The assumed role of women is predominantly that of caregiver. But, whilst we’re very good at taking care of, and caring for everyone else, sometimes we tend not to be the best judge of health when it comes to ourselves. Hands up if you put off going to the doctor until absolutely necessary? We all do it, so here are women’s health concerns that come up most often. Seriously, though, gang, please see a doctor if you’re worried about anything…
Women’s health concerns: The top five
When it comes to women’s health concerns, there are five things we’re all worried about. And they’re not small things, either. So if you recognize any of the symptoms or effects we’re talking about, please don’t ignore them.
The three most common cancers affecting women are: Breast, Cervical, and Ovarian, so let’s start with the first one.
Breast cancer is the most common, and aggressive cancer in women, no matter the age or race.
The importance of checking your breasts has come to the forefront in recent years and self-care is the first and best step, especially when it comes to breast health.
These lemons are a handy reference if you’re worried:
The best thing we can do is to educate ourselves, become more breast aware and keep our emotions in perspective.
Stephen F. Sener, MD, President of the American Cancer Society says: “Just because your mother didn’t have breast cancer, it doesn’t mean you are immune. At the same time, it’s also important to note that some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer.”
You may not be able to control where you live or your genetic risk factors, but you can improve your breast health and reduce the risk of Breast cancer with a few simple lifestyle changes through diet, exercise, and weight management.
The cervix is a strong muscle and forms the opening of the vagina to the womb. Cervical cancer originates in the lower part of the womb, more the entrance.
The area where cervical cells are most likely to become cancerous is called the transformation zone. It is the area just around the opening of the cervix that leads to the endocervical canal, the narrow passageway that runs up from the cervix into the womb.
Unlike breast cancer, there’s no physical self-examination you can do. However, there are signs you should keep an eye on:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding – between periods, during or after sex, and after your menopause
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Unpleasant-smelling vaginal discharge
- Pain in the area between the hip bones
Although these are some common signs to look for, they are also symptoms of other conditions. But, you should see your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms. You probably don’t have cancer. But if you do, the sooner you are treated, the more likely you are to be cured and usually will need less treatment.
Smear test screening
How does this come under women’s health concerns we hear you ask. Well, anyone with a cervix should, ideally, have a cervical screening, or smear test, every three years between the ages of 25 and 49 and every five years after that. However, there are calls to lower the screening age to 18, because cancer rarely cares about your age.
The problem is, lots of us just don’t do it. Like, at all. That’s bad for two reasons. Firstly, screening detects changes to the cervical cells that might be trouble later on down the line. And if caught early, malignant cells can be treated more effectively. And secondly, smear tests not only save lives, but they also add to the data. The more we know about how cervical cancer develops, the more we can do.
Yes, smear tests are uncomfortable, but surely a few minutes of discomfort is worth all of those benefits?
Ovarian cancer is when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, and eventually form a tumor.
According to Cancer Research UK: “There are different types of Ovarian cancer. The type depends on the type of cell the cancer started in. Most cases of Ovarian cancer are epithelial cancers. This means the cancer started in cells covering the ovary or fallopian tubes. Doctors now think that most epithelial cancers start in cells at the end of the fallopian tubes rather than the ovary.”
Ovarian cancer presents extremely vague symptoms, especially in the early stages, but you should see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Feeling full quickly
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in your stomach or the lower part of your abdomen that doesn’t go away
- Bloating or an increase in the size of your abdomen
- Needing to pee more often
Other possible symptoms include:
- Tiredness that is unexplained
- Weight loss that is unexplained
- Changes in your bowel habit or symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, especially if this starts after the age of 50
These are all symptoms of other less serious conditions. But if you have them or anything else that is not normal for you, get them checked out by your doctor.
Heart disease is one of the biggest killers in both men and women. However, only 54 percent of women realize it is the biggest threat to their health.
Everyone knows the symptoms of a heart attack — pain and a feeling of tightness around the chest and numbness on your left side, but a heart attack can present differently in women and can therefore be misdiagnosed or ignored by a doctor.
Whilst some women can indeed have tightness and numbness, others may just experience slight discomfort, jaw pain, nausea or vomiting, shoulder ache, or shortness of breath.
How to improve cardiovascular health
Prevention, they say, is better than the cure and there is plenty of information about heart health on the internet, but here are five things you can change immediately to help improve your cardiovascular health:
- Take a 10-minute walk: getting, and staying active is the best way to keep your heart, and body, in tip-top condition. And the simplest, and quickest way to incorporate exercise into your day is simply to go for a walk. So, get outside and get walking. It will, not only help your heart, but give you a break from indoors and some fresh air into your lungs
- Eat more fish: at least once a week try and replace red meat with fish, ideally an oily fish such as salmon, sardines, or mackerel. Oily fish are a great source of omega-3 fats which help prevent heart disease. Fish is also good for the waistline and brain.
- Get your 5-a-day: Try and get your 5-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables which are a great source of vitamins and minerals. To get started, why not just simply add one extra piece of fruit or a portion of vegetables to your diet each day and gradually build from there?
- Breathe deeply: Take five minutes to breathe slowly and deeply every day. Deep breathing can help you relax and may also help lower blood pressure.
- Count your blessings: Take a moment each day to be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than dwelling on what you don’t have. Positive emotions are linked with better health, longer life, and improved well-being.
While cancer might be the biggest of the health concerns for women, this comes a very close second. Fertility issues can affect anyone, and rather than something that’s swept under the carpet and never talked about, thankfully fertility issues are now being discussed openly and frankly.
Many women up to the age of 44 struggle to get, and stay, pregnant, with some of the most common underlying reasons being Thyroid issues, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
Of course, there are many other factors that can cause fertility issues, and with more and more women waiting before having children, age is one of the most important factors affecting fertility.
We are born with all the eggs we will ever have and the number of eggs available decreases each day from birth onwards. However, as we approach our mid to late 30s, the decrease gets much steeper plus the number and quality of eggs available also declines. This reduction in both the quantity and quality of available eggs means that older women may have more trouble getting pregnant and can carry a greater risk of miscarriage.
These days, there are many more options available including IVF and surrogacy, as well as adoption.
However, sometimes, much as we don’t like to admit it, there is just no explanation.
But there is help out there. Never feel like you are struggling alone.
Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones lose strength, making you more likely to break a bone than the average adult.
Before doctors discovered Osteoporosis, frailty, back pain, and hunched backs were just things women simply had to accept as they grow older. But nowadays, Osteoporosis is largely preventable.
Up to the age of about 30, your body continually builds up bone mass, after which, new bone stops forming. So your body switches to skeletal maintenance.
Your body will help as best it can, but it’s up to you to provide the tools to help it, such as consuming enough calcium and performing weight-bearing exercises.
It’s never too late to start looking after your bone health to keep them strong and reduce your risk of Osteoporosis by:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Leading an active lifestyle
- Eating well: especially getting enough calcium and vitamin D which are important for bone health
- Not smoking
- Regulating your alcohol consumption
- Maintaining good balance and coordination
Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men, from the onset of puberty up until the age of about 25, when the ratio starts to decrease. Once men and women hit the age of 65, there is a similar decrease in the rate of depression.
This seems to suggest that the natural hormonal fluctuations, especially in Estrogen, may be a trigger for depression. And that includes PMS, post-natal depression, and Menopausal mental health issues
Other risks factors for depression, that aren’t just hormonally related, include:
- Previous depressive episodes
- Chronic illness
- Marital problems
- Substance abuse
- Stressful life events such as bereavement or job loss
- Being a worrier
There are, of course, many things you can do to help reduce the risk of depression, including; exercise, getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and reducing stress.
However difficult it may sound, possibly one of the best things to do is find a reason to get up every single morning. It could be something as simple as taking the dog for a walk, or something bigger where you make an effort to reach out and help in your local community.
And if you still feel lost, then go and talk to your doctor who should be able to provide relief with either medication, or by referring you to some form of therapeutic treatment.
Some general mistakes women make that can impact their health
- Crossing your legs at the knees: This can restrict blood flow and cause varicose veins. Sit with your feet on the ground, or take a leaf out of the Royals’ book and cross your ankles
- Skipping breakfast: It’s the most important meal of the day, you need it to function properly
- Wearing perfume in the sun: Sunshine and perfume don’t mix, because it can set off a chemical reaction leading to a rash
- Thinking you can’t get pregnant over 40
- Using feminine sprays: chronic odor can be a sign of thyroid problems, Type 2 diabetes, or even a shortage of Estrogen. But it can also be entirely natural
- Smoking: Not only does it cause heart disease and cancer, it also causes wrinkles
Women’s health concerns: What now?
As women, we do an awful lot of things to ensure we look younger and thinner on the outside, but sometimes we can forget to do things to make our health better on the inside as well.
And looking good in a coffin won’t help us much!
We need to make a commitment to eat better, exercise regularly, and not be afraid to get health care when we need to.
After all, it’s a matter of life and death.
Do you agree with these major health concerns? What’s your biggest health concern?
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