You’re taking care of yourself with diet and exercise, but you know that women have different health concerns than men do, and different rates of susceptibility. What are the issues that you need to learn more about to prevent them from impacting your life?
The top five health issues for women are heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and autoimmune diseases. Boost your health by looking at the risk factors and understanding what’s normal for your body and what’s not. By paying attention to your body, learning risk factors, and noting your family history, you can take charge of your health.
Heart disease is the first on the list as it’s the biggest killer of both genders. According to the CDC, heart disease is responsible for 29% of women’s deaths. And the symptoms for women are different than men and are often missed by doctors and the patient themselves. Symptoms for women include chest pain, jaw pain, shoulder ache, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath.
The American Heart Association lists these risk factors for heart disease:
- People with family history of the disease have greater risk.
- African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans have greater risk.
- High blood cholesterol and high blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Overweight and obesity
- Increasing age
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and some women live in such fear that they don’t go to their doctors for screening. However, treatment has come a long way. When breast cancer is diagnosed early, survival rates are very high. According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%. For women with stage II breast cancer, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 93%.
The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for breast cancer:
- Increasing age
- Family history of the disease
- Earlier abnormal breast biopsy
- Earlier chest radiation
- Early onset of menstruation (before age 12) or menopause after age 55
- Not having children
- Medication use, such as diethylstilbestrol (DES)
- Too much alcohol
The back pain and hunched back of osteoporosis threatens almost 50 million Americans, of which 68% are women, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
The good news is that osteoporosis is largely preventable, and it is never too late to maintain bone health and strength. Your body will do what it can to repair bone damage, but you have to provide the tools for it, such as adequate calcium consumption and weight-bearing physical activity.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Female sex
- Increasing age
- Small, thin-boned frame
- White and Asian women have the greatest risk.
- Family history
- Infrequent menstrual cycles and estrogen loss due to menopause may increase risk.
- Diet low in calcium and vitamin D
- Medication use, particularly glucocorticoids or some anticonvulsants
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol
Depression appears to affect more women than men. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that depression affects twice as many women (12 million) compared to men (6 million). Without strong relationships among either family or friends, women tend to get depressed. Sometimes, hormonal changes can also trigger the condition, particularly after pregnancy or around menopause.
Other risk factors for depression include:
- A previous depressive episode
- Family history of depression
- Serious chronic illness
- Marital problems
- Substance and drug abuse
- Medicines for high blood pressure or seizures
- A stressful life event, such as job loss or death
- Recent serious illness or surgery
- Childhood history of physical or sexual abuse
- Being a worrier or being overly anxious
- Having an eating disorder or an anxiety disorder
To help reduce risk of depression, it’s important to find a reason to get up in the morning. Work, community, love, pets, and volunteering can be good reasons. Women not in nurturing relationships can reduce their risk of depression by making efforts to reach out into the community.
Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks the body and destroys or alters tissues. More than 80 serious chronic illnesses are in this category, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), about 75% of autoimmune diseases occur in women. When taken alone, most of these diseases (except diabetes and lupus) appear to be uncommon. Yet as a group, the disorders make up the fourth-largest cause of disability among American women.
Since autoimmune diseases are not very well understood, labeling specific risk factors is difficult. Very general symptoms can also hinder proper diagnosis. However, if you know something is wrong with you or a loved one, it’s important to become a knowledgeable advocate.
If you have additional questions about these issues, discuss your questions and concerns with your doctor. To schedule an appointment at Creekside Center for Women, call (479) 582-9268 and one of our physicians will be glad to discuss your heath, family history, and options with you.
Additional Informational Sources:
WebMd – http://www.webmd.com/