Statistics and data have always led us to believe that women generally have longer lifespans than men; although a survey curated by HealthyWomen and GCI Health in REDBOOK magazine would have many questioning how that’s possible, as nearly half of women are not making time for their health.
“Women who don’t take care of themselves are not going to be around or it will affect their ability to care for their loved ones,” notes HealthyWomen CEO Beth Battaglino. “This survey revealed that those who don’t make time to get their health screenings, like mammograms, pap tests, eye exams, blood pressure, etc., actually had more health concerns.”
Health concerns, namely chronic conditions, are the nation’s leading cause of death and disability — taking the lives of millions, ruining the quality of life for others, and contributing to increasing health care costs. The worst part? Many conditions are manageable and could be prevented, delayed, or alleviated through early detection and simple lifestyle changes.
Let’s learn about some of the most concerning conditions affecting women, their distinctive risk factors, and what you can do to prevent them.
Cardiovascular (or heart) disease is the leading cause of death for women. The most common is coronary heart disease, which is also the primary cause behind heart attacks. Both men and women have been led to believe that heart attack symptoms include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and numbness in the left arm. While it is true that those symptoms are good indicators, women are more likely than men to have many different symptoms, particularly jaw pain, as well as nausea or vomiting and back pain.
Among other top risk factors for heart disease in women, lies physical inactivity, with some research finding women to be less physically active than men. Fortunately, there are easy steps to get active even for the busiest women. Medical experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, which can be completed all at once or broken up into three 10-minute intervals. A few ways women (or anyone for that matter) can be more physically active include riding a bike to work, parking further away in parking lots, and taking a walk during a lunch break. Incorporating at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine is a great first step towards disease prevention.
Every year, cancer claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in America — but it doesn’t have to. Early detection, along with consistent healthy behaviors, is essential in reducing the risk of cancer.
Self-breast examinations and mammograms, for instance, play a key role in early breast cancer detection. It’s important to note that breast cancer screenings cannot prevent breast cancer; however, they can help find breast cancer early before it advances, leading to more treatment options and increased survival rates.
You should also have a conversation with your doctor about how breast cancer risk compares to your lifestyle to make sure you are doing what’s best for your body, like finding the right birth control for your needs. When birth control pills were first introduced almost 60 years ago, they contained high amounts of estrogen, which has been linked to increased risk for breast cancer. Fortunately, now there are more options for birth control pills, such as low-dose pills that contain 35 micrograms or less of estrogen, which can significantly reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer — the latter being the deadliest form of cancer of the female reproductive system.
Skin cancer is another disease that claims the lives of many women. Yet, there are easy lifestyle changes that women can implement to reduce their risk significantly. Protect your skin from the sun whenever possible with hats, sunglasses, and broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen. If you’re someone who regularly visits the tanning salon, it’s time to trade in the tanning bed for spray tans for a healthier alternative to your desired bronzed-glow.
Whereas stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men, it’s the third leading cause of death for women. Why? One plausible reason is that women who visit the emergency rooms with chief complaints of headaches and dizziness are 33% more likely to be misdiagnosed, according to findings from researchers at John Hopkins. The majority were given an incorrect diagnosis, such as a migraine, and were released without proper treatment.
That’s probably because migraine with aura (sensory disturbances) pose a particular risk factor for stroke in women, according to the American Migraine Foundation. “People who experience aura can have an increased tendency to form blood clots due to temporarily narrowed blood vessels, which can predispose them to stroke.”
Therefore it is not only critical for women to pay attention to any change in their aura and inform their doctor immediately, but Harvard Health Publishing recommends the cessation of smoking as a way for women to reduce their risk of stroke seeing as smoking accelerates clot formation. Moreover, the Mayo Clinic claims that smoking-cessation products combined with behavior therapy can significantly increase an individual’s chance of successfully quitting.
Discussing women’s health isn’t meant to scare you, but rather inspire you to take charge and build a healthier life for yourself through preventative measures. Regular check-ups or well-women visits can be your best starting point. Between knowing your personal and family medical history, discovering pertinent vaccines and screenings, and adjusting your health habits accordingly, you will come to realize that knowledge and application is power.