May 13-19 is National Women’s Health Week, and this year’s theme is "It’s Your Time! Pamper Your Mind, Body and Spirit." As the Society for Women’s Health Research notes, it may seem like a frivolous focus, but it carries an important message — and SWHR offers some good advice for how women can be better advocates for their health, starting with improved communication at the doctor’s office:

Always prepare for your doctors’ office visits so that you get the most out of the time available. The doctor’s office can be intimidating, even for highly educated and professional people. Writing down questions ahead of time can reduce the anxiety many of us experience. You also can call your doctor’s office before your visit and talk to a nurse about any tests you have scheduled or to discuss other concerns.

You should never ignore symptoms of potential illness and every adult woman should see a doctor annually. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, have it checked out. If a doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, seek a second opinion.

Many conditions that predominantly affect women are difficult to diagnose because they have not been thoroughly studied or because they were studied only in men; doctors don’t always recognize the symptoms. This is true in the case of autoimmune illnesses, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis. Early diagnosis and treatment is your best chance to successfully cope with these conditions, which can be debilitating or fatal.

Plus: Advice about medical screenings can be confusing, if not completely contradictory. And the media doesn’t always provide necessary or clear analysis.

"What gets left out of these stories is the important concept that both benefits and harms can come from screening tests," writes Gary Schwitzer in this article, "Unhealthy Advocacy: Journalists and Health Screening Tests."

"You can screen many people and find a few problem cases. But in the process, there are always false-positive test results that suggest people have a problem when they really don’t," adds Schwitzer. "That leads to anxiety, more testing (some of which carries its own risks) and more expense."

Schwitzer, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communications, specialized in health care journalism for more than 30 years and publishes Health News Review, which monitors U.S. health news coverage. I’ll be adding it to our list of resources under Media Matters: Analysis.

Christine

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