Unspoken illnesses that plague women

Urinary tract infections and thrush are all too common for many women, but why are we so ashamed of it? (Image source: Medgadget)

By Chelsea Shepherd | @Chelsea15183902

For centuries, women have dealt with unspoken illnesses that are too embarrassing to talk about. 

Urinary Tract infections (UTIs) and thrush are two conditions, both equally as painful as each other, that affect  the reproductive systems of most commonly women but also men. 

It’s not uncommon for these illnesses to remain untreated because of the stigma and lack of education, which in turn can lead to more severe kidney and ovary diseases. 

Put simply, a urinary tract infection is an infection that affects any part of the urinary system such as the kidney, bladder, ureters and urethra. 

Thrush, on the other hand, is an overgrowth of yeast that most commonly affects the vagina.

Both illnesses are extremely common and can generally be treated with a visit to the GP and a round of antibiotics, and it’s common for these illnesses to reappear. 

Although both illnesses can cause much distress, they are often not shared with others in the fear of being misunderstood for sexually transmitted diseases. 

It is detrimental to the health of women and men to be educated on these illnesses in order to effectively get treated urgently. 

I experienced my first urinary tract infection at the age of four. 

I was fortunate enough to have parents who knew how to help me and what professional assistance I needed. 

Ten years later, I began a two-year journey of urinary tract infections occurring every month. 

I visited a urologist every three months and despite numerous tests, constant antibiotics were the only way to ease the symptoms. 

Throughout this journey, I always labelled my infection as one of the kidneys, not a UTI, purely because my peers at school would tease me about having a sexually transmitted disease. 

I am a lot older now and despite the stigma around STIs I know that, having one or not, it’s often a fact of life and not something to be ashamed of. 

Fast forward to this year, I had stopped getting frequent UTIs but I began experiencing thrush for the first time. 

It is a similar level of discomfort to a UTI but is a yeast infection that affects the vagina. 

We have a stigma around STIs to thank for the fear and awkwardness of male and female reproductive illness embarrassment.

The similarity of symptoms between UTIs, thrush and sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and genital herpes, can cause much confusion between determining which illness you have. 

This may rationalise the common misperception between the conditions, which is why a visit to your GP is the first step you should take. 

In order to remove the taboo, the level of education needs to be lifted – but where does the responsibility lie? On the parents or the teachers?

I was shocked to discover that women’s health issues are rarely covered in the Australian curriculum yet, despite the fact that 50 per cent of women and 5 percent of men will experience a UTI in their lifetime. 

Jayne Wright is an Adelaide Primary School teacher who is currently shaping the minds of ten and 11-year-olds. 

“I believe that the health curriculum focuses significantly on growth and development (including puberty) and wellbeing and mental health, which is excellent, but there are some gaps within it,” Ms Wright said. 

“I believe that the responsibility of teaching young people about reproductive/urinary health issues falls mostly to the parents, due to the sensitive nature of the areas in which they occur, but could be supplemented within the school curriculum.

“Primary school-aged children can get UTIs and other health issues, but their education on these is usually covered by the adults at home, rather than at school. 

“In the later years of primary school (years 4-7) students could be taught about these issues within health lessons. This would support them to know the signs of an infection and release some of the stigma surrounding these common health issues.” 

The best decision I made was to go to a doctor and seek professional advice because, in the end, they’re the people who can get you the best medical help. 

All health-related issues affecting the genitals are nothing to be embarrassed about and it’s time we remove the stigma. 

2 responses to “Unspoken illnesses that plague women”

  1. Well written Chelsea.
    Proud of you, and fully support this. Society should be supporting each other, male and female with conditions like these, and drop the stigma. Education is key.


  2. Well written Chelsea.
    Proud of you, and fully support this. Society should be supporting each other, male and female with conditions like these, and drop the stigma. Education is key.


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