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10 Women's Health Breakthroughs of 2023

Updated: Jan 1

This year saw some exciting developments in the field of women's health, thanks to incredible scientists, an increase in awareness and funding around gender gaps in research and the hard work of relentless advocates. We think these deserve be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

Here's ELANZA's round-up of the top 10 women's health breakthroughs of 2023:

1. Hyperemesis gravidarum: Scientists pinpoint cause of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy

2. Birth control: The FDA approves over-the-counter birth control in the US

3. Endometriosis: Genetic link between endometriosis and mental health conditions found

4. Menopause: The FDA also approved a pioneering new pill for menopause symptoms

5. Pre-eclampsia: A new blood test can predict pre-eclampsia in pregnant women

6. Postpartum hemorrhage: Severe bleeding after birth could be reduced by 60%

7. PCOS: Research from Chicago University could help millions of women

8. Iron deficiency: Study shows almost 40% US girls and young women have low iron levels

9. Breast cancer: Task force says mammograms should now take place from age 40

10. White House Initiative: First-ever focus on women's health research announced

Why the gender data gap in health matters

The gender data gap, also referred to as the gender research gap in health is well documented.

It’s been 30 years since the1993 Revitalization Act, where Congress ordered the National Institutes of Health to ensure women were included equally in clinical research.

Prior to that, women were underrepresented in clinical research and sex differences typically were not considered. Despite some progress, research on women still lags.

Less than 30% of NIH-funded clinical trials met the criteria for considering sex as a biological variable. The NIH and FDA have played a role in improving the representation of women in clinical trials and in encouraging the consideration of sex differences, but not all studies can be reviewed by the FDA nor do all studies have NIH funding.

Consideration of sex differences in biomedical research is crucial to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs and devices for both sexes and to improve the rigor and reproducibility of scientific discoveries and evidence suggests women and girls are paying the price. The gender data gap impacts everything from how pain is treated to our persistent lack of effective treatments for conditions that affect huge numbers of women, such as the chronic inflammatory disease, endometriosis.

Despite challenges like these, this year there were some remarkable strides in medical research and positive signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

The full list in more detail:

1/ Morning sickness

Scientists pinpointed the cause of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

A study published in December in the journal Nature revealed that the nausea and vomiting experienced by many women during the first pregnancy trimester is mostly thanks to a single hormone.

This breakthrough may pave the way for more research and better treatments for the condition, according to the researchers.

More than two thirds of pregnant women experience morning sickness during the first trimester of pregnancy, characterized by persistent nausea that may be accompanied by vomiting.

Around 2% of pregnant women in America are also hospitalized for a life-threateningly severe version of morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

2/ Birth control

The FDA approves over-the-counter birth control in the US.

Access to contraceptive pills is expanding, as the FDA this year granted approval for over-the-counter sales of the progestin-only mini pill, Opill.

This development may have significant impact, as it directly addresses challenges faced by nearly a third of women—especially those without insurance, Spanish-speakers, or those lacking a regular doctor—in obtaining hormonal birth control. The availability of Opill without a prescription is expected to contribute to a decrease in the number of unintended pregnancies, which currently stands at about 3 million each year.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, progestin-only pills like Opill help prevent pregnancy in many ways: the pills make it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and also thin the lining of the uterus and stop ovulation for many people who take it.

3/ Endometriosis

Scientists discover genetic link between endometriosis and mental health conditions

Recently, researchers from Yale University uncovered a potential association between endometriosis and mental health issues, including depression and eating disorders.

What is endometriosis? It’s a condition that affects 10% or more of women. It happens when cells similar to those found inside the uterus (called the endometrium) grow outside the uterus. Symptoms include chronic pain, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems and some women with endometriosis may experience infertility or difficulty getting pregnant.

Examining data from approximately 270,000 women, the study identified a gene segment linked to both depression and endometriosis.

This discovery suggests that addressing endometriosis care might benefit from a comprehensive health approach, going beyond merely treating physical symptoms.

ELANZA makes holistic management of endometriosis more personalized and accessible, with 100% online classes and care channels driven by data. Learn more here about how it can help you or your patients with self-management from home for symptom relief.

4/ Menopause

The FDA also approved a pioneering new pill for menopause symptoms

Earlier this year the FDA approved Veozah, a daily pill that reduces the number and severity of hot flashes by tamping down overactive neurons in the hypothalamus. It’s an option for women who can’t or won’t use hormone therapy, and now that a growing number of companies are offering menopause telehealth, women can get this and other treatments prescribed that way.

5/ Pre-eclampsia

A new blood test can predict pre-eclampsia in pregnant women

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval for a blood test capable of identifying pregnant women at imminent risk of developing a severe type of high blood pressure known as pre-eclampsia. The assessment is the first advance in diagnosing the deadly condition since it was discovered more than a century ago.

Pre-eclampsia stands as a significant cause of disability and mortality among women during childbirth.

This condition disproportionately affects Black women in the United States and has been implicated in the recent death of Tori Bowie, an Olympic gold medalist from the 2016 Games.

The newly approved test holds the potential to serve as an early warning system, as it can tell, with up to 96 percent accuracy, who will not develop pre-eclampsia within the next two weeks and so can safely be discharged from the hospital.

6/ Postpartum hemorrhage

Severe bleeding after birth could be reduced by 60% with new solution

A groundbreaking solution with the potential to be a significant breakthrough in reducing maternal deaths caused by postpartum bleeding was published by researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the University of Birmingham.

The study, involving over 200,000 women across four countries, revealed that employing a simple, cost-effective blood collection device known as a 'drape' for objective blood loss measurement and adopting a bundled approach to WHO-recommended treatments, rather than sequential administration, led to remarkable enhancements in outcomes for women. The incidence of severe bleeding, defined as a woman losing more than a liter of blood after childbirth, was reduced by 60%, significantly lowering the likelihood of mortality.  The collective solution is known as E-MOTIVE. 

Currently, postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), characterized by the loss of more than 500 mL of blood within 24 hours after childbirth, stands as the primary cause of maternal mortality on a global scale. This condition impacts approximately 14 million women annually, resulting in around 70,000 deaths, predominantly in low and middle-income countries, equivalent to one death every six minutes.


Research from Chicago University could help millions of women who suffer from PCOS

Breakthrough research from the University of Chicago holds promise for millions of women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

According to Hang-Soo Park, a staff scientist at UChicago Medicine and the study's primary author, current PCOS treatments primarily address symptoms, with commonly prescribed oral contraceptives falling short in addressing infertility struggles faced by patients.

The researchers' innovative approach represents a paradigm shift, moving from symptom management to treating the underlying causes of PCOS. This shift aims for more effective long-term results, potentially enabling patients to overcome fertility challenges and have children if they desire.

The study revealed that extracellular vesicles (EVs) derived from stem cells were effective in suppressing the activity of genes associated with the overproduction of androgen hormones, a characteristic feature of PCOS, when injected into animal models. Additionally, these EVs helped stabilize abnormalities often associated with the condition, such as elevated glucose levels. Remarkably, whether administered intravenously or directly into the ovaries, EVs restored normal ovarian function.

The EV-based therapy showcased distinct advantages over conventional treatments. Compared to whole stem cell therapy, EVs are more accessible and user-friendly, making them well-suited for widespread use and exhibit a better safety profile.

8/ Iron deficiency

Study shows almost 40% US girls and young women have low iron levels

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends screening for anemia every five to 10 years for girls and women from the age of 12, but this guidance is not consistently followed and physicians typically do not screen for this deficiency, leading to underdiagnosis.

Although supplements can boost iron levels, the lack of adequate screening means many individuals are unaware of their need for supplementation.

To address this gap, Angela Weyand and her team from the University of Michigan undertook the first comprehensive investigation into iron deficiency among American teenage girls and young women. They conducted an analysis of blood samples and demographic data from 3490 girls and women aged 12 to 21 who participated in nationwide surveys between 2003 and 2020. Their findings, published in JAMA, suggested that an often overlooked iron deficiency may be a contributing factor to fatigue, cognitive difficulties, hair loss and concentration issues present in nearly 25% of adolescent girls and young women in the United States. Notably, symptoms of iron deficiency often go unnoticed in young women and girls. Within this group, 16% suffer from iron deficiency anemia, a potentially severe condition marked by a decrease in red blood cells, hindering the transport of oxygen throughout the body.

Previous research on iron deficiency and anemia primarily focused on high-risk populations, such as those experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding. This study has the potential to impact an enormous number of lives by influencing testing, awareness and treatment protocols.

9/ Breast cancer

Mammograms should now take place from age 40

This year the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommendations, saying that if women have mammograms every other year starting at age 40, more lives will be saved, following an alarming rise in cancer in younger women.

10/ White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research

First-ever focus on women's health research announced

President Biden established a new White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, led by First Lady Jill Biden, and the White House Gender Policy Council, aiming to advance women’s health research and shed light on conditions that are specific to women, disproportionately affect women, or affect women differently.

The Initiative will pioneer the next generation of women’s health discoveries, bringing together agencies across the federal government to generate concrete recommendations. They also will be deciding on priority areas of focus with these agencies and exploring new public-private partnerships with philanthropic leaders.

It will haired by Dr. Carolyn Mazure, a leader in the field of women’s health research from Yale University, who will coordinate the Initiative on behalf of the Office of the First Lady and the Gender Policy Council. “This initiative elevates the importance of women’s health research in the nation, which is really extraordinary,” says Mazure. “We have outstanding opportunities to make the progress that we need.”

All in all, 2023 saw some exciting progress, but it is clear there is much work to be done to close gaps and maintain momentum around closing gender-related experiences in health and care. At ELANZA, we welcome the opportunity to work with public and private partner organizations that share our mission to use data for good in women's health.

ELANZA is data-driven management platform for endometriosis that makes  holistic therapies more accessible and affordable, for more symptom-free days. Learn more about ELANZA Wellness on our website, Instagram and Linkedin.


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