SWHR Praises Work of Dedicated FDA Women’s Health Advocate Marsha Henderson

By | Blog Post, News

Henderson to Retire From FDA at End of 2018

In her 22 years at the Food and Drug Administration, Marsha B. Henderson has had a profound influence on the advancement of women’s health research. When she retires at the end of this year, the FDA will surely feel the absence of this dedicated advocate and her leadership as FDA’s associate commissioner for women’s health and director of the Office of Women’s Health (OWH).

“SWHR thanks Marsha Henderson for her valuable work to make women’s health a priority at the FDA,” SWHR President and CEO Dr. Amy M. Miller said. “We applaud her diligent efforts to bring attention to the need for greater understanding of sex and gender differences and her legacy of building productive partnerships to improve women’s health.”

In 2014, SWHR awarded Henderson with the Dr. Estelle Ramey Award for Women’s Health Leadership for her longtime efforts to support progress in women’s health research, policy and education. At the awards dinner, then-FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Hamburg said, “It is remarkable what Marsha has accomplished at the FDA and beyond.”

Hamburg noted the shared attributes between Henderson and the award’s namesake, Dr. Estelle Ramey, who was a widely respected endocrinologist and Georgetown University professor, and one of the first researchers to call for the investigation of biological differences between women and men and how those differences affect health and disease. Hamburg lauded their “dedication, energy, determination, commitment to serving people — and in particular serving women.”

In her acceptance speech, Henderson described how she had researched Ramsey and discovered that “we both learned to use our voices to speak not just for ourselves but for all women.”

Henderson has been responsible for coordinating the FDA’s efforts and communications to protect and advance the health of women. She has also advocated for the participation of women in clinical trials and for analysis of research data by sex, gender, and subpopulation.

“My career has been quite a journey … and I must say that FDA has been an extraordinary experience,” Henderson said in her speech. “I work with brilliant, world-class, committed scientists who are committed to women’s health. The FDA’s actions have made a difference for people living with heart disease, cancer, every disease and disability.”

Current FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb praised Henderson’s work in announcing her retirement: “Under her leadership, the OWH also expanded its scientific efforts to produce more than 350 research papers and journal articles that facilitate FDA regulatory decision-making and promote a better understanding of sex differences and health conditions unique to women.”

After Henderson retires, we should remember to continue to heed her advice for creating strong partnerships to improve women’s health: “We cannot do this alone. We have to work with every group that has an interest in the health of women.”

Survey of School Nurses Reveals Lack of Bathroom Policies and Bladder Health Education

By | Blog Post, News, Press Release

In an online survey developed by the Society for Women’s Health Research, a majority of school nurses reported that the pre-K-12 schools they work for do not have written policies on student bathroom use and do not have education for students and teachers on bladder health.

The survey, created by SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Urological Health in Women and distributed by the National Association of School Nurses, garnered responses from 362 school nurses, covering pre-K/elementary, middle, and high schools across rural, suburban, and urban areas.

Less than 8% of nurses reported that their schools have a written policy on student bathroom use (64% reported no policy, 28% were unsure). Nearly half said students have free bathroom access, with permission required only as a formality, while others reported varying timed and supervised bathroom breaks.

School nurses reported the following as the top reasons teachers give for restricting bathroom access for students during class:

  • Students are leaving the classroom for reasons other than to use the bathroom (84%).
  • Students will misbehave in the bathroom (58%).
  • Students have adequate time to use the bathroom during class breaks (57%).

However, more than a third of middle and high school nurses said they do not believe the break period between classes is long enough for students to use the bathroom. Three-quarters of all nurses surveyed said they are aware of students with bladder or bowel problems at their school and 42% are aware current concerns from teachers, parents/guardians, or students about student bathroom access.

“Restricting access to the bathroom forces students into unhealthy toileting habits, such as holding in urine, which may create health problems that will follow students into adulthood and decrease their quality of life,” said Rebecca Nebel, PhD, SWHR’s director of scientific programs.

For example, research has shown holding in urine can weaken bladder muscles, causing leakage and increased susceptibility to urinary tract infections, among other issues. To maintain a healthy bladder, children should use the toilet every two to three hours — not wait until their bladders are so full they are in pain or the urge is suddenly uncontrollable.

Bathroom access is a problem for some teachers and nurses as well, with 37% of nurses reporting that teachers have discussed their need for better bathroom access and 20% of nurses reporting inadequate time for bathroom breaks for themselves.

While the vast majority of school nurses reported bathrooms are clean, odor-free, and well-stocked with toilet paper, paper towels and soap for all or part of the day, 75% said bathrooms are not well-stocked with menstrual products.

When students do not have access to menstrual products, they may be forced to miss class, negatively affecting their education, or to use the same sanitary product for a long period of time, which can result in health issues such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and, in rare cases, toxic shock syndrome.

“Female students are distinctly disadvantaged by restrictive bathroom policies and the lack of free and easily available menstrual products in school bathrooms,” Nebel said. “Some students may not be able to afford menstrual products or they may not be prepared for their period to start at school. Providing these products in school bathrooms can help avoid uncomfortable, embarrassing situations as well as serious health concerns.”

In addition to revealing bathroom access and use issues, the survey showed that students, teachers, and even most school nurses are not receiving education on bladder health. Respondents reported:

  • 2% of schools included bladder health education in the student curriculum (67% did not, 31% unsure)
  • 3% of teachers received educational training on bladder health for students (70% did not, 26% unsure)
  • 34% of school nurses received educational training on bladder health for students (62% did not, 4% unsure)

“Educating students, teachers, and school nurses about bladder health will help ensure students are learning healthy toileting habits and hopefully lead to the elimination of restrictive bathroom policies that are harming the health and education of students,” Nebel said.

Learn more about SWHR’s Interdisciplinary Network on Urological Health in Women, a diverse group of clinicians and researchers working to raise awareness of the impact of bladder health on women’s well-being across the lifespan. Interested media should contact Emily Ortman at

Poor Sleep Makes You More Than Just Sleepy

By | Blog Post, News

By Rebecca Nebel, PhD, SWHR Director of Scientific Programs

We’ve all experienced times where we haven’t gotten enough sleep, whether it’s pulling an all-nighter to cram for a test, caring for a newborn, or stressing about a project at work. Recently I attended NIH’s Sleep & the Health of Women Conference, where several presenters (some of the most prominent sleep researchers in the country) confessed they had not gotten much sleep the night before.

Not getting enough sleep may make you feel very tired the next day, which can negatively affect your productivity and impair your judgement. But in addition to these immediate consequences, poor sleep is also a risk factor for a host of diseases and conditions, including cardiovascular disease, dementia, and psychiatric diseases.

When assessing the causes of poor sleep, it’s critical to consider that women and men may have different sleep needs. Further, while they may suffer from the same sleep disorders, women and men may present with different symptoms, creating a need for unique screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Sleep apnea is a prime example of this, as about 90 percent of women with sleep apnea go undiagnosed because they may not report “textbook” symptoms like snoring and feeling very sleepy during the day. SWHR’s Women & Sleep Apnea one-pager outlines some of these differences, and SWHR’s Women & Sleep guide explores 20 sleep health topics that affect women over the lifespan.

One of the topic highlighted in the guide is the impact of sleep on cardiovascular health. Chronic short sleep (which this study defines as 5 hours or less) is a risk factor for high blood pressure, with a stronger association in women than men. In addition, sleep disorders like sleep apnea increase risk for high blood pressure and stroke. Pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time for women as sleep apnea is associated with pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia, which can be deadly for some mothers and babies, and also elevates risk for cardiovascular events later in life.

The role of sleep in dementia risk has been a recent topic of interest for researchers. Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea are associated with increased risk for dementia. Additionally, quality sleep, and slow-wave sleep (or deep sleep) in particular, is important for clearance of the protein amyloid beta (Aβ) from the brain. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, Aβ clumps together to form plaques, which can disrupt brain function. Women have greater slow wave sleep activity than men, yet this declines for both women and men as we age.

Sleep disturbances are also closely connected with psychiatric disorders. For example, someone with insomnia is more than twice as likely to develop depression than someone without sleep problems. Conversely, nearly all patients with mental health problems experience some type of sleep disturbance and sleep problems are associated with poorer outcomes and response to treatment. Women are at greater risk for developing psychiatric conditions, which may in part be associated to their increased risk of sleep difficulties.

Importantly, treating sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia can improve the course of diseases like psychiatric disorders and can also minimize risk for conditions later in life like cardiovascular disease and dementia. One study, for example, found that treatment of sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure delayed the onset of cognitive impairment.

Neglecting sleep can negatively affect your well-being and put you at risk for numerous diseases, yet our culture still perpetuates sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. As a society we must recognize the importance of good, quality sleep and prioritize getting enough sleep to the best of our ability. That includes all of you sleep researchers out there, too.

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