By Dr. Elizabeth Kaback, Scripps Health
What health issues are most important for women? While many women worry about breast cancer, heart disease presents a greater danger. Moreover, adequate stress management, a healthy heart and cardiovascular system plays a role in well health in many other conditions. In celebration of National Women’s Health Week, we’re taking a look at the top 10 health issues that affect women.
- Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women over age 25, yet only 13 percent of women consider heart disease to be a threat to their health. Be proactive in caring for your heart health: quit smoking, control blood pressure, lose excess weight, eat a heart-healthy diet and get plenty of exercise. Women like men can have classic symptoms of chest discomfort with radiation to the arm, back and shoulder with associated shortness of breath or more often unlike men, atypical symptoms that include persistent indigestion, unusual fatigue, nausea or pain between the shoulder blades. Make a point of discussing heart disease with your physician and report any concerns, even if they seem minor.
Like heart disease, stroke is often believed to be more of a problem for men. However, more women die from stroke each year than men. The risk of stroke steadily increases after age 45. Family history of stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and atrial fibrillation can also increase risk of stroke.
The three most common concerns in women include breast , lung and colorectal cancers. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, followed by breast, colorectal and gynecological cancer. The most important preventive measure for any cancer is to quit smoking, eat a diet low in fat and high in vegetables and fruit and get plenty of exercise. Regular screening exams such as mammograms, colonoscopies and Pap smears, can help identify some cancers in their early stages when they are most likely to be successfully treated.
More than 12 million U.S. women age 20 or older have diabetes. This increases the risk of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, vision loss, kidney disease, nerve damage, and amputation. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. Maintaining normal weight is critical in preventing and reversing diabetes. Simple changes in diet and lifestyle along with medical treatment, can reverse the health risks associated with diabetes and can be managed.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. It affects more women than men, representing nearly two-thirds of Americans with the disease. According to Alzheimer’s Association, growing evidence suggests a close link between brain health and overall health of the heart , blood vessels and inflammation. Since the brain receives nutrients and oxygen from blood, a healthy cardiovascular system helps to ensure that plenty of nutrient-rich blood reaches the brain.
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, depression affects about 12 million women each year — twice as many as men. While everyone has “down” days once in a while, persistent feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness or loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy can all be signs of depression. Treatment can range from lifestyle changes such as mindfulness to “talk therapy” to medications or a combination of them all for an integrative approach; talk to your physician if your mood doesn’t improve.
Infertility refers to the inability to conceive a child or carry a pregnancy to term. More than 10 percent of women age 15-44 have infertility problems. Because there are a number of factors that can interfere with fertility, the first step is a medical evaluation to determine possible causes. With treatment, more than two-thirds of women have successful pregnancies. Believe it or not some of the same issues that lead to diabetes, heart and cardiovascular disease and depression lead to problems with fertility.
As your menstrual periods come to an end, you may also experience other changes such as drier skin, hot flashes, mood swings and hair loss. The drop in estrogen may raise your risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis as well. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and whether you should consider natural or medical hormone replacement therapy.
After age 50, as many as half of all women will break a bone due to osteoporosis. However, osteoporosis is not inevitable. Tobacco and alcohol use earlier in life can increase risk, as can being underweight and lack of weight bearing activities. Women should strive to maintain a healthy weight through weight-bearing exercise and a well-balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium as well as vitamin D.
- Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis result from the body’s immune system attacking its own healthy tissues. About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women. The causes of these diseases are unknown, but many can be managed through proper diagnosis and treatment.
Learn more about women’s heart health and other women’s health concerns at Scripps’ Women’s Expo 2013: Matters of the Heart from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 18, 2013 at the Schaetzel Center on the Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla campus. This free event will feature presentations by medical experts, exhibits, educational materials and a continental breakfast. Admission is free but seating is limited. Please call 1-800-SCRIPPS (727-4777) or visit scripps.org/women2013 to register by May 10, 2013.
Dr. Kaback is a physician with Scripps. “To Your Health” is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps.