Women have many unique health issues. Some are related to their reproductive organs. There are other issues that women may be at a higher risk for than men or they may have different symptoms than men.
Women need to take time to be healthy. A healthy well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and dealing with the stress and pressure of being a women, along with routine health screenings, can be a key factor in the outcomes of certain diseases.
Some issues that women have to deal with are easily cured, some take self-discipline to prevent or control, and in some diseases, women have tough decisions to make.
Some of the issues that are unique to women because of their anatomy:
The symptoms of vaginitis are vaginal itching, burning, pain and a discharge. It is diagnosed by determining what microorganism is the cause of the infection.
The most common cause is a bacterial infection, which is treated with antibiotics. Fungal infections are treated with an antifungal cream.
Noninfectious vaginitis is treated by avoiding irritants that may cause it. Perfumed soaps, chemical sprays, and scented tissues are a few examples. Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants may also help to avoid the problem.
The uterus is a reproductive organ that is important in the female anatomy. It is the place a baby grows after it has been conceived. The first signs of a uterine disease may be bleeding between periods or after sex. Several things can cause mid-cycle bleeding. Hormones, thyroid problems, cancer, fibroids and polyps are some of the causes.
Endometriosis is a problem involving the uterus. The tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of the uterine walls. It can grow on the ovaries or on organs around the uterus. Endometriosis can cause severe pain in the back, abdomen or pelvic areas. It can cause heavy periods and infertility. Hormones may help but some women may need surgery.
Endometrial cancer is a cancer that starts in the inner lining of the uterus, called the endometrium. The most common symptom of problems within the endometrium is abnormal vaginal bleeding. A woman’s hormones play a big part in the development of endometrial cancer.
The risk increases if a woman starts her period before age 12 or has menopause later in life because of the high estrogen levels. If a woman is obese, the fat tissue can change some hormones into estrogen, which may also increase the risk. Endometrial cancer is three times as common in obese women. A high fat diet, diabetes, age and family history increase the risk. Also, women who have had breast or ovarian cancer may have an increased risk.
Although most cases of this type of cancer cannot be prevented, a healthy diet and regular exercise routine can decrease the risk of endometrial cancer. Women who have multiple pregnancies, which increases progesterone levels, have a decreased risk. Also, taking care of any pre-cancerous endometrial disorders, such as hyperplasia, can lower the risk of cancer. Endometrial cancer is a slow growing cancer, therefore, preventive measures are important.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. Cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). It is spread through sexual contact. The body normally fights the infection, but if the infection does not go away, the cervix cells may change and cause pre-cancer cells. It can take several years for normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer cells. Timely pap tests are critical to prevent cervical cancer.
The pap test can help identify cervix changes that may be precancerous. Precancerous cells can be treated before they turn into cancer with early detection. Some things that may cause a woman to have a higher risk of cervical cancer are smoking, birth control pills for long periods of time, HIV infection, and having multiple children. A new vaccine is recommended for girls and young women to protect them against the HPV virus.
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstruation and ovulation cycles stop. A woman reaches menopause when her period has not occurred for a year. It usually occurs around age 50 but can start anywhere between the ages of 40 and 60. Many changes occur before she reaches that point.
During perimenopause, or the time before menopause, the levels of progesterone and estrogen decrease in the body, which sometimes causes havoc. Mood swings, depression, hot flashes, excessive perspiration, dryness in the vagina, headaches, trouble focusing, increased facial hair and sleep-less nights are some of the common symptoms.
The frequency, duration and amount of a woman’s period also changes. Some doctors recommend hormone replacement therapy to help with symptoms. However, the risk factors and side effects may outweigh the benefits. Sleep aids and anti-depressants may also be used. Strategies for helping to keep the symptoms under control without medication are not smoking, eating healthy, maintaining a good weight, minimizing the use of alcohol, and avoiding caffeine.
As mentioned previously, women are at a greater risk than men for certain diseases such as osteoporosis, breast cancer and depression. Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, but the symptoms of heart disease for women can be different.
Osteoporosis is estimated to effect 10 million people in the United States over the age of 50. Approximately, 80 percent are women.
Osteoporosis is characterized by a decrease in the calcium content of the bones. This leaves the bones thin and more susceptible to breaks and fractures. The chances of developing this condition increase dramatically with age, especially with women. Menopause is thought to contribute to osteoporosis because of the loss of the female hormone estrogen, which effects the amount of calcuim in the bones.
A sedentary lifestyle, a diet lacking in foods rich in vitamins and minerals and a family history of osteoporosis can all increase the risk for developing this disease. Osteoporosis may not exhibit symptoms early in the disease. It is often undetected until a bone fracture occurs.
A treatment plan may include a medication to help prevent further bone loss. An exercise program that strengthens the muscles surrounding weakened bone may help eliminate some fractures. Some doctors will prescribe estrogen or estrogen-progesterone combinations to women who are no longer menstruating. This helps to decrease bone loss, however, there can be severe risk factors involved with these added hormones.
Foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and vitamin D, a good exercise program, not smoking and minimal alcohol all play a role in osteoporosis prevention.
Although breast cancer can occur in men, it is the cancer found most often in women and the second leading cancer death. It is 100 times more common in women than in men.
The American Cancer Society states that the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is a little less than 1 in 8. The chance of dying is approximately 1 in 35.
Proper Screening plays a big role in the outcome of breast cancer. Early detection and better treatment have caused breast cancer deaths to decrease.
The American Cancer Society recommends women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year. Women in their 20’s and 30’s should have a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years. Women should start monthly self-breast exams in their 20’s.
Limiting alcohol use, exercising regularly and staying at a healthy weight are things that can help decrease breast cancer risk. Breast-feeding has also been shown to reduce the risk.
Family History as a Risk Factor
Family history and genetics increase the risk of breast cancer. If there is a strong family history of this cancer, genetic testing may be recommended. Some drugs, such as Tamoxifen and Raloxifene have been approved to help reduce breast cancer for high risk patients. Some women with a very high risk of developing breast cancer choose to have a double-mastectomy. Also, women who have a gene change, BRCA mutation, may also have their ovaries removed. This takes away the main source of estrogen from the body.
Other Risk Factors and Warning Signs
Other risk factors include age, race (caucasian women have a slightly higher risk), dense breast tissue, early menses or late menopause, not having children or having them after age 30, alcohol, poor diet, and obesity.
If you notice any changes such as a lump, swelling, skin irritation, dimpling, nipple pain, redness, discharge or anything unusual, see your doctor right away. However, most of the time these changes are not cancerous.
A biopsy is done when breast cancer is suspected. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo some type of surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. The surgery may also be done to find out whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
A lumpectomy may be done to remove only the breast lump and some of the normal tissue surrounding it. Normally, radiation will be given following this type of surgery. A partial mastectomy may be done to remove more of the surrounding breast tissue. It is normally followed by radiation and sometimes, chemotherapy.
A simple or total mastectomy may be given to remove the entire breast, but not the underarm lymph nodes. A modified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes. This is the most common type of surgery when the entire breast is to be removed.
Women with an early stage of breast cancer can normally have a lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy. Women have the option to choose to have reconstruction after having a mastectomy to restore their breasts.
Alternative Treatment Risk Factors
Some women choose to find alternative methods. However, this may give the cancer time to grow and make it less treatable with standard medical treatment. No alternatives have been proven to be effective and some of the alternatives are scams. Some cancer patients may not want to undergo the pain of surgery and chemotherapy. Lifestyle changes with the help of medical technology may give the patient the best chance of survival.
How to Lessen Your Risk
Eliminating products with toxins and using only organic products for hair care and make-up, as well as eating only organic food, have become a way of life for many cancer patients. Also, juicing, shots of wheat grass and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, along with nuts, seeds, and whole grains have become popular with cancer patients. Drinking green tea has also become a very popular choice. Patients who have made some of these changes, along with a regular exercise routine, state that they feel better than ever.
Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women. The symptoms for women can be very different than the symptoms for men. Heart disease is more common in men than women, but because women have different symptoms, it is often not properly diagnosed. The CDC reports that heart disease is responsible for 29% of deaths in women.
Age, heredity, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are some of the things that can increase the risk of heart disease.
The chance of developing blocked arteries, which cause heart disease, can be greatly reduced by following a heart healthy diet. Proper nutrition can help reduce bad cholesterol and blood pressure. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, nuts and fish can increase heart health.
Chest pain or discomfort, pain in the shoulders, arms, back, neck and teeth, feeling of heartburn or stomach pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, nausea and vomiting, and feeling lightheaded are some common symptoms of a heart attack. Women can experience all or none of these symptoms. The most common type of pain is discomfort in the chest, but it is more common in women than men not to have chest pain
Most heart attacks begin with mild symptoms. Diagnosing a heart attack and getting treatment quickly are key to a better outcome. The chance of survival is greater and the amount of damage is minimized.
Depression affects approximately twice as many women as men. Hormones may play a large part in the difference. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that approximately 12 million women are affected by some type of depressive illness. Many women occasionally get down, depressed, or moody.
But when it interferes with daily life and the ability to function, she may need to seek treatment. Depression is a highly treatable illness. Several different methods can be used to treat depression. Medication and psychotherapy are the most common. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it may be.
The National Institute of Mental Health give the following symptoms for depression:
- Persistent sadness, anxious or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Excessive Sleeping
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide
- Persistent aches and pains
Each person with a depressive disorder will have different severity, frequencey and duration of symptoms. Different people will have different symptoms.
The NIMH states that depression can be caused from genetic, biochemical, environmental or psychological factors, or a combination of all of these. Trauma, loss of a loved one, stress or difficult relationships can also have an effect.
Engaging in events or activities, exercising, spending time with people, community service or loving a pet are things that may help lift a depressive mood.
Keep Yourself Healthy
The key to many of the outcomes of these illnesses and diseases is prevention and routine health screenings. Eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and packed with vitamins and minerals, maintaining a healthy weight and adopting a regular exercise program can help your body stay healthy. Not smoking, limiting alcohol and de-stressing your life can also have a great impact.