than a year before visiting their GP about their symptoms, choosing instead to cope with a pain often thought of as part of life.
Now 29, Anna Roberts had endometriosis diagnosed when she was 17 after years of cripplingly painful periods, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue.
“I was told I was the ‘one in three’ that would now have the condition for the rest of my life, and that a laparoscopy and the pill would be all they could do to help me live a more normal life. Maybe one day, if I did manage to get pregnant, then the condition would ‘sort itself out’.”
Fast forward 10 years and the New Zealander said little has changed in terms of diagnosis, education, awareness and help for sufferers.
“It’s supported not only by the evidence in the study, but in the way we’re being taught about periods as girls and how society accepts that as women we must ‘grin and bear it’ once a month.”
Over the past year Ms Roberts has come off the contraceptive pill and has been working with a holistic adviser on balancing her hormones in an attempt to improve her life. She still suffers debilitating pain at least two days a month.
“I think empowering women and young girls, educating them on options they have for managing their periods, specialists, symptoms and their life instead of just the contraceptive pill to help with hormone challenges and understanding that women in the workplace shouldn’t have to suffer and let their work suffer in turn because of heavy and painful periods,” she said.
“It will come with more open discussion, more empowerment for women to seek knowledge and options for their health for what suits them and not the cookie-cutter approach.”
The survey found that about 85 per cent of women were unaware that endometriosis causes ovarian cancer while 75 per cent of married women did not know that PCOS leads to infertility, meaning early intervention is vital. Only 16 per cent felt they were familiar with the symptoms of PCOS and almost half of those surveyed had no idea about the condition.
“We are frequently coming across patients who seek help for infertility with endometriosis and PCOS as the underlying cause,” said Dr Ann Mini Mathew, specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Aster Hospital.
“In most cases the symptoms were unrecognised for years leading to late detection and ensuing complications. The first step to tackling a disease in its early stage is awareness and this survey has proved that awareness levels for women in the UAE are far from optimal.
“There is an urgent need for not just women, but men as well, to be better informed so that they can support their partners and family members and help them to seek medical help in time.”
Alisha Moopen, director and chief executive of Aster Hospitals and Clinics in the GCC, said the survey gave doctors a better understanding of the levels of awareness among UAE residents.
“The results provide us with valuable insights about the lack of awareness and equip us to take steps in the right direction, starting with bridging the knowledge gap, which is one of the key objectives of this new initiative.”