Lower your risks for the top health threats to women
By Barbara Pierce
Women and men aren’t the same, especially when it comes to health. Some health issues affect women differently and are more common in women.
To help you take full charge of your heath, we looked at the five issues of most concern to women: heart disease, breast cancer, depression and anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and gynecological and pregnancy issues. And we asked experts what women could do to lower their risks for these issues.
1. Heart Disease
Heart disease is the top health condition threatening women. In the U.S., it causes one in every four deaths among women, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined. Not only is it a killer, it disables many, many women.
Symptoms of a heart attack can differ for women. Instead of crushing chest pain, the symptoms in a woman are easy to ignore, including chest discomfort with sweating, pain in arm, neck, or jaw, shortness of breath, unexplained anxiety and nausea.
You just need to stop doing a few things that may elevate your risk of heart disease or stroke, said physician Cynthia Jones of Utica, board member, American Heart Association.
• Manage your blood pressure
• Stop smoking
• Get active
• Control your cholesterol
• Control your blood sugar
• Eat better
2. Breast Cancer
One in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer over her lifetime. Your individual risk depends on several things: family history, pregnancy history, ethnicity and age.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women.
There’s no sure way to prevent breast cancer. Kim McMahon, who until recently served as director of communications for the American Cancer Society, advises that you can lower your risk by changing the risk factors that are under your control.
• Limit alcohol
• Stop smoking
• Lose weight if you are overweight
• Get active
• Avoid the use of hormones
Whether you have risk factors or not, it’s important to get a mammogram. Screening can find the cancer before it causes symptoms (like a lump). When found early, it is easier to treat. Regular screenings are the most reliable way to find it early.
3. Depression and anxiety
Women are more likely than men to experience depression and anxiety. Depression is the most common mental health problem for women and suicide is a leading cause of death for women younger than 60.
Depression ranges from mild to major. It causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how you feel, think and behave; you may have trouble doing normal activities, and sometimes feel life isn’t worth living.
More than just a bout of the blues, you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Most people do improve with medication and therapy.
Some of the risk factors for depression include family history, death or loss, past abuse, and personal turmoil.
An anxiety disorder is more than ordinary worry; it is frequent excessive, persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It may involve episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety/terror that peak within minutes (panic attacks).
Most of these mental health issues don’t go away on their own. A mental health specialist is a good place to begin.
The Mobile Crisis Assessment Team is a local resource. “We’re here 24/7 for people who need a little support as well as those who are experiencing a serious mental health concern,” said Kristin Sauerbier, director. They can be reached at 315-272-6228 or 844-732-6228.
“There’s no charge for our services,” she added. “We’ll talk over the phone or come to where you are.” Referrals may be made to the Mobile Crisis Assessment Team 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Crisis counselors are on call 24/7 to speak with individuals or members of the community.
4. Autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks the body. More than 80 serious illnesses include fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Think of it an internal mutiny. Your immune system turns against you. Joints, skin, eyes, liver, pancreas, heart and other organs become vulnerable to attack.
It is not known what causes the body to turn on itself. As 75% of patients are women, it is suspected that hormones may be behind the ramped up immune response. Family history and stress factors are also suspects.
Autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose as symptoms vary widely. Common symptoms include achy muscles, fatigue, mild fever, joint pain, abdominal pain.
To lower your risk, experts suggest eating less sugar and fat, lowering stress, losing weight, and stopping smoking.
5. Gynecological and pregnancy issues
Common gynecologic problems include heavy periods, abnormal bleeding, menstrual irregularities, urinary tract infections, pelvic pain, fibroids and endometriosis.
Irregular cycles or painful monthly cramps can be common issues. Intervention methods relieve symptoms.
Complications of pregnancy are rare. It is important to receive health care to decrease the risk of complications.