Apple releases study insights on women’s health

Mala Bhargava Cupertino | Updated on March 10, 2021

In line with this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day, the research is shedding light on how menstrual symptom data can help to end the associated stigma

With the evolution of the Apple Watch and the Health App on the iPhone, Apple has been deepening its involvement in the area of health, fitness and well-being.

When a significant update brought menstrual cycle tracking capabilities, it became possible to examine women’s health. Apple partnered with Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health for a study launched in November 2019 and conducted via the iOS Research app, and the initial findings and insights from this work have just been released.

Studies on women’s menstrual cycles have not only been few and far between, but the subject has, as everyone knows, been a target of stigmatisation, at best dismissed as unimportant. At the same time, many physicians regard women’s menstrual cycles as an important window into their overall health, but the topic is notably under-researched. Without substantial scientific data, women’s menstrual symptoms have historically been minimised as overreaction or oversensitivity. Research has even found that stigma prevents women from seeking health care for menstrual-related pain.

Data points for the study came from women’s longitudinal contributions as they went about their everyday lives, rather than only gathering fragmented data in a limited setting or during a doctor’s visit. This led to creating a more extensive foundational data set on this topic, which eventually become the standard for understanding health issues. Dr Shruthi Mahalingaiah, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s principal investigator for the study, spoke of the basis for the research: "What researchers and physicians in the scientific community want and need to know is more about the menstrual cycle, its relation to long-term health, as well as more about what environmental factors might affect cycle length and characteristics. With this study, we are creating a larger foundational data set on this topic, which can eventually lead to further discovery and innovation in women’s health research and care”. Also, most importantly, data on symptoms can help end the stigmatisation around menstruation. Preliminary analysis of data from participants reveals that there is a wide range of menstrual cycle symptoms. Out of the first 10,000 participants who enrolled and responded to the demographics survey, 6,141 participants tracked period symptoms.

Common symptoms

The most commonly tracked symptom was abdominal cramps, which was reported by 83% of the participants. Bloating was the second most reported symptom (63% of participants), and tiredness was the third (61% of participants).

Just over half of the participants reported experiencing acne (54%) and headache (53%). Half of the participants (50%) reported mood changes and appetite changes. Lower back pain and breast tenderness were reported by slightly less than half of the participants. 48% reported lower back pain and 46% reported breast tenderness.

Diarrhoea and sleep changes were reported by 37% of the participants. Constipation and nausea were each reported by 32% of the participants. Finally, the least reported symptoms were hot flashes and ovulation pain. These symptoms were reported by 22% and 20% of the participants, respectively.

This first released on Tuesday, March 9, uses data from 10,000 participants across the United States and a range of ages and races. Apple says the data "highlights how large-scale, longitudinal research on menstruation can help advance the science around women's health and destigmatise menstruation."

Published on March 10, 2021

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