Getting regular checkups and health screenings can take time out of an already-busy day – there’s no denying that. However, diligently taking care of your health now by pursuing preventive screenings and a healthy lifestyle can save you time and cost later.
It’s important to know the health problems that are the most prevalent for your age group and gender. We all know that men and women are very different, and the same goes for health. This issue, we will focus on the health issues that women are commonly experiencing and ways to protect yourself or the women in your life.
1. Heart Disease
Heart disease is responsible for more deaths of women each year than all other causes combined, says Dr. Shashi Mittal of Addison Family Medicine. Nearly two-thirds of the women who suddenly die of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. These numbers show an obvious need for women to take a proactive role in their health.
Heart disease coincides with other chronic medical problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperlipidemia and type 2 diabetes. Yearly physicals that screen for these diseases are recommended for early diagnosis and treatment, and to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Mittal.
In most cases heart disease and its related conditions are preventable. Exercising helps you lose weight, lowers your blood sugar and boosts your blood’s insulin sensitivity to reduce the risk of diabetes. Also, work to manage your stress, which can lead to hypertension. A diet to reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and an emphasis on Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
Foods that promote heart health include garlic, nuts, salmon, blueberries, spinach and green tea. Dark chocolate is also high in antioxidants and can lower blood pressure, but look for it with 60 percent or higher cocoa content; darker chocolate is more healthful, with less sugar and fat.
Cancer claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million women in the United States in 2007. However, more than three times that many women were diagnosed in the same year, which
Means that cancer can be treated when detected early enough. Lung, breast and colon cancer are the three most common cancers among American women.
The best way to proactively reduce your risk of cancer complications is to take early defensive measures.
Dr. Mittal says that women should schedule a yearly physical exam with their primary care physician. On top of that, she says self breast exams should be conducted monthly, preferably just after a woman’s menstrual period.
Other important cancer prevention steps are consistently using sunscreen and wearing sunglasses that protect against the harmful UVA and UVB rays. Check your skin for any suspicious moles or changes to existing moles. Schedule mammograms, colonoscopies, pap smears and other cancer screenings. Treatments are more likely to be effective and with fewer complication if cancer is found at the earliest stages.
Overall health can be a factor in a cancer diagnosis, so it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle of exercise, proper diet and daily vitamins. There are some “superfoods” that may beef up your body’s cancer-fighting defenses: green tea, chili peppers, strawberries and soybeans are just a few. Some believe that citrus foods help to protect against lung, cervical, esophagus, and stomach cancers.
Perhaps the most important thing to do is make sure you know your body. Ask your doctor about anything out of the ordinary and get routine tests, whether you’re suspicious of cancer or not.
According to the American Stroke Association, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer each year. Although stroke is thought of as a man’s disease, women are more likely to die from a stroke than men, and if they survive, they are more likely to be disabled, according to the American Heart Association. Important risk factors for women, especially those younger than 55, include migraines, diabetes and taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy.
To help prevent stroke, reduce your blood pressure—this can cut the risk of a stroke in half. Limit the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol. Reduce your sodium intake by flavoring food with lemon juice, herbs and spices, which have their own medicinal benefits. Foods thought to reduce the risk of stroke include carrots, chili peppers, spinach and green tea.
4. Bones and Joints: Bone Density/Osteoporosis/Arthritis
Your bones and joints are responsible for your mobility and stability. Dr. Mittal says that bone mass decreases with age, and it accelerates at menopause due to hormonal decline. Taking care of your bones and joints lowers your risk of injury and will help to reduce chronic pain.
More than 28 million people are affected by arthritis, says Dr. Vijay Arvind with Cardinal Pain Center at Methodist Hospital for Surgery. The chronic pain associated with arthritis limits mobility and energy. Weight loss and staying active are the keys to preventing arthritis. However, make sure you are exercising correctly to avoid unnecessary pressure on the joints. Ask your doctor or a professional trainer about safe techniques.
Women are automatically at greater risk for osteoporosis, as they have lower bone density to begin with and lose bone mass more quickly than males, says Dr. Arvind. Between the ages of 20 and 80, women lose one-third of the density in their hip bones. Plus, half of women over 50 are likely to have an osteoporosis-related fracture.
A daily intake of 1,200 mg of calcium and 800-1,000 units of vitamin D will decrease the risk of osteoporosis, says Dr. Mittal.
These nutrients can be found in fortified milk and orange juice. In addition, lacking vitamin B12 could cause balance and numbness issues and lead to falls, so take a supplement, if needed.
5. Hormone Regulation
Women feel and see the effects of hormones varying from acne to mood swings to hot flashes, just to name a few. There is a smorgasbord of treatments for these conditions and each case is unique. As always, consult with your doctor before beginning treatments.
Dr. Mittal says 95 percent of women achieve menopause between 45 and 55 years. It is associated with a risk of osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disturbances, among other symptoms. In order to reduce menopause symptoms, hormone replacement therapy may be considered in select patients, says Dr. Mittal.
Women are susceptible to thyroid disorders with age, as well as shortly after pregnancy. Thyroid medications may be needed, following an appropriate screening, says Dr. Arvind.
Some believe eating raw foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds), especially organically-grown options, helps with hormone balance. The lack of toxins helps the body’s natural process.
To have prime defenses against the development of these diseases, women should maintain a healthy weight and fuel their bodies with nutrients, a healthful diet and exercising. Managing chronic conditions is very important, as some can easily lead to more serious disease. Finally, be sure to schedule routine screenings to catch any illnesses in their earliest forms.
-By Lauren Silver