A Norwegian qualitative study and the importance of self-help
Wriitten by Madeleine Speed, the Pelvic Partnership, July 2016
When we are looking for more information about a health problem, we probably go straight to the web and start surfing. There are all kinds of websites offering healthcare information and it’s become something of a cliché that if you experience uncomfortable or painful symptoms, you can probably find evidence from these websites to support any number of debilitating and possibly life-threatening conditions you might have to mirror your symptoms.
Although there’s an element of truth in this cliché, it shouldn’t blind us to the huge potential of using the Internet to increase our knowledge of health-related subjects. The Internet is one of the fastest growing information resources and it is also relatively low-cost. Although self-diagnosis can be a dangerous game, there are benefits of finding out more about our health and wellbeing by looking at reputable websites such as NHS Choices, Patient or key charities (such as BHF and Cancer Research UK). Raising awareness of a particular condition by reading up about it can help us to feel much more informed and less panic stricken ahead of going to see the GP for a diagnosis and course of treatment. You can also feel much more aware of standard procedures and what to expect when you are sitting waiting for your appointment.
A recent study in Norway found that web-based discussion forums among pregnant women are very popular. The study revealed that this group of women look to additional sources of information and support to supplement traditional visits to healthcare professionals. The study suggests that women who use such web-based sources of information and support increase their ability to take better health decisions for themselves by increasing their knowledge and understanding.
The Pelvic Partnership recognises how empowering it can be to find out information about a health condition or ongoing health concern. Pregnancy-related Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP), for example, is often (wrongly) regarded as ‘being caused by hormones’ and something which ‘will go away as soon as the baby comes’. A quick look at the Pelvic Partnership website shows some classic examples of PGP symptoms as well as the true, biomechanical cause of the condition. So, in a short time, it is very easy for a reader to see some of the typical misconceptions of PGP (if you will excuse the pun) as well as the real causes of the pain and discomfort associated with it.
We purposely populated the charity website with a vast amount of information. This runs contrary to the approach of many websites where the thinking is: that we are all so busy and have limited time available for sourcing information that it must be in manageable, bite-sized amounts. We took a different approach. When we last refreshed the website and increased the amount of information within it, it was to help relieve the pressure on our telephone helpline. This pragmatic step helped us to make our helpline enquiries more manageable. However, it also enabled us to encourage women to find out as much as possible for themselves about pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PGP) by encouraging readers to look at the menu on our website and sift through a wealth of practical information, facts about the symptoms of PGP. Readers may want to have access to a quick overview but those who want to look for more detail can drill down to find out much more about PGP, its symptoms and how to look for suitable treatment..
Of course there are dangers for individuals who want to take up the offer of becoming better informed. As we have probably all found, it is very easy to come across poor or misleading information which is purporting to be fact. For those who are struggling to find support and answers to their situation, it is easy to become vulnerable to false leads and speculation masquerading as truth. It is important to keep an open mind but also to guard against being taken in by improbable and questionable information (by cross referencing, asking professionals, checking out purported facts).
Thankfully, it is possible to come across well intentioned and very useful information by looking at well respected websites such as those for dedicated charities. We think it is worth increasing your knowledge of a given health subject particularly if it is linked to following up this self-help approach by asking your health visitor, nurse or GP for a highly personal assessment of your own situation.
The Pelvic Partnership’s website gives a vast amount of information about PGP and how to manage it. We have taken the stance that it is better to encourage free and open access to information and we actively search for new, evidence based studies about PGP and the latest examples of best practice in how to treat it successfully.
Self help can be a very liberating and powerful tool which helps to promote self-reliance and responsibility for our health and wellbeing. It can also motivate us to take suitable action such as finding a good healthcare professional and the treatment we need. So why not spend a few minutes now looking at our website and seeing if you can spot new information that you haven’t seen before?
If you are familiar with our website (or you have just visited it) and you have found the information about PGP useful, please consider making a donation to us so we can continue with our work. This can be done easily by clicking here and completing our on-line donation form; all donations are very much appreciated and will help us to continue providing information and support for women with PGP, their families and the healthcare professionals caring for them.