Women’s health needs are the same regardless of whether you have a physical disability or not.
Preventative Health and Screening
Guidelines and recommendations for health screening are the same for all women, and it is strongly recommended that all women complete these at the relevant times. Types of screening tests and how they are performed is changing, with technology advances and research finding new and improved ways to complete vital testing. There are also different ways tests can be completed depending on an individual’s level of ability or cultural needs.
Challenges to access some screening tests and services are often great for those with physical disabilities: for example, mammogram or Papsmear tests are not possible for some women with physical disabilities.
It is essential that screening tests – and physical abilities limiting access to testing – are discussed with a GP. In many cases, alternative testing options exist – while they may not have the same degree of accuracy, they are far better than testing not being undertaken at all.
Some screening services may have limited physical access for wheelchairs, or not have a hoist for transfers. If this is the case, ask your GP if they offer home visits or what alternate screening options or testing at an alternate location are available.
For people who struggle to lie or stand still for an extended period of time, alternate screening options may need to be arranged – this is best discussed with a GP.
Cancer screening for women includes:
National Cervical Screening program: most women have a Papsmear from 18 years of age or as soon as they are sexually active. There are now different recommendations and alternative options. Discuss the best option for you with your GP.
Breast Screening: most women have a mammogram from the age of 40 years at least every two years. There are different options for those who cannot access the mammography equipment. Discuss the best option for you with your GP.
Bowel Screening: faecal (poo) testing.
Skin Checks: all skin surfaces checked by your GP or at a skin clinic.
For more information: Online: www.cancer.org.au
Mental health and wellbeing
Many women experience depression and anxiety at some time, and women with physical disabilities experience mental health concerns in the same way as the wider community. There is an increased chance of these conditions during pregnancy and after delivery; chronic physical illness may also contribute to conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Mental health concerns must never be ignored. If anyone is experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety or any other concern relating to mental health, there are many resources available. See your GP or contact the below services, in case of crisis, attendance at the closest hospital emergency department is recommended.
- Suicide Call Back Service – free mental health counselling for people affected by suicide
Phone: 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue – information and support for depression and anxiety
Phone: 1300 224 636
- Women’s Health and Wellbeing Services – women’s health resources, including mental health
Phone: 9490 2258
- Think Mental Health – online mental health check-up tool and free resources
Monthly periods and having children
There are many elements of women’s health that can be particularly challenging to manage with a physical disability – periods, pregnancy and childbirth are just a few of the important health considerations for women. Fortunately, there are many support and information options available to provide guidance at all stages of a woman’s life.
For women not planning to have children in the near future, or ever, there are options available to temporarily or permanently stop periods. Speak with your GP about the best options for you.
For family or carers of women with severe and complex physical and intellectual disabilities, the pain, personal care requirements and difficulty of understanding monthly periods can be very challenging. Consultation with a GP is recommended to discuss period management options most suitable for each individual.
For women with physical disabilities who experience a monthly period, the use of pads and tampons can be challenging. A GP, community nurse or occupational therapist can provide ideas on how best to manage personal care around periods.
“The change of life”
Menopause is when a woman’s reproductive life has come to an end. This is when a woman’s periods stop for over a year and she is no longer ovulating.Many women experience both emotional and physical symptoms throughout this period in life. These symptoms include night sweats, hot flushes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido.
If symptoms are affecting your day to day life contact your GP to discuss treatment plans. This can include Hormone Replacement Therapy.