When asked about women facing health issues, do you think of a grandmother who died of heart disease? Or an aunt whose breast cancer mastectomy debilitated her mental health, or that loving roommate whose PCOS never allowed her to bear children? We can all think of resilient women in our lives who experience numerous health issues that are specific to women, but we don’t talk about them enough. Let’s talk!
What are the most common health issues and how can we lower their chances?
For women, heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States. Moreover, over 30% of women suffer from reproductive health issues. These alarming statistics raise a red flag on public health and indicate the urgent need for women to be educated on their medical afflictions.
With this article, you’ll get to learn about a few leading women’s health issues globally, which will help you to determine lifestyle changes for better health.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a layman’s term referring to several conditions, encompassing heart attack, coronary artery disease, or any other condition affecting the heart specifically. A part of the heart may not be receiving blood due to blockades in small coronary arteries, leading to tissue damage. Tissue damage to the heart can irreversibly and adversely affect cardiac output, putting other organs at risk – notably, the brain.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and 1 in 16 women above the age of 20 dies due to coronary heart disease alone in the United States. Subtle symptoms induce negligence on women’s part, leading to more fatal cases.
What should you look out for?
Heart disease in women is deadlier since symptoms are more subtle as compared to men. Hence, most women don’t know what to look out for. Some symptoms may remain undiagnosed until they translate into larger issues or are pushed to the forefront when women are faced with another medical emergency.
These symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath, fatigue
- Nausea, dizziness
- Fluttering or chest palpitation (arrhythmia)
- Swelling (edema)
Other symptoms are acute and characteristic of heart disease:
- Angina – sharp chest pain
- Pain permeating to the arm, neck, jaw, and back
If you experience any of these symptoms, call for medical help immediately.
Are you at risk of heart disease?
If you regularly smoke, consume a diet rich in LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or suffer from high blood pressure, you are most likely at elevated risk of heart disease. Other risk factors include:
- Alcohol consumption
How can you reduce the risk?
This is a globally known women’s health issue and now that you are more aware of the risk factors and causes, you can take necessary steps to lower the statistics on this by changing your lifestyle for the better. You should:
- Control your diet to prevent obesity, high LDL levels, and diabetes.
- Refrain from smoking
- Control your blood pressure by managing stress levels and diet
- Maintain an active lifestyle
Breast cancer is a global health concern for women. According to a WHO study in 2020, 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, leading to 685,000 deaths globally. It is the most prevalent cancer in women, and timely identification is imperative to pull these numbers down. Cancer cells may metastasize through blood and lymph vessels, spreading to other parts of the body.
What should you look out for?
Breast cancer may look like this:
- A lump or thickening
- Dimpling of the nipple or areola
- Redness or warmth on the skin
- Abnormal nipple discharge
You should regularly self-examine for breast cancer by feeling for such signs on your breasts. Regular mammograms can also detect breast cancers up to three years before they can be felt.
Are you at risk of breast cancer?
Some risk factors are not under your control such as:
- Aging – most diagnoses are in cases when women are above the age of 50.
- Family history/genetics – Women with first-degree male or female relatives are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. The mutated gene can be inherited from either mother or father.
- Exposure to radiation before age 30 – radiation therapy to the chest or face area puts women at higher-than-average risk of developing breast cancer in later life.
Other factors can be tracked and managed to prevent the disease:
- Drinking alcohol
- Hormone consumption – some forms of hormone replacement therapy and oral contraception
- Reproductive history – risk increases at having the first pregnancy after age 30, never having a full-term pregnancy, and not breastfeeding
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a condition in which numerous small cysts form in the ovaries, preventing ovulation due to insufficient progesterone levels. Subsequent cyst formation releases androgens, a male hormone, that disrupt the woman’s menstrual cycle. Hence, women with PCOS get fewer periods than usual, paired with some male characteristics such as excessive facial and body hair.
How common is PCOS?
PCOS is one of the most common women’s reproductive health issues, affecting 6% to 12% of women in the US. It is also one of the most common causes of female infertility. Most women find out about this reproductive health issue only in their 20s and 30s when they face problems in getting pregnant. Although PCOS itself is not life-threatening, women suffering from the syndrome may have trouble conceiving and are at higher risk for endometrial cancer, type II diabetes (since your body does not respond to insulin normally), and metabolic syndrome.
If you identify with the following symptoms and think you have PCOS, please seek a gynecologist:
- Irregular periods
- Excessive hair growth on face, chest, back
- Weight gain around the belly
- Hair thinning in typical male balding patterns
- Oily and acne-prone skin
The endometrium is the innermost tissue lining of the uterus which breaks down each month, marking the onset of the menstrual cycle. In endometriosis, this lining grows outside the uterus on your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs. Like normal endometrial tissue, it bleeds with each menstrual cycle but is trapped in the body since it has no exit. The condition may be extremely painful, especially while menstruating.
How common is endometriosis?
This is a common reproductive health issue, affecting around 2-10% of American women of childbearing age. Although it is not fatal, complications and aggravation may occur if left untreated.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Painful periods – pelvic pain, cramps, and abdominal pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Excessive or intermenstrual bleeding
Although it can’t be cured, endometriosis can be diagnosed and managed at an early stage to help reduce symptoms and minimize the chances of complications.
Now that you are well versed in some of the most common women’s general and reproductive health issues, you may consider adopting lifestyle choices to prevent yourself from becoming another tally in these large statistics. You should be pushing the conversation on women’s reproductive and other global health issues as it is the only way to raise more awareness and concern on the matter.