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Silent Suffering: 40 Million Women At Risk Of Prolonged Childbirth-Related Health Issues Annually

In a groundbreaking study published yesterday in The Lancet Global Health, researchers revealed that a staggering 40 million women face the prospect of enduring long-term health problems resulting from childbirth each year. 

The comprehensive survey shed light on the prevalence of postnatal conditions persisting for months or even years after the delivery, urging a reevaluation of healthcare practices.

The identified postpartum issues include dyspareunia, impacting 35% of postpartum women; low back pain affecting 32%; anal incontinence at 19%; urinary incontinence ranging from 8% to 31%; anxiety from 9% to 24%; depression between 11% and 17%; perineal pain at 11%; tokophobia (fear of childbirth) at 6% to 15%; and secondary infertility at 11%.

Experts emphasize the need for heightened awareness and effective care throughout the pregnancy and childbirth journey to detect potential risks and prevent complications leading to enduring health challenges. 

Dr. Pascale Allotey, Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization (WHO), underscored the considerable suffering women endure, emphasizing the underappreciation, underrecognition, and underreporting of postpartum conditions.

Despite their prevalence, these conditions have faced neglect in clinical research, practice, and policy. 

The authors of the study, spanning a literature review of the past 12 years, highlighted the absence of recent high-quality guidelines for effective treatment of 40% of the 32 priority conditions analyzed. Notably, no high-quality guidelines emerged from low- or middle-income countries.

The comprehensive series, titled “Maternal Health in the Perinatal Period and Beyond,” advocates for a holistic approach to women’s health, emphasizing the importance of addressing not only immediate biomedical causes but also the broader social, economic, and environmental factors influencing women’s well-being.

The call for greater attention to the long-term health of women and girls before and after pregnancy resonates throughout the series, urging a shift in focus toward a comprehensive approach that considers the complex interplay of factors affecting women’s health throughout their lives. 

The study concludes with a plea for healthcare providers to be attuned to women’s concerns, providing the necessary services to ensure not only survival through childbirth but also sustained good health and quality of life.

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