The Top Five Health Threats Women Face
October 18, 2017
Certain diseases and conditions are more likely to affect women than men. According to medical research, there are five main threats to women’s health. The good news is most of them are preventable or treatable through early detection. The more informed women are about the health risks they face the more precautions they will be able to take, lowering the likelihood of becoming ill.
The main threats to women’s health are autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), one out of every four women dies from heart disease. The NLM reports that almost half a million women die annually from heart disease – in fact, it kills more women then all cancers do. Heart disease often strikes in the form of a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack are different for woman than they are for men. Women should look for these warning signs:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, pain or squeezing in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes, or going away and then returning;
- Discomfort/pain in one or both arms, the back, jaw, neck or stomach;
- Shortness of breath that may or may not be accompanied by chest pains;
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, lightheadedness or nausea, and:
- Keep in mind – women are more likely to experience symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and jaw pain than men.
If you believe that you are showing signs or symptoms of a heart attack, please call 9-1-1 right away.
Osteoporosis is a disease that makes the bones brittle; it is characterized by low bone density and overall bone deterioration. Currently, 44 million people across the country suffer for osteoporosis, which is often accompanied by a hunched back, becoming frail and back pain. 68% of people with the disease are women, and white and Asian women are at a higher risk for developing it than other groups. The good news is that osteoporosis is largely preventable. Taking precautions early on can help prevent the disease from developing.
Preventing osteoporosis is important because the disease increases the risk for bone fractures to the spine, hip and wrist. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD) recommends that women avoid smoking and drinking excessively – both of which can contribute to the development of osteoporosis or weaken the bones. The NIAMSD also recommends that women make sure they consume enough vitamin D and calcium and engage in regular exercise. Before you make any lifestyle or dietary changes, please consult directly with a healthcare professional.
Diabetes is another major health threat that women face. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that at least 29 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes and that at least 12.6 million of those are women (although as many as 25% of them have not yet been diagnosed). As with many other diseases or conditions, certain risk factors increase the chances of developing diabetes. Having a history of high blood pressure, polycystic ovarian syndrome, family history of type 2 diabetes or low physical activity can all increase a woman’s chances for having diabetes. African American, Latino and Hispanic women are all at a disproportionately high risk, as well.
The ADA encourages women who are at a higher risk for developing diabetes to take certain precautionary measures. Along with a doctor’s recommendation, these tips may include:
- Losing 5-7% of their body weight if they are overweight or obese;
- Being physically active for at least 150 minutes per week, and:
- Eating fewer high fat or high sugar foods
The third health threat to women is cancer. Different types of cancers kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 595,600 people were killed by cancer in 2016 – 270,000 of those are women. According to research, changes in lifestyle can prevent up to one-third of all cancers that occur. Avoiding known risk factors such as smoking or excessive drinking can help to decrease these risks. It is also important to maintain a physically active lifestyle and to eat a healthy diet.
Cancer screenings, prevention techniques and early detection are each crucial in increasing the chances for a positive outcome with all different types of cancers. Women should be sure to stay up-to-date on mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies, as well as doing self-breast and skin exams at home. To find out more about how to do self-exams, please visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation.
The last major health threat that women face are autoimmune diseases. An autoimmune disease is when the immune system, designed to attack dangerous bacteria and damaged cells, attacks your healthy cells instead. There are over 80 types of identified autoimmune diseases, which can affect different types of body tissues. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that 23.5 million Americans suffer from various autoimmune diseases, making them some of the most common to develop.
The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) estimates that women are diagnosed with up to 75% of all autoimmune diseases, making them particularly at risk. Some of the most well known types include Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus. According to the AARDA, only 1 in 5 Americans can name a single autoimmune disease; this means that the majority of the population may not know they are at risk.
Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose; the AARDA reports that on average, women see five different doctors over a 4.6-year span before receiving the correct medical diagnosis. The association encourages increasing education and awareness efforts in order to alert women to warning signs. It is also necessary for healthcare professionals to factor in family history with a focus on autoimmune diseases so that there are no dangerous oversights.
Women across the country face various health risks, most of which range from serious to deadly. There are many things women can do to lower their risks. Stay up-to-date on check ups and screenings if you are more susceptible to a disease or illness due to family history or other risk factors. Both women and their care providers should be as informed as possible about what warning signs and symptoms. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact your doctor directly.
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