When it comes to health, women and men are different. They may share some of the same medical issues, but even then, basic biology is what separates how each gender responds to them. For women to stay as healthy as they can, they need to know what they are up to. From there, they can use that knowledge to take necessary precautions of what is in their control to reduce their risks. Fortunately, many of the leading threats to women’s health are preventable. Discover the top five threats to a woman’s health and begin today minimizing that danger to overall well-being and quality of life.
1. Heart Disease
Up to 29 percent of all women will die from heart disease. Heart disease kills more women in the United States than all forms of cancer combined – almost 500,000 annually. Many women (and men) do not realize the threat heart disease poses to women. Maybe a woman notices she is out of breath when walking up a flight of stairs or tires very easily after a short walk. These can be signs of heart disease that need to be discussed with a physician. But symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack in women are not the same as in men, making it likely a doctor may not assume it’s anything to do with her heart.
Women share the many risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity, or diabetes, with men. The earlier women begin to take charge of their heart health, the greater they can avoid heart disease. Luckily, there are lots of lifestyle changes a woman can do to ward off heart disease such as not smoking, following a heart-smart diet, and being physically active.
Cancer in women, including all forms of cancer, accounts for 22 percent of deaths of women killing almost 270,000 in the United States each year. Surprisingly, lung cancer is the leading cancer that claims the lives of more women than breast cancer does. When women are proactive in their health care, they are more likely to have a serious illness diagnosed at an earlier, more treatable/curable stage than if they avoid going to their doctor for cancer screenings such as mammograms or pap smears.
To help keep the risk of cancer low, women can make modifications in how they live their lives – in fact, lifestyle choices can help prevent at least one-third of all cancers. Adopting healthier habits such as never smoking, being physically active and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, can be important steps towards never getting a cancer diagnosis.
Women do not have to be a victim of the brittle bone disease of osteoporosis. Walking around with back pain, becoming frail, or developing a hunched back, can be avoided when women and girls know what they can do to prevent it.
Up to 44 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and out of that number, at least 68 percent of those who develop it are women. It is never too late to keep bones strong and to avoid fractures.
Osteoporosis is largely a preventable condition. Starting in childhood and through adolescence is when women can play a significant role in the development of their bones. The reason is our bodies build up most bone mass until age 30. Then new bone stops forming and the focus in on maintaining that bone mass. There are certain risk factors a woman will not be able to control – being female, small, thin-boned frame, ethnicity (white or Asian women at a greater risk). But there are several tools women can use to keep as much bone mass as possible – adequate calcium intake and vitamin D, avoiding smoking, avoid excessive drinking, and do weight-bearing activity.
Women can also discuss with their doctor about having a bone mineral density test to determine the status of their bone mass and what risk they are at for osteoporosis.
Diabetes is a serious women’s health issue affecting almost 29 million Americans. Around 12.6 million of those are women aged 20 years and older but almost one-quarter of them have not yet been diagnosed. Women are at a high risk for diabetes if they are overweight (body mass index of 25 or higher) and have one or more additional risk factors such as:
· Family history of type 2 diabetes
· Low physical activity
· High-risk ethnicity (African American, Hispanic or Latino)
· Had a baby weighing 9 pounds or more or were diagnosed with gestational diabetes
· High blood pressure (130/80 mmHg or higher)
· High cholesterol (200 mg/dl or higher)
· History of polycystic ovarian syndrome
Women can do several things to help reduce their risk for developing diabetes such as eating fewer high fat/sugar and high-calorie foods, losing at least 5 percent to 7 percent of body weight if overweight or obese, and to be physically active at least 150 minutes every week.
5. Autoimmune diseases
An autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks the body and destroys or alters tissues. It is not known what causes the body to turn on itself but genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors are suspected. There are over 80 autoimmune diseases including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.
About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). As a group, the disorders considered autoimmune disease make up the fourth-largest cause of disability among American women.
If a woman is living with an autoimmune disease there are several things she can do to feel better:
· Eat healthy well-balanced meals
· Get regular physical activity
· Get enough sleep as rest allows body tissues and joints the time they need to repair
· Reduce stress with meditation, listening to calming music, using imagery or joining a support group