Endometriosis and Cultural Diversity: Improving Services for Minority Ethnic Women
Funded by Research for Patient Benefit grant PB-PG-0906-11145 Summary May 2010
Endometriosis is a chronic, disabling condition. Symptomatic disease is usually characterised by pelvic, abdominal pain and lower back pain, and dyspareunia. Other symptoms such as urinary and bowel dysfunction may be present in some women and endometriosis is associated with up to 40% of attendance at fertility clinics. Although there are several medical and surgical treatments for endometriosis there is no definitive cure. Estimates of incidence vary between 5 and 15% of the adult female population. Research with women from majority communities has shown that endometriosis impacts on all aspects of a woman’s life, and may severely disrupt normal functioning. This research project is the first UK study which has explored the ways in which minority ethnic women experience endometriosis and its treatment.
What are the specific needs of women from minority ethnic groups who are living with endometriosis, and how can these effectively be met in the delivery of NHS services?
To develop, in collaboration with community groups and patients, evidence based and culturally sensitive resources for women with endometriosis and good practice guidance for health professionals providing services to women of minority ethnic origin.
- To elicit cultural meanings of reproduction and sexuality and the potential impact on access to services using community focus group discussions.
- To explore the impact of the socio-cultural context on understandings and experience of endometriosis, for women of African Caribbean, Chinese, Greek/Greek Cypriot, Indian and Pakistani ethnic origin.
- To develop and pilot culturally appropriate information resources for women with endometriosis, in English, Chinese, Greek, Gujarati and Urdu.
- To develop and pilot ‘good practice’ guidance in the provision of culturally competent care for providers of endometriosis services in primary and secondary care.
NHS Ethical. approval was obtained for the study in February 2008 [REC reference number: 08/H1204/8]. Following a systematic literature search and narrative literature review, the research consisted of four phases:
- Focus groups with women from each of the minority ethnic communities included in the study to elicit community perceptions of endometriosis and related constructs of menstruation, fertility and motherhood. Five focus groups were held with women aged between 18-50 years (n= 42).
- Semi-structured, in depth interviews with a sample of women aged 18-50 with a clinical diagnosis of endometriosis, (n= 29). Interviews explored their experience of living with endometriosis and access to healthcare and support.
- Semi-structured interviews with a sample of health professionals providing care for women with endometriosis (n=8) to explore their perceptions of the needs of minority ethnic patients, understandings of the socio-cultural background of patients and their own information needs regarding culturally appropriate patient care.
- Using the data obtained in the previous phases of the research and advice from community groups, user representatives and the project advisory group members, resource materials for patients and service providers were developed and piloted.
Focus Group data revealed many similarities and several differences in the perceptions of the significance of ethnic and gender identity, ideas about menstruation, motherhood and fertility across the ethnic groups and also within them.
- The role of women as mothers and homemakers was evident as a key part of women’s identity in all of the groups. However, some women felt that they had more power and control in the conduct of their lives generally than others, with the African Caribbean women viewing themselves as having most control, and Pakistani women least.
- Many of the women in all groups thought that women would tend to normalise severe period pain, and thought that fertility problems rather than pelvic pain would be the most likely spur to seeking professional help.
- In the communities where there was a strong emphasis on motherhood, childlessness (whether voluntary or involuntary) was heavily stigmatised. In the African Caribbean community where women reported more acceptability of voluntary childlessness, infertility was nevertheless stigmatised in a similar way.
- Very few women in the focus groups had heard of endometriosis
- Pakistani and to a lesser extent Indian women found it difficult to discuss gynaecological issues within the family, and described how suspicion could be raised about the cause of gynaecological problems. Pakistani women expressed concern about the potential impact of extensive internal examinations on proof of virginity (essential to marriage) and concern that if a woman had treatment with oral contraception (a common treatment for endometriosis) this might be interpreted as her being sexually active, which would also compromise marriage prospects.
- Greek women were open about discussing menstruation within the family and with friends. They were also open about dyspareunia, and did not object to being examined by male health professionals. Being treated with respect by staff was more important to them. The Chinese women valued privacy very highly, were more circumspect about discussing any personal issues with health professionals and placed great importance on confidentiality.
- With the exception of the Chinese community, the majority of women spoke of their religion as being important to them. They or their family members carry out religious rituals or go on pilgrimages in order to help alleviate the symptoms of endometriosis or to try to achieve a pregnancy. Most find comfort in their faith.
- In common with other women with endometriosis, women in this study reported instances of both positive and negative interactions with individual healthcare providers. Some of their negative experiences were related to cultural insensitivity or misunderstandings, however women were also concerned at health professionals’ more general insensitivity to their symptoms.
- Most of the women in this study were competent English speakers, but several expressed concern at the lack of adequate communication support for those with lower proficiency in English, and many commented on the failure of consultants to fully explain procedures in easy to understand terminology.
The findings from the study and the information materials produced should lead to greater awareness of endometriosis among the communities, and to more culturally sensitive care by health professionals.
Cultural values around a gendered condition such as endometriosis may provide barriers to seeking and receiving culturally sensitive care, which health professionals need to take into consideration when planning and providing health services.
A copy of the executive summary of the project is available on the News Page and the final report will be available in due course.
For details of the resources produced by the project please see the Resource section of this website