Meet Dr. Alex O'Brien - Centre for Women's Health
Dr. Alex O’Brien is a general practitioner with a special interest in women’s health. She graduated from medicine in University College Cork in 2013 before going on to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology under the RCPI.
During this time, she completed a Diploma of Obstetrics and Women’s Health, completed her Masters of Obstetrics and Gynaecology with first class honours and was awarded Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (Obstetrics & Gynaecology).
She then went on to undertake general practice training and she was awarded membership of the Irish College of General Practitioners in 2022. While doing this training she completed a Professional Certificate in Clinical Dermatology at UCD. She is currently completing the British Menopause Society Advanced Certificate in the Principles and Practice of Menopause Care and a Master of Public Health in UCC.
Q&A with Dr. O’Brien
Dr. O’Brien, you won the Rory O’Connor Memorial Medal in 2017. Tell us about that.
The award is known as the Rory O’Connor Memorial Medal in honour of the late Dr. Rory O’Connor, a renowned Irish obstetrician and gynaecologist, an esteemed past chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians & Gynaecologist, and a former National Specialty Director.
The Memorial Medal is awarded to the highest achieving examination candidate at each sitting of the MRCPI examination in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
What areas of women’s health interest you particularly?
I am especially interested in menopause, family planning, menstrual disorders and STD screening.
You are a member of the British Menopause Society (BMS) and an affiliate member of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH). What do these bodies do?
The BMS provides continuous education and information to healthcare professionals like me, who are working in either primary or secondary care, on all aspects of menopause and post reproductive health. The FSRH gives us, the professionals working in this area, guidance and education for safe and effective sexual and reproductive healthcare for all people.
You have been selected to participate in the International Menopause Society Clinical Colloquium in Menopause and Midlife Women’s Health. What does this involve?
This is a medical education program of one year duration which has a competitive application process. Approximately 17 clinicians worldwide are selected to participate in roundtable sessions with the world’s leading experts on menopause and midlife women’s health usually once per month.
Why have you set up the Menopause Clinic at the Centre for Women’s Health in Mater Private Network Cork?
With the team here at the Centre for Women’s Health, we created the menopause clinic to deliver a specific type of menopause service – one which caters for the range and variety of symptoms that menopause brings. It is a centre of care where we can assess, manage and treat all the health issues that can arise during the stages of menopause. In the context of menopause this could span across a large number of symptoms from hot flushes and poor sleep to irregular bleeding and prolapse. We want to provide personal, compassionate care to women as they go through this transformative stage in their life. Our approach is to enable patients to explore and discuss options for managing their symptoms and we will work together with these women to develop treatment plans to address each person’s own particular set of symptoms. In so doing, we will be empowering women to achieve their optimal physical health and emotional wellbeing. Our goal is to help women navigate the complexities of menopause with confidence and ease so that they can embrace this chapter and beyond.
Locating the clinic within the new Centre of Women’s Health at Mater Private Network here in Cork allows us to work in tandem with consultant gynaecologists, urogynaecologists and other hospital-based healthcare providers including our nurse specialist who runs a dedicated pessary fitting clinic and a urodynamics clinic. This provides a holistic and woman-centred care.
Centre for Women's Health
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Dr. O’Brien, have you any tips to help women who are going through the menopause manage their symptoms?
Many of the symptoms of menopause are temporary and there are lots of things you can do to reduce their impact. If you have hot flushes, try to identify what triggers them so that you can avoid them. Where you can’t, dressing in layers or having cold water with you to drink may help. Vaginal dryness is another common symptom and can be alleviated by using over the lubricants like KY Jelly. Sleep is often affected during menopause, so reduce your intake or avoid caffeine completely, and try not to drink too much alcohol. Caffeine can stop you from going to sleep and alcohol can interrupt your sleep. You will find that doing exercise during the day can also help you to sleep better at night. Some forms of urinary incontinence are very common among menopausal women and these can be helped by doing Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. Finally, take time out to practice relaxation techniques like breathing and meditation. Not only can these help with some symptoms, they are good for your overall wellbeing and emotional health.
What else can women do to stay healthy during and after menopause?
Menopause can be a good time for women to focus on their lifestyle and how it could be impacting their health. Exercising regularly can reduce stress as well as helping to protect against conditions such as heart attacks, cancers, diabetes, strokes and osteoporosis. Eating a balanced diet is also important at this stage. Aim for diet with low saturated fat which will contribute to a healthy cholesterol level, low salt intake to reduce blood pressure and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D for good bone health. If you smoke, I would strongly advise you to cut down with a view to stopping altogether, as aside from the usual risks of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and more, smoking can also increase your hot flushes and bring on earlier menopause. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. It can increase hot flushes and it increases the risk of breast cancer. Try to aim for at least two to three alcohol-free days per week and not more than 11 standard drinks each week. I would also recommend keeping health screening tests such as smear tests and mammograms up to date in line with the national programmes.
The Centre for Women’s Health in the Mater Private Hospital Cork has recently opened a new menopause clinic. It is the only clinic in Ireland that has consultants experienced in women’s health issues, such as general and urogynaecology under one roof. Dr. Alex O’Brien, specialist GP, is on hand to help with any menopause related issues you may be experiencing. Visit our Menopause Clinic page to book a consultation.