Heeding the Body’s Warnings
By Awake! correspondent in Ireland
FOR Una and her husband, Ron, the experience was frightening and painful. One cold January night, Una fainted. Ron sent for the doctor, who thought the problem could be a hormonal imbalance affecting her ovaries and ordered her to the hospital. Ron drove his wife—who was losing blood and in terrible pain—over bumpy, unlit mountain roads to a hospital 50 miles [80 km] away.
However, that hospital could not care for the problem, so she was transferred to a larger, more modern hospital nearby. There she was successfully operated on and made a good recovery.
Ron and Una were grateful to the hospital staff for the skill and care that had saved Una’s life. While they were expressing this gratitude to the anesthetist, he said how happy he was that things had turned out well. Then he made an interesting comment: “Very few gynecologic disorders erupt suddenly. Most of them are signaled well in advance.” What did he mean?
Una explains that she had had trouble two years previously. During menstruation, she had a flow of blood only if she did something strenuous, and then it was mostly clots. She says: “I should have sought medical advice, but I took no note, thinking that I perhaps was going through the menopause early. But then, in January, my period stopped after two days, and three days later it started again with a very heavy flow and huge clots. I was not really worried, but on the second day, I had to take to my bed, as I felt so sick. But still we did not call a doctor. That was the night I had to be rushed to the hospital.”
Could her experience have been prevented from developing into a life-threatening emergency? Una thinks that perhaps it could have if she had known what to look for and if she had acted promptly. Unfortunately, she says, “like many women, I always played down anything to do with menstruation, not taking it seriously.” In fact, though, Una’s symptoms were typical of ovarian disease that indeed called for immediate attention.
Each month women of childbearing age have an indicator of their general health: the natural process of menstruation. Any significant irregularity is, in effect, a warning signal. In some cases, delay in heeding the warning may mean the difference between more routine medical treatment and surgery.
Why, then, are these signals often ignored or minimized? In many families, the wife is the one who plans the family diet, hands out the pills, and checks on family hygiene. In so doing, she may neglect her own problems. Perhaps, as in Una’s case, she is uncertain about the meaning of her symptoms. Or it could be that money for health care is limited, and she gives priority to her children or to her husband, hoping that her own problem will somehow clear up. She may be afraid, preferring her present discomfort to some imagined hospital trauma. She may also be a working mother, unable or unwilling to take time off for her own well-being.
In many cases, doctors say, a wife is left to agonize alone over her health problems. Her husband may perhaps not be overly concerned about “women’s problems.” However, husbands who love their wives will inform themselves about such things so that they can watch after the welfare of their wives. The Bible urges men: “Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself.” (Ephesians 5:28, 33) Hence, how can husbands and parents help their wives and daughters to avoid unnecessary emergencies?
Watch for Signs
Be alert for unusual occurrences that may be warning signals. For example, irregular bleeding and discharge, though not necessarily accompanied by pain, should be checked.* So should unusual tiredness, heavy blood loss, and problems in passing urine. These may be symptoms of fibroids, which are more easily dealt with if discovered early.
Not to be ignored are constant backaches, a feeling of pressure in the vagina, or loss of urine during exertion. These can signal a condition that exercise can at times correct in its early stages but that may need surgery later.*
In addition to reacting to such symptoms, women over the age of 25 would do well to have a routine medical examination, with emphasis on examining the breasts and the abdominal and pelvic organs. This may be done every two years or as often as a woman’s family and personal health history indicate.
During Those Special Times
Remember also the three stages in a woman’s life when those who love her should give her special attention: menarche (when a girl begins her menstrual periods); parturition (the process of giving birth to children); and menopause (when menstruation ceases). During each of these stages, situations might arise in which prompt medical advice or treatment could forestall an emergency.
MENARCHE: Young girls need health education to help them understand the workings of their bodies and to take the mystery out of the onset of menstruation. Parents, especially mothers, should have frank and open discussions with their daughters. If there is a problem, girls should not be left shyly wondering what has gone wrong or feeling that they must endure very heavy menstruation or acute pains at that time of the month. If their parents are not able to help, perhaps some older woman friend could offer guidance regarding appropriate medical advice.
How can a young woman know whether her periods are normal? In the same individual, they can be quite variable. Menstrual irregularities are common in the first six months to one year (or even two years in some cases) after menarche and are usually due to minor hormonal changes. If after these early years, there are occasional changes in the length of the menstrual cycle or in the character of the bleeding, this is considered normal. More than this could be a warning sign that calls for a medical checkup.
Part of health education has to do with diet. Junk foods, which emphasize taste rather than nourishment, and being overly concerned about weight, often prevent teenage girls from getting the proper amounts of many nutrients, particularly calcium and iron. Young women who have not yet established regular ovulation cycles often have greater-than-average blood loss during menstruation, and this increases the need for iron. So it is very important to eat well-balanced meals and avoid an abundance of highly processed foods. Sometimes iron supplements may be recommended.
PARTURITION: Obstetricians recommend an early prebirth screening for pregnant women. They can check the blood to see whether iron or folic acid supplements may be needed. Since a woman who is pregnant is more likely to hemorrhage, heeding warning signals assumes a still greater importance.
Even the minutest amount of bleeding during pregnancy calls for a medical assessment. Other danger signals at this time are loin pains, traces of blood in the urine, and pain in passing urine. But any irregularities or symptoms should be reported early to the obstetrician. When funds are short, a husband has a special responsibility for the health and life of the one with whom he has become “one flesh,” not letting her life drift into danger.—Matthew 19:5, 6; Ephesians 5:25.
MENOPAUSE: This is the medical term for the normal, complete ending of menstrual cycles. This time is also known as the climacteric, or the change of life, and is a natural stage in a woman’s life. In a broader sense, this has come to mean the months or even years before and after this natural event. Many women experience uncomfortable physical symptoms during this time—such as irregular menstrual bleeding and hot flashes—but these will eventually stop. If there is prolonged or excessive menstrual bleeding or another period six months or more after what appeared to be the last, a doctor should be seen at once.
True, not all emergencies can be anticipated. “Time and unforeseen occurrence” befall us all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) But, as the anesthetist said to Una: “Few gynecologic disorders erupt suddenly.” Good health education and an awareness of the body’s mechanisms can protect women from a possible gynecologic emergency. It is better to forestall an emergency than to ignore the warnings until a crisis has to be faced. Hence, wives and husbands, heed the body’s warning signals!
In some, though not all, cases, these can be symptoms of cervical cancer, which, in the great majority of cases, is curable if caught early.
Utero-vaginal prolapse, or falling womb.
[Picture on page 23]
A sympathetic husband can help his wife to heed her body’s warnings