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Over 50% of women do not understand their hormones. Here, Irina Karelina from fertility tracker Mira explores how health technology makes information more accessible.
If we asked you what a hormone actually does, would you know the answer? If you said no, you’re not alone. While hormones work quite simply—they regulate the body’s most important processes, such as appetite, sex drive, and the sleep-wake cycle—many women are in the dark about the important role hormones play in their lives.
In a new study by fertility tracking kit Mira surveyed 1,000 women in the United States and found that more than half of respondents thought their own hormones were a mystery.
When asked, one-third of the women had not heard of infertility, two-thirds did not know what PCOS (polycystic ovaries) is, and one-third had never heard of early menopause.
That said, over half (64%) of women surveyed would like to understand their hormones better – which is where health technology can come in.
Helathtech: Your Guide
Have you ever heard of health technology? According to the World Health Organization, healthtech – also known as health technology – is “the application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve the quality of life”.
Healthtech aims to democratize access to information and tools that can improve personalized and preventive healthcare. Femtech is a spawn of healthtech that focuses on women’s health in particular, and includes fertility solutions, period tracking apps, pregnancy and nursing, women’s sexual well-being and reproductive system health care.
As home monitoring tools become more available, I believe they will enable women to learn more about their own bodies.
“Thanks to technology, we now have the potential to turn the narrative around and meet women and menstruating people where they are,” said Claudia Pastides, medical advisor at the women’s health app Flo. “At Flo, we’re committed to equipping women and people who menstruate with expert-backed insights so our users can better understand their bodies from the onset of their first period through menopause.”
Ultimately, when it comes to healthcare, knowledge is power. “Education is key to helping women get the care they deserve but so often don’t have access to, nor a qualified doctor who will listen,” said Shelley Bailey, CEO of Famleethe only all-in-one telehealth fertility company.
She continues: “It’s so easy for women to feel underqualified without a fancy medical degree, but no one can advocate for a woman better than herself. Understanding the difference in hormone lab ranges, symptoms, common treatments, etc. can help women identify whether or not they are truly receiving the quality of care they should. If they are not, they have the knowledge to make a decision to speak up or find it elsewhere.”
Closing the knowledge gap in women’s health
But it’s not just female patients themselves who are uninformed about women’s health issues — there’s a wider knowledge gap that exists within the medical community. Throughout history, all women, and especially women from minority identity groups, have been excluded from healthcare advances both as innovators and as patients. Women have often received drugs that were approved after being tested on men, but due to differences in body size, hormonal environment, and body composition, many had treatments that were safe and effective for men. negative effects on women.
“Women were historically ignored by medical research, a problem that continued to exist well into the late 20th centuryTh century,” says Dr. Gary Nakhuda, MD, FAGOG, co-founder and co-director at Olive Fertility Center. “In part, because mostly men were in leadership roles in academia and industry and responsible for allocating resources, they focused on the issues that mattered to them, while women-specific health issues were simply not prioritized when it came to R&D”.
Overall, as the latest results of the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy survey showed, women are more likely to wait longer for a health diagnosis and are more likely to be dismissed and told their symptoms are “all in the head”. Also, when experiencing pain, women tend to do so wait longer in emergency departments and are less likely to receive effective pain relievers compared to men.
“Women’s pain is too often normalized,” says Flo’s Pastides. “To give an example, 10% to 15% of women of reproductive age have endometriosisbut it usually takes 7.5 years to get a definitive diagnosis, even though some of those people struggle with severe menstrual pain”.
Importantly, educating female patients is only half way to solving the problem. Dr. Gary Nakhuda explains: “Healthtech as it exists today is already good at collecting data and providing feedback to users with integrated dashboards and KPI tracking. This can be helpful at an individual level, but to close the knowledge gap in women’s health or otherwise, this data must be aggregated on a massive scale for the most insightful analyzes that can be generalized to the population at large.”
The good news is that some femtech companies are already starting to extrapolate broader lessons from the data they collect.
“Anonymized data patterns can be extremely useful for investigating health conditions that remain unexplored – such as PCOS and endometriosis – as well as elucidate the real reasons behind ‘unexplained’ infertility diagnosis,” said Sylvia Kang, CEO and co-founder of Mira. “This could potentially improve the quality of life for many people with these diagnoses.”
How? Well, at Mira, researchers have been studying the relationship between women’s health conditions like PCOS and hormone fluctuations during the cycle, thanks to 1,100 hormone charts they received (with permission) from their users.
“What we found is that all of these graphs had similar patterns with ovulation later in the cycle, with elevated luteinizing hormone (LH) and estrogen levels,” says Kang. “This and many other studies we have conducted at Mira will help fill the data gap in women’s health research and will eventually lead to more accurate and faster diagnosis and more targeted treatments”.
Similarly, Flo has collaborated with leading researchers to carry out research projects on women’s health. For example, in 2019, the company collaborated with researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia to conduct a large-scale study of cycle lengths and fertility windows.
“We examined the cycle data of over 1.5 million people from around the world and were surprised to find that only 16% of study participants had a cycle length of 28 days,” says Pasties. “The results of this study are of great importance because they expand our knowledge of the menstrual cycle, which can help provide better information and care for people trying to conceive.”
It seems that things are changing for the better – and that this is just the beginning. “Given the revolution in machine learning and AI that we are just beginning to experience, our understanding is about to be pushed far beyond the body of medical evidence that has taken so long to gather, and this acceleration in knowledge will drive new treatments to improves health outcomes and quality of life in general,” says Dr. Nakhuda.
It’s an exciting time, especially if health tech companies have inclusion in mind. “The key to continued progress is ensuring that health technology is accessible to a diverse population, regardless of gender, race or any other socioeconomic barrier.“