Women’s Unique Health Issues
The health issues that are unique to women include menstrual problems, pregnancy-related issues, osteoporosis menopause and the female reproductive system problems. In addition, women experience heart attack symptoms differently, show signs of anxiety & depression; suffer from Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), and osteoporosis more often than men. Therefore, a better understanding of the unique health issues of women is a must for every woman to tackle them at the first go.
In women, heart disease – the number one killer in both men & women, is not diagnosed to the point that they succumb to the condition more often than men. The symptoms of heart disease are different in women – owing to which, the risk factors go undetected for quite a long period of time. It is therefore very important for a woman to know her own risk factors including family history, high cholesterol and blood sugar levels. High cholesterol is a major cause of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) in women. lifestyle modifications like exercise, healthy diet and stress-free life can help in reducing the risk of heart disease in women.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) develops several days before period. It affects nearly about 75% of women during their childbearing years. PMS symptoms begin to appear during the late 20s and early 30s. The symptoms can also appear at any time between puberty and menopause. The most common symptoms of PMS include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, breast tenderness, depressed mood, and changes in appetite. Some women with PMS may develop cramps as well.
PMS appears to be caused by rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones, which may influence brain chemicals, including serotonin, a substance that has a strong effect on mood.
Dietary changes & exercise may help relieve symptoms. When PMS symptoms are severe, serotonergic antidepressant medication may be prescribed to reduce them.
Osteoporosis: thinning of bones or porous bones is a silent disease that weakens the bones and makes them fragile. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men and, as the age advances, the risk augments and becomes more especially after menopause. At the peak age – by age 30, bones become very strong & reach to a peak bone mass, which is determined by nutrition, genetics, exercise, and normal menstrual cycle. As you age, bones start to breakdown and the process speeds up as you approach menopause. In the first five to seven years following menopause, you can lose up to 20 percent of the bone mass.
What are the risk factors for osteoporosis in women?
- Being women
- Advancing age
- Being Asian (Ethnicity – Asian women are at increased risk)
- Vitamin D and calcium deficiency
- Inactive Lifestyle
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Use of medications (glucocorticoids)
- Alcohol consumption in excess
- Small and thin bone frame
- Consumption of low vitamin D and calcium diet
If you think that you are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis owing to any of the above factors or family history of osteoporosis, then talk to your gynaecologist about the preventive measures that needs to be adopted.
Following these 5 simple steps can reduce your risk of osteoporosis:
1. Ensure proper calcium and vitamin D intake as per the recommended values
2. Exercise regularly
3. Maintain a healthy body weight
4. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables
5. Get exposed to sunlight
Good sources of calcium
- Milk, all dairy products: yogurt, cheese and curd
- Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli and spinach,
- Soy milk, calcium-fortified foods and beverages like orange juice, cereals and breads.
Exercise: the secret to better bone health. Exercise is not only good for your bone health, but also for your overall health. For the prevention and effective management of osteoporosis these exercises are most effective: 1. resistance exercises – weight lifting exercises, and 2. weight bearing exercises: you work against gravity – for instance, pushups.
Depression is more common in women then in men. According to the American National Institute of Mental Health women are twice more likely to suffer from depression than men. The episodes of depression in women usually manifest after pregnancy (postpartum) or around menopause. Depression may also be due to hormonal changes. The other risk factors of depression include the following: a family history of depression, a serious illness, past history of illness, excessive worry, stress, anxiety, excessive use of certain medicines, loss of job or a close family member and trauma.
To help reduce the risk of depression, exercise regularly, eat healthy food, maintain a strict sleep routine, manage stress and anxiety by yoga and meditation.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTIs) in Women
Women are particularly prone to UTIs as they have a shorter urethra. E. coli bacteria escaping the anus invade the urethra and then travel to bladder, if not treated, continue on to infect the kidneys as well. Poor hygiene is also one of the causes of UTIs in women.
Burning sensation during urination, frequent urge to urinate, tiredness, pain in your lower abdomen & back, pressure in the belly are some of the symptoms of UTI. Permanent damage to the urinary tract, kidney failure and blood poisoning are some of the serious complications of UTIs.You should seek immediate medical help if you are pregnant or diabetic and have high temperature along with malaise, lethargy, chills and vomiting.
Prevention: Girls & women must take precautions
There is no sufficient evidence to prove why UTIs are common in women; however, the proximity of vagina to anus and short urethra may be the cause. Therefore, drink plenty of fluids and maintain good personal hygiene to minimize the risk of infection.
In addition to the above-mentioned health conditions, there are more serious and life-threatening conditions including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancers that are being detected in women. In India, the cases of breast and ovarian cancer are on the rise, but their numbers can be reduced by regular health checkups and screening. Sunshine’s Woman and Child Centre provides comprehensive health check packages for women of all ages. You can avail such offers to minimize future risks and complications.
MBBS, MS (OBG), DES (Germany), FAMS (New Delhi), PGPMAX (ISB)
Consultant Obstetrician, Gynaecologist & Laparoscopic Surgeon
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology