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Dr Tracey Sims is a GP with a strong interest in female health. She thinks women in the UK tend to regard the health problems associated with childbirth stoically as “their lot” and she wants to change that.
“There is a lot of focus in the UK on the delivery of the baby. As a society we need to think more about improving women’s health and wellbeing after delivery and see beyond women’s role as mother and expand what we are prepared to talk about after the birth,” she says.
“Women do not talk about some of the health problems they experience and they are a part of the common daily experience they are managing alongside all their roles. There are so many parts of women’s daily lives that we as a society need to talk about more.”
She adds that physical and mental health often go hand in hand and says added to that is the fact that women may well be juggling all sorts of work and caring issues at the same time meaning their health can get neglected.
Dr Sims runs the Intimate You clinic in Liverpool which focuses on women’s health. She set it up because she felt the traditional treatments for some of the physical after effects of childbirth that she was suggesting to her patients didn’t seem to be very effective. They included pelvic floor exercises for urinary stress incontinence which affects one in three women after childbirth.
She herself suffered from it and recalls the difficulties of running across supermarkets after toddlers while worrying about wetting themselves. Many women find the exercises difficult because they cannot sense the muscles tightening if their pelvic floor is weak. The condition often progressively worsens and can end up with women requiring surgery. It is exacerbated by the fact that women wait on average 6.5 years to seek medical help.
Dr Sims’ clinic has recently launched the Emsella, a device which was being used on the continent and in the US. It is a chair device with a big electromagnet on the bottom which pulsates magnetic power across the pelvic floor, giving the equivalent stimulation of over 11,000 pelvic floor exercises in just less than half an hour. Dr Sims says similar techniques have been used on elite athletes to rebuild muscle quickly.
She tried out the US Food and Drug Administration-approved device herself and found that after six sessions she noted a big improvement and she could once again feel her pelvic floor. “My urinary stress incontinence went from being a real problem to not being a problem at all,” she says. Her clinic now leads the research on the Emsella in the UK and helps collect data to show its impact.
It cannot be used on some patients, for instance, those with pacemakers or metal hip replacements and Dr Sims says some women feel short-term muscle cramps. She says it is still in the development phase and is not a mainstream treatment, but other clinicians specialising in urinary stress incontinence have shown an interest. The Emsella was launched on the UK market earlier this year. Dr Sims would like to see it become a mainstream therapy. For the moment she is trying to keep the cost down, but admits it costs around £750 for six sessions.
Dr Sims says urinary stress incontinence can have a big impact on women’s sense of self esteem and how they feel about themselves. She recalls a patient who was doing a high level professional job, who had been to the gym all her life, not being able to walk across a car park to the gym without emptying her bladder after she gave birth to her daughter. “It had a marked effect on her self esteem,” she says.
She adds: “Having children has a huge impact on a woman emotionally, mentally and physically. It is wonderful that women are continuing their careers nowadays, but the reality is that that is in addition to all our other roles. We need to invest more in supporting each other.”