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Common women’s health problems, and how to avoid them

16 November, 2016
Womens common health problems

We have taken a look at some common health concerns that affect women, and what steps you could take to help reduce your risk of developing these problems.

To take control of your health, it’s important to first understand the various health issues that affect women at various stages of life. Women (as well as men) need to work in partnership with their doctors by finding out their family medical history, educating themselves on common health issues, and paying attention to their bodies. Understanding your body is the key to making long, healthy living a possibility.

Women everywhere need to take the time to pause and take control of their health. Many of today’s health problems are preventable and manageable, as long as the appropriate time and care is given.
                                    

Heart Disease

Although heart disease is often thought of as a problem that mainly affects men, heart disease is the most common cause of death for both men and women in Australia. Women present different symptoms to men, which unfortunately can go unrecognised. The good news is that women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms of heart disease and can begin to reduce their risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).

The most common heart attack symptoms for women are some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it’s not always severe or even the most prominent symptom. Many women can in fact suffer a heart attack with little or no chest pain at all. 

 

You’re actually more likely to experience:
  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal pain; 
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Pain in one or both arms;
  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Sweating;
  • Light headedness or dizziness; or
  • Unusual fatigue.

Symptoms may occur more often when resting or asleep. If you experience these symptoms or suspect you may be having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately. If you downplay your symptoms or ignore them, irreparable damage may have already occurred.

In terms of heart disease, there are several traditional risk factors – such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, which affect both men and women. Other factors can increase a woman’s risk, such as:

  • Diabetes;
  • Mental stress and depression;
  • Smoking;
  • Inactivity;
  • Menopause, or Pregnancy complications; or
  • Inflammatory conditions.

Several lifestyle changes can reduce the risk associated with many of these factors, including:

  • Quitting, or not smoking;
  • Exercising regularly;
  • Maintaining a healthy weight;
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits & vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean meats; and
  • Avoiding saturated or trans fats, added sugars and high amounts of salt.

All CBHS members who hold hospital cover or a packaged product are eligible to participate in a health coaching program for managing their health including osteoporosis. To find out more, email wellness@cbhs.com.au.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer found in women. Generally speaking, the earlier breast cancer is detected, the more treatable it is, so it's important that women over the age of 40 do regular self-checks and speak with their doctor about being screened. Educating yourself properly about breast cancer is important, knowing the common risk factors is a large part of this, they include: 

  • Increasing age;
  • Genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2;
  • Family history of breast cancer;
  • Early onset of menstruation (before age 12) or menopause;
  • Too much alcohol;
  • Obesity; and
  • Smoking.

You can lower your risk associated with these factors by: 

  • Controlling your weight;
  • Exercising regularly;
  • Quitting or not smoking;
  • Talking to your doctor about your risk and appropriate screening;
  • Limiting alcohol; and
  • Avoiding exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.

Osteoporosis

Women have a lower bone density than men and they tend to lose bone mass more rapidly as they age, this can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis may have its roots in childhood and adolescence, which is the period when your body does the most bone building. Women reach their peak bone mass around age 18, while men reach theirs around age 20. By 30, your bones are fully stocked, and although your body will continue to replace old bone cells, there will be no increase in bone mass past that point.

Like many other common health issues for women, osteoporosis is influenced by the hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps regulate your reproductive cycle but at the same time plays a role in keeping bones strong and healthy. Because women experience dramatic drops in estrogen with menopause, they’re more likely to experience bone loss and osteoporosis at that time.

The good news is that you can take action to maintain and improve your bone health at every stage of life.

These actions include:

  • Ensuring adequate calcium intake;
  • Maintaining proper vitamin D levels (acquired with 10-15 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week);
  • Specific and regular exercise;
  • Eating vitamin K-packed leafy vegetables such as kale;
  • Avoiding soft drinks; and
  • Reducing your intake of salt.

The behaviours that women develop in their childhood, adolescence, and early adult years really play a significant role in the development of the disease, but it’s never too late to keep bones strong and avoid fractures. Your body will do what it can to repair bone damage, but you have to provide the tools for it to do so.

All CBHS members who hold hospital cover or a packaged product are eligible to participate in a health coaching program for managing their health including osteoporosis. To find out more, email wellness@cbhs.com.au.

Depression

More women are diagnosed with depression, compared with men, with one in five Australian women experiencing depression at some time in their life. Anxiety is even more common, with one in three women experiencing anxiety during their lifetime.

Depression and anxiety conditions can happen at any time, but women are more likely to experience these conditions during pregnancy and the year following childbirth. Depression affects one in 10 pregnant women, and almost one in seven in the year after birth.

Symptoms presented by women with depression or anxiety include: 

  • An ongoing sad and anxious mood;
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities;
  • Irritability, restlessness or persistent crying;
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness;
  • Sleeping problems – oversleeping or insomnia;
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss or overeating/weight gain;
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions; and
  • Persistent physical symptoms such as digestive disorders, headaches or chronic pain.

By understanding the risks and recognising the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicide, you can help both yourself and others. The important thing to remember is that effective treatments are available, and with the right care, most women recover.

Self-help ways to avoid depression and anxiety include:

  • Exercising regularly;
  • Connecting with people by finding a local support group;
  • Having regular ‘me’ time;
  • Challenging yourself with new goals to help build confidence;
  • Avoiding unhealthy habits such as alcohol, smoking and caffeine;
  • Praise yourself for small steps forward;
  • Looking for the positives in life; and
  • Accepting the things you can’t change.

 For a list of national help-lines and websites click here.

All CBHS members who hold hospital cover or a packaged product have access to a support program focusing on mental health. To find out more, email: wellness@cbhs.com.au.

Disclaimer

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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