Posted on September 04, 2015
Top 8 Health Concerns for Women
Coastal Carolina Health Care (CCHC) is attending an event that, as a woman, you don’t want to miss. On Saturday, September 19 the New Bern Convention Center will host the 2015 Women’s Expo which is also a fundraiser—proceeds will benefit the local non-profit, New Bern Get Your Pink On.
As wives, mothers, sisters, and caregivers, women are often the heart and hub of the family. We ensure that everyone is happy, well-fed, dressed in clean clothes, and, most of all, healthy. But often we put our own health and well-being aside to care for others. The Women’s Expo wants to remind you to take the time to care for yourself.
While a few of the top health concerns for women are shared with men, most are of larger concern to the fairer sex. According to WebMD and the Cleveland Clinic, the top health concerns for women are:
- Heart disease;
- Breast cancer;
- Menopause treatment options; and
- Weight management with age.
To truly understand this information, Saralyn Mark, M.D. and senior medical advisor for the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encourages women to take charge of their health. She says women need to work in partnership with their doctors by finding out their family medical history, educating themselves on health issues, and paying attention to their bodies. “You know what makes you feel good, you know when you don’t feel well. Understanding your body is key,” she says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women. In women, the condition is responsible for approximately 29% of deaths. Yet death isn’t the biggest problem for women with heart disease—the real trouble is in premature death and disability, says Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network.
Pearson explains that many women are dying of heart disease in their 60s; a time when no one expects to die…it’s just too young in this country. Women can be ill with heart disease—finding themselves out of breath or not able to climb a flight of stairs—and not realize a problem with their heart is the reason.
Although more men die of heart disease than women, females tend to be underdiagnosed, often to the point that it’s too late to help them once the condition is discovered. “The symptoms for women are typical for women, and they are often missed by doctors and the patient themselves,” Mark explains. “We often think of symptoms like chest pain. Some women may have that, but others may just have a bit of jaw pain, shoulder ache, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath.”
The American Heart Association lists the risk factors for heart disease as:
- Increasing age;
- Heredity (including race)—those with a family history of the disease have greater risk, as do African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans;
- High blood cholesterol;
- High blood pressure;
- Physical inactivity;
- Obesity; and
The Mayo Clinic urges women to be alert for the symptoms of heart disease:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort;
- Shortness of breath;
- Right arm pain;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Lightheadedness or dizziness; and
- Unusual fatigue.
Be smart: If heart disease runs in your family, or if your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are high, ask your doctor about taking medications to lower these levels and whether or not a daily aspirin might help. Your doctor will keep tabs on your cholesterol levels and blood pressure and can order cardiac stress tests if any concerns about heart disease arise.
Second only to lung cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. The Cleveland Clinic recommends women in their 20s and 30s get a clinical breast exam at least every three years. After age 40, get an exam every year. Breast self-exam (BSE) is an option in your 20s and beyond, but know its benefits and limitations and report any breast changes to your doctor right away. At age 40, start yearly screening mammograms and continue them for as long as you’re in good health.
Any abnormality on a breast exam or mammogram should be checked out right away—you may need more frequent mammograms. If you have a family history of breast cancer you may need BRCA gene testing. Women with the BRCA 1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at very high risk of breast cancer.
To reduce your risk of a breast cancer diagnosis, Stephen F. Sener, M.D., president of the American Cancer Society, recommends controlling your weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and talking to your doctor about your risk and appropriate screening for breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for breast cancer:
- Increasing age;
- Genes: Nearly 5% to 10% of breast cancer is linked to mutations in certain genes (most commonly, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes);
- Family history of the disease;
- Personal history of the disease;
- Race: White women have a slightly greater risk of getting breast cancer compared with African-American women. Yet African-Americans have a greater chance of dying from this 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;
Dr. Sener says it’s important to note that some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer.
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the third leading cause of death for women—each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. Because women, in general, live longer than men, stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives. More women will:
- Live alone when they have a stroke;
- Be more likely to live in a long-term health care facility after a stroke; and
- Have a worse recovery after stroke.
The Cleveland Clinic urges women to become familiar with warning signs for a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and get to a hospital immediately when the first symptoms appear. You may be tempted to downplay your symptoms, but try to resist that way of thinking. Get to a hospital where trained experts can make a diagnosis and begin treatment—it could make the difference between life and death.
Learn the symptoms, often called “suddens”—the key to identifying these symptoms is that they come on very suddenly:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding;
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Women may report symptoms that are different from the common symptoms, says the National Stroke Association. They can include:
- Loss of consciousness or fainting;
- General weakness;
- Difficulty or shortness of breath;
- Confusion, unresponsiveness, or disorientation;
- Sudden behavioral change;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Seizures; and
If you or someone you know develops any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1. Immediate treatment in the emergency department with clot-busting medication can be lifesaving.
Nearly 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar), the precursor to Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and loss of limb. If you have pre-diabetes, studies show that a healthier diet and increased activity can restore your blood sugar to normal and prevent diabetes. Controlling your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure are critical. If you smoke, it’s more important than ever to quit.
The following symptoms of diabetes are typical according to the American Diabetes Association. However, some people with Type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. Common symptoms include:
- Urinating often;
- Feeling very thirsty;
- Feeling very hungry even though you are eating;
- Extreme fatigue;
- Blurry vision;
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal;
- Weight loss even though you are eating more (Type 1);
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2).
Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing the complications of diabetes. Early detection can prevent the harmful effects of diabetes, including damage to the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nervous system, teeth and gums, feet and skin, or kidneys. Studies show that keeping blood glucose, blood pressure, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels close to normal can help prevent or delay these problems.
Find out if you are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes here.
Osteoporosis threatens 44 million Americans, of which 68% are women, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation. People used to think osteoporosis was an inevitable part of aging, but today we know so much more about how to prevent, detect, and treat the disease. Good lifestyle habits can help you protect your bones and decrease your chance of developing osteoporosis. If your healthcare provider hasn’t talked to you about your bone health, it’s time to bring it up!
Risk factors, as listed by WebMD, for osteoporosis include:
- Increasing age;
- Small, thin-boned frame;
- Ethnicity: White and Asian women have the greatest risk;
- Family history;
- Sex hormones: 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;
- Smoking; and
- Excessive alcohol.
A bone density test can show the amount of bone a person has in the hip, spine, or other bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) explains this test is routinely recommended for postmenopausal women age 50 and older and is how osteoporosis is diagnosed. Bone density tests are usually only done for premenopausal women if they break several bones easily or break bones that are unusual for their age, such as bones in the hip or spine. Also, if you have a condition or take a medicine that causes secondary osteoporosis, your healthcare provider may order a bone density test.
One or two years after an initial bone density test, a second bone density may be performed and will determine if you have low peak bone mass that is staying the same or if you are losing bone. If your bone density drops significantly between the first and second test, you may be losing bone and further evaluation by a healthcare provider is needed.
Exercise is your friend when it comes to bone health say experts at the Cleveland Clinic. Being physically active and getting adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet or through supplements are the steps you can take to prevent bone fragility and fractures. It’s also important to avoid smoking, which weakens your bones. Talk to your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis and what you can do to prevent problems.
All of us feel sad at one time or another, but normally these feelings pass after a few days. When a woman has depression she has trouble with her daily life for weeks at a time. Depression appears to affect more women than men say researchers at WebMD. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) reports that approximately 12 million women are affected by a depressive disorder each year compared to only 6 million men. It’s a serious illness, and most women who have it need treatment to get better.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression? Different people have different symptoms and these include:
- Feeling sad or ‘empty;”
- Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or guilty;
- Loss of interest in favorite activities;
- Feeling very tired;
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details;
- Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much;
- Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all;
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts; and
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems.
Dorree Lynn, Ph.D., a psychologist and author, says women need a connection with others in their lives. “They need that sustenance,” she says. “If they don’t have it, they tend to get depressed.”
The first step to getting the right treatment is to visit a doctor or mental health professional. He or she can do an exam or lab tests to rule out other conditions that may have the same symptoms as depression. He or she can also tell if certain medications you are taking may be affecting your mood.
Your doctor should get a complete history of symptoms, including when they started, how long they have lasted, and how bad they are. He or she should also know whether they have occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. Your doctor should also ask if there is a history of depression in your family.
The OWH says menopause affects every woman differently. Some women have no symptoms, but some have changes in several areas of their lives. It’s not always possible to tell if these changes are related to aging, menopause, or both.
Changes that might start in the years around menopause include:
- Irregular periods. Your periods can come more often or less, last more days or fewer, and be lighter or heavier. Do not assume that missing a couple of periods means you are beginning the menopausal transition. Check with your doctor to see if you are pregnant or if there is another medical cause for your missed periods. Also, if you have not had a period for a year and start “spotting,” see your doctor. Spotting could be caused by cancer or another health condition.
- Hot flashes. Also called hot flushes, these are a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck may become red. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow.
- Trouble sleeping. You may find it hard to sleep through the night. You may have night sweats, which are hot flashes that cause perspiration while you sleep. You may also feel extra tired during the day.
- Vaginal and urinary problems. These problems may start or increase in the time around menopause. The walls of your vagina may get drier and thinner because of lower levels of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen also helps protect the health of your bladder and urethra, the tube that empties your urine. With less estrogen, sex may become less comfortable. You also could have more vaginal infections or urinary tract infections. Some women find it hard to hold their urine long enough to get to the bathroom (which is called urinary urge incontinence). Urine might also leak out when you sneeze, cough, or laugh (called urinary stress incontinence).
- Mood changes. You could have mood swings, feel crabby, or have crying spells. If you had mood swings before your monthly periods or if you had depression after giving birth, you may have more mood issues around the time of menopause. Mood changes at this time also could be coming from stress, family changes, or feeling tired. Mood swings are not the same as depression.
- Changing feelings about sex. Some women feel less aroused, while others feel more comfortable with their sexuality after menopause. Some women may be less interested in sex because sex can be more physically uncomfortable
- Other changes. You might become forgetful or have trouble focusing. Your waist could become larger. You could lose muscle and gain fat. Your joints and muscles also could feel stiff and achy. Experts do not know if some of these changes are a result of the lower estrogen levels of menopause or are a result of growing older.
The symptoms that come with menopause can seem challenging. Talk to your doctor if symptoms arising from changing female hormone levels become troublesome. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help some women manage hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings and other problems. A risk profile will determine whether or not HRT is right for you.
As you get older, you might notice that maintaining your usual weight becomes more difficult. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that many women gain weight around the menopause transition. Menopause weight gain isn’t inevitable, however. You can reverse course by paying attention to healthy-eating habits and leading an active lifestyle.
The hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen than around your hips and thighs. Hormonal changes alone don’t necessarily trigger menopause weight gain, however. Instead, the weight gain is usually related to aging, as well as lifestyle and genetic factors.
For example, muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases. Loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. If you continue to eat as you always have and don’t increase your physical activity, you’re likely to gain weight.
Genetic factors also might play a role in menopause weight gain says the Mayo Clinic. If your parents or other close relatives carry extra weight around the abdomen, you’re likely to do the same. Sometimes factors such as the stress of children leaving—or returning—home, divorce, the death of a spouse, or other life changes might change your diet or exercise habits and contribute to menopause weight gain.
As we age and our metabolisms slow down, it’s smarter than ever to “right-size” meals by eating smaller portions of healthier food, advises the Cleveland Clinic. Exercise also becomes increasingly important, to maintain flexibility and mobility. Both of these measures will help to prevent Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and other weight-related problems.
For further information about any of these health issues, call the expert providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care in New Bern at (252) 633-4111 or visit www.cchchealthcare.com.
(Sources: Mayo Clinic, Office on Women’s Health, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Women’s Health Network, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, National Stroke Association, American Diabetes Association, National Osteoporosis Foundation, and National Institute of Mental Health.)