A walk down the history lane shows, life has been particularly difficult for women. Keeping aside the obvious dangers and diseases, women were forced into marriages and motherhood when they were just emerging from their childhoods. They would give birth to a number of children with or without having a choice at the time when pregnancy itself was quite risky and would lead to the death of mothers quite often. Life expectancy was short, most women died in their young age. This practice is still common in developing and under-developed countries, where women endure serious health problems because of the substandard and unhealthy lifestyle.
In the 1900’s, a woman’s average life duration was about 50 years; today it is 82 years in the USA and is expected to rise. But merely living longer is not enough; women should be able to enjoy a better quality life. For that, it is important for women to understand their bodies and amplify their health and fitness. Men should also be supportive and understanding of women’s health concerns. Every woman should have knowledge and information about her body health and a wide spectrum of issues related to her well-being.
General Health & Well-being:
There is plenty information available about women problems like depression, stress, addictions, eating disorders, heart health and many more other health concerns like nutrition, exercise, body weight etc. For instance, it is essential for women to maintain their optimal body weight. Over-weight can increase the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Eating a healthy diet and regular physical activity keeps you healthy & lowers the risks associated with obesity.
Smoking is detrimental to women health as it is linked to the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other uncountable health concerns. Though women start drinking at a later age and consume less alcohol compared to men, even low amounts of alcohol are associated with issues like alcohol toxicity, hepatitis, cirrhosis etc. Also, women should know their metabolism is different from that of men and different kind of medicines and drugs would, in the long run, affect their health verily. So they should be well aware of the kind of drugs and level of dosages suitable for their metabolism rate.
There are major anatomic differences between man and a woman. For instance, a woman’s hip to knee ratio is wider than men and the torso is comparatively shorter. In women, the hamstrings (muscles behind the leg) are not as stronger as men. Women have less dense bones, muscle mass and comparatively high percentage of body fat.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the US. One in three women in the US suffers from some form of cardiovascular disease. Though women tend to suffer from heart disease almost 10 years later than men; for some reasons, the chances of a young woman dying from heart disease are higher compared to men. Most of the times women ignore the symptoms and don’t seek medical help which is another cause of the high fatality.
Though men and women are equally affected by heart disease, women show different symptoms than men. The usual sign is a pain in the chest, but the women show other unrelated symptoms like shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, sweating, nausea, dizziness, discomfort in neck, jaw, upper back or abdomen as well. Usually, women downplay their symptoms, which is why most realize they have a heart problem when open eyes in an emergency room. Mental stress can also cause heart problem in women. The other risk factors include diabetes, depression, anxiety, menopause, pregnancy complications, lack of physical activity, chemotherapy/radiotherapy for cancer etc. Women should maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, avoid taking the unnecessary stress and eat cholesterol/fats free energy-rich diet (Willett et al., 1995).
Female Reproductive System:
FRS consists of uterus, ovaries, cervix, fallopian tubes and external genitalia. A female’s reproductive system is the most important aspect of her being a woman. The primary function of FRS is to conceive and bear the child, but there are also a number of complexities related to that, including fibroids of the uterus, cysts of the ovaries and yeast infections in the vagina. In the US, a major surgery performed on women is a hysterectomy (the surgical removal of the uterus) which ends not just menstruation, but also a woman’s ability to conceive. So a woman should weigh her options before making the choice in respect to her particular medical condition.
Also known as “chemical messengers”, hormones are a chemical substance secreted by one type of tissues which travels with the help of body fluids and affects other body tissues. Growth and behavior hormones are present in both men and women; however, there are certain hormones which are of special concern for women. Sex hormones in women not only impact the growth, repair, and maintenance of reproductive tissues, they affect other body tissues like bone mass as well. This can be a bit problematic for women with eating disorders and low body fat. Women with low body fat don’t produce sufficient amounts of sex hormones which can cause osteoporosis (thinning of bones), halt in menstruation, fractures in bones and other disorders associated with menopause.
Menopause leads to less production of estrogen and progesterone hormones. The menopausal transition can be troubling for some women, so doctors prescribe Hormone therapy, the excessive application of which leads to high risks of breast cancer. Apart from that, women can also suffer from thyroid disease, due to excessive or less secretion of thyroid hormones.
Cancer in Women:
Certain cancers that are of specific concern for women are Breast Cancer, Lungs Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Colorectal (of the large bowel) Cancer and others related to cervix, uterus, pancreas etc.
Lungs cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. The important reason for this disease is excessive smoking, though there could be other reasons related to respiration and intake of polluted air. Abstinence from smoking and a clean environment can ensure the safety (Patel, 2005).
Breast Cancer is the second leading cancer disease in the world. In the US, a woman has 12.4% chance of developing breast cancer in her life. Breast cancer can be cured if detected early, for this purpose, there are a number of screening techniques like mammography, ultrasound, MRI, light scanning (Breastlight) etc. Genetic mutations, family history, ethnicity, age, unhealthy lifestyle (obesity, alcohol consumption, sedentary motion) are all associated with high risks of breast cancer.
Ovarian Cancer is also known as the silent killer because it is very difficult to detect in early stages. Though it can occur to women of all ages, risk gradually increases with time and the risk is even higher if you have a family history of ovarian cancer. One in seventy women in the US suffers from ovarian cancer (Salmon et al., 1989).
Colorectal cancer is the cancer of large intestine. It occurs to people of age above 50. Women who have a history of ovarian or breast cancer have a higher chance of developing colorectal cancer. A good diet rich in fruits and vegetables, supplemented by antioxidants helps in avoiding the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Women are at higher risk of being affected by osteoporosis in their life compared to men. Women bones are comparatively smaller and have less bone density which starts to reduce further with age. Changing levels of estrogen hormone in the body is linked with osteoporosis. Estrogen deals with the reproductive cycle of women and is also responsible for keeping bones healthy. As women start aging, estrogen level starts dropping (especially after menopause) which drops the bone mass level resulting in bone fractures and injuries. In the US, approximately 10 million people suffer from osteoporosis, of which eight million (80%) are women.The risk is much higher in older women where approximately one in two women above 50s suffers from osteoporosis (Bowman & Spangler, 1997).
Diabetes is a condition in which a person has difficulty in producing or processing insulin in the body, resulting in high blood sugar level. Diabetes is common in both genders. Women with diabetes will show following signs:
- Vaginal and oral yeast infections which cause soreness, itching, vaginal discharge and painful sex.
- Urinary tract infections are common in women with diabetes due to the inability of white blood cells to circulate and kill infections. These infections can cause a burning sensation, painful urination and blood in urine. UTIs should be treated; otherwise, there is a risk of kidney infection.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Signs of PCOS include weight gain, irregular periods, depression, and It can also cause infertility and resistance to insulin which can lead to elevated levels of blood sugar, which leads to diabetes.
Women who wish to conceive a baby should manage their blood sugar levels before the pregnancy. Though child needs mother’s glucose high levels of sugar in women blood can cause birth defects including developmental delays and cognitive impairments.
Gestational diabetes is a condition which occurs during pregnancy when hormones disturb the insulin levels in the body. Body tens to produce more insulin, but it’s still not sufficient for a woman, hence she gets gestational diabetes. It usually goes away after pregnancy. Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, family history, high blood pressure/cholesterol, old age, sedentary lifestyle and heart diseases. Regular exercise, low carb intake, low glycemic foods and prescribed insulin medications can help control the risk of high blood sugar level (Salmeron et al., 1997)).
Menstruation is the regular loss of blood and tissues caused by the removal of the inner lining of uterus every month. On average, a woman experiences menstruation for almost 40 years of her life. A menstrual cycle is divided into a follicular phase (egg development), ovulation (egg release) and luteal phase during which uterine line readies itself to receive a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the uterine wall sheds off releasing blood, which is called menstruation (Harlow & Ephross, 1995). Women may experience certain problems during menstruation such as pelvic pain, menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS symptoms include a headache, bloating, cramps; irritability, nervousness etc. and almost 60-70% women suffer from PMS in their menstrual cycles. There are a number of other disorders marked by the absence or prolongation (too heavy, irregular, and painful) of periods. Polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis are the conditions which occur due to abnormal periods.
Fertility and Birth Control:
Fertility is the ability to bear children. Most women want to make the choice of ‘when they want to conceive’. In the US, 94% of women use some kind of birth control method to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Though both the partners bear the responsibility for birth control, the ultimate burden lies with the woman. The methods she can use include oral contraceptives, spermicides, diaphragms, contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (Jejeebhoy, 1995). Women should also decide which method to use to avoid developing HIV infection. If a woman is infertile, she can use other options for reproductive purposes such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in vitro fertilization (IVF) or use donor eggs/sperms. One in five couples in the USA affected by infertility. Adoption is another choice for childless couples.
If a woman wants to conceive, she should be aware of the pregnancy planning to optimize the health of herself and the baby. Diseases such as asthma, lupus, epilepsy, diabetes, depression, thyroid problem can impact woman’s pregnancy. A woman should be aware of the dangers of smoking and alcohol consumption and which drugs or medicines can be harmful to the growth of the baby.Moreover, she should take the prenatal tests required to check the growth and health of baby inside the womb.
Menopause and Post-Menopause:
Menopause is when a woman has stopped menstruating for a consecutive period of 12 months. Menopause usually starts at the age of 51 but women start showing symptoms in their mid-40s. Symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, forgetfulness, urinary incontinence and trouble sleeping.
As the life expectancy has increased, most women live long after menopause compared to earlier times. Post-menopausal women have to deal with osteoporosis, diminished vision, hearing loss, insomnia, arthritis, memory loss, cancer and heart disease. Aging cannot be stopped but a healthy diet, little exercise, and avoiding alcohol/smoking can make life healthier (Atsma et al., 2006; Gallagher, 2007).
Women and men both are affected by mental disorders. However, the symptoms of the mental disease may vary among males and females. Depression and anxiety are more common in women. Hormonal change can also cause certain mental disorders like premenstrual dysphoric disorder, perinatal depression, and pre-menopause related depression. Social issues also play the part as women are raised to internalize their feelings and thoughts which is an extremely wrong way of coping with distress. Also, women are expected to carry out all the household work in addition to the full-time job, which creates anxiety and depression among women. Loneliness and bereavement can also lead to depression (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001). These are the warning signs of mental illness:
Thoughts of suicide, social withdrawal, severe mood swings, persistent sadness, excessive fear or worry, fatigue, appetite changes, irritability, changes in sleeping habits, abuse of drugs/alcohol, digestion problems, headache, seeing or hearing things which are not there, weight changes etc. If you feel these signs, you should consult the doctor and share with him/her all the details of your physical and mental condition you have been experiencing lately.
Other Common Diseases in Women
Although most of the diseases are common to men and women, some diseases occur at a higher frequency among women.
- Gallstones: About three to four times more common in women than in men.
- A migraine: About 18.5% women in the US suffer from a migraine headache compared to only 6% men.
- Urinary tract infections, including bladder and kidney infection, significantly affect women health. Kidney disease is a major cause of high blood pressure and hypertension among women.
- Autoimmune Disorders: The case in which immune system attacks body’s own tissues e.g. multiple sclerosis, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome etc. Autoimmune disorders affect approximately 12 million Americans of which ¾ are women.
- Osteoporosis: This is a condition in which bones mass decreases. Though it happens to both men and women, frequency among women is much higher. Research has revealed that one in every two women above 50 suffers some kind of fracture due to osteoporosis. By 65, most women lose half of their skeleton mass.
Women represent fifty-one percent of the population, but women health has long been neglected in the society. Most of the women not only just perform their professional duties but take care of their homes and children too, which takes a toll on their health. It is, therefore, necessary for women to take care of their health, have a supportive family system and access to better healthcare services. Apart from the reproductive issues, many women suffer from other diseases like heart and lungs disease, breast cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis etc. Many diseases have a different impact on women than men and their treatment is also different for both genders, therefore, women health issues should be managed with as much attention and care. Life is a coin. You can spend it anyway but you can only spend it once!
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