Apple added period tracking to the iOS Health app and released it a clinical study on women’s health in 2019. Now, the Apple Women’s Health Study team has some preliminary data stating that, yes, there are an incredible range of menstrual symptoms experienced by menstruating people around the world.
The findings were from the first 10,000 participants who signed up for the study using the iPhone Research app and provided demographic data. Of that number, 6,141 participants recorded menstrual symptoms, and the most commonly tracked were abdominal cramps (83%), bloating (63%), and tiredness (61%). Or basically things that anyone who has had a period could tell their doctors if asked. About half of the participants also reported acne, headaches, mood swings, changes in appetite, low back pain, and breast tenderness. Some rarer symptoms included diarrhea, sleep changes, constipation, nausea, hot flashes, and ovulation pain.
One conclusion was that regardless of race, ethnicity, age, and geographic location, the frequency of symptoms was nearly universal. Participants reported cramps, bloating, and tiredness as their most frequent symptoms, and in similar amounts. So, you know, there is strong evidence that these symptoms can affect anyone who menstruates.
These finds probably seem ridiculously obvious to anyone who is regularly visited by Aunt Flo. However, they also illustrate how current medical research is woefully inadequate when it comes to women’s health.
“One of the most important things to keep in mind is that despite some of the advances in cycle tracking tools that are available, research on menstrual cycles and menstrual health remains limited,” said Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, the study’s principal investigator and an assistant professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. “Historically, the menstrual cycle has been little researched and women have been underrepresented in large and very important studies.”
For example, if you search for “menstruation” in PubMed between 2001 and 2018, only about 8,400 studies were obtained on the subject. In contrast, a search during that same time frame for cardiovascular disease returns 1.3 million results. If you want to get into gender specific conditions, prostate cancer gets 121,000 results and erectile dysfunction gets roughly 16,000 results. The problem is compounded when one takes into account that the majority of researchers, historically speaking, have been men and have excluded women from clinical research. In the US, Congress did not require women to be included in clinical trials until 1993. The result is a huge lack of critical data and poorer health care for women. Take polycystic ovary syndrome, which impacts an estimated 5 million women in the US, making it one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of childbearing age, and less than half are correctly diagnosed and 34% with PCOS say they took more than two years and three or more doctors to receive a diagnosis. The numbers are even worse for endometriosis, a painful condition that affects approximately 10% of women and often take a decade be diagnosed. What doesn’t help is the general stigmatization of talking about menstrual cycles, vaginas, or uteruses at all.
This is a problem that wearable manufacturers are also to blame for. Fitness trackers have been around since 2011, but it took Fitbit seven years to add cycle tracking. Garmin and Apple soon followed, with the former also launching pregnancy monitoring last november. However, Apple and Ava, a fertility tracker, are the only two that have so far been dedicated to clinical research specifically around women’s health.
So while the preliminary results from the Apple Women’s Health Study aren’t exactly mind-blowing, it’s good that this study even exists. The potential of wearable devices, which can capture long-term data in a non-invasive way, to uncover new information or lead to more research on women’s health, is quite high. When you consider that any woman or person who is menstruating with an Apple Watch or iPhone could potentially participate in the study, you are looking at a massive and diverse data set that may begin to help address the appalling lack of fundamental data on the health of the woman. woman.
“What researchers and physicians in the scientific community want and need to know is more about the menstrual cycle, its relationship to long-term health, as well as more about environmental factors that could affect the length and characteristics of the cycle.” Mahalingaiah said. “With this study, we are creating a larger foundational data set on this topic, which may eventually lead to further discovery and innovation in women’s health care and research.”