5 Women’s Health Issues You Should Be Aware Of

Read about  5 different women’s health issues that predominantly affect women and what you can do to help reduce the risk of it happening. While many health issues and conditions affect women and men, some can affect women more frequently or differently. In addition, there are health issues that can go undiagnosed for an extended period of time and some that are exclusive to women. 

1. Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms within the breast tissue, commonly in the milk ducts. It begins with cells multiplying abnormally and at a faster rate than the surrounding tissue, creating a cancerous mass. Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women because of the estrogen and progesterone hormones we produce. These hormones have growth-promoting effects on cancer cells that form in the breast tissue, more so than most other areas in the body. 

Visible signs of breast cancer can include redness, swelling, and small dimplings on the skin of the breasts. Some common risk factors are: 

  • Increasing age
  • Personal or family history of breast cancer
  • Genetics 
  • Radiation exposure
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) 
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity 

It is recommended to exercise regularly and to quit smoking to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. It is also suggested to get regular breast screenings done to reduce the risk of finding breast cancer in its later stages.

2. Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cervix. The cervix is located at the lowest area of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Like breast cancer, this area is constantly exposed to estrogen and progesterone, allowing for any cancer that forms in the cervix to grow at a much faster rate than if it grew at other parts of the body. Watch these videos to see how uterine cancer was mistaken for gluten intolerance:

Cervical cancer usually causes no pain or symptoms early on; hence, pap smears are essential to have done. In the later stages, common symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after intercourse, pain during intercourse, and pelvic pain. Common risk factors include: 

  • Contracting human papillomavirus (HPV) 
  • Smoking 
  • Using birth control for five or more years

To lower the chances of getting cervical cancer, it is commonly recommended to get the HPV vaccine. HPV, if you have been infected by it, has a chance of staying within the body and causing cervical cancer over time₍₂₎. With the HPV vaccine, there is lasting protection against HPV infections₍₃₎.

Another common cancer, Uterine cancer is usually mistaken with cervical cancer. Women often wonder about the difference between these two cancers. Cervical cancer develops in the cervix which is few centimeters from the uterus. Uterine cancer (endometrial carcinoma, womb cancer, or corpus carcinoma) usually originates from the cells of the uterine mucosa. Watch this video to see how uterine cancer was mistaken for gluten intolerance.

3. Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue, which usually lines the uterine wall, grows outside the uterus. When this occurs, it grows on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and in the pelvic region. In rare cases, it can grow in other parts of the body. Like the tissue in your uterus, it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds according to your menstrual cycle. In this case, however, it can’t escape the body. Since it can’t escape, it can cause irritated tissue, which leads to scarring, and in some cases, the organs can begin to stick to one another₍₄₎. 

Endometriosis’s common signs and symptoms are painful cramps that can sometimes occur days before the menstrual period starts, painful intercourse, excessive or heavy periods, bleeding in between periods, and infertility. Risk factors for this disorder can include: 

  • Starting your period at an early age 
  • High levels of estrogen
  • Close family history of Endometriosis
  • Reproductive tract abnormalities 
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
Women's Health : Endometriosis- What is it?

To lower the risk of developing Endometriosis, it is recommended that you exercise regularly, cut back on drinking alcohol, and lower your estrogen levels if they are too high with medications such as birth control. 

4. Osteoporosis and Women’s Health 

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body either loses too much bone tissue, makes too little bone tissue, or a combination of the two. Typically, the body is capable of absorbing and replacing old bone tissue over time. With this disease, however, it is unable to keep up with replacing old bone tissue. Osteoporosis can potentially affect 44 million people in America, of which 68% are women₍₁₎. This disease is more likely to occur in women due to a drop in estrogen levels, usually when menopause occurs in older women. 

This disease is unnoticeable until you get a fracture from a minimal injury because the bones are now brittle and can break more easily. Some common risk factors include: 

  • Family history of Osteoporosis
  • Having a small, thin-boned frame
  • Low calcium and vitamin D diet 
  • Smoking 
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Loss/Lowering of estrogen levels

In order to lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, it’s recommended that you eat calcium-rich foods, absorb enough vitamin D, have a balanced diet, and do regular exercise with weight-bearing activities₍₅₎ from a young age onwards.

5. Women’s Health: Heart Diseases

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined. Heart disease refers to several types of disorders that can affect the heart’s function. Some examples include arrhythmia, where the heart rhythm is abnormal, and cardiomyopathy, where the heart’s muscles can harden or grow weak. 

Women's Health: Heart Disease in Women Causes

Common symptoms of heart disease present as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and pain in the jaw or upper back. Some risk factors include: 

  • Increasing age
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity 
  • Obesity/Being overweight 
  • Smoking 

This disease is responsible for roughly 29% of deaths in women, making it one of the more common health issues affecting women₍₁₎. Despite men dying more often from heart disease than women, women more commonly go undiagnosed for years, and by the time it is discovered, it is too late. To lower the risks of getting heart disease, it is recommended that you have a well-balanced, healthy diet and exercise regularly. 

February is American Heart Month. When we take care of #OurHearts as part of our self-care, we set an example for those around us to do the same for women’s health.

Resources: 

(1) Zamora, D. “Top 5 Women’s Health Concerns.” WebMD, WebMD

(2) “What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and PreventionCDC

(3) “HPV Vaccination and Cancer Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC

(4) Mayo Clinic Staff. “Endometriosis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

(5) “Osteoporosis.” Osteoporosis – Better Health Channel, Better Health Channel

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