Women are complex individuals. In addition to bearing children, caring for families, having successful careers, competing in sports, and the thousands of other activities women do, their health concerns are complex as well.
May 12-18 is National Women’s Health Week, and every year millions of women start or continue the journey to improved health. The week was designed to remind ladies to build healthy habits for life and make their own health a priority.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women’s Health leads National Women’s Health Week to encourage all women to be as healthy as possible. While women, like men and children, can have many health concerns, we took a look at the most common health conditions women should watch out for, how to stay healthy at any age, and how to live the most vibrant life possible.
Top Health Risks for Women
Heart disease remains the leading killer of both men and women, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease leads to one in every four female deaths. The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain or pressure in the chest, but women can also have a heart attack without chest pain. Women are more likely than men to have other symptoms like neck, jaw, shoulder, and upper back pain; pain in one or both arms; unusual fatigue; nausea or vomiting; shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or dizziness.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, claiming lives second only to lung cancer. Breast cancer screenings are the best ways to catch breast cancer in its early stages, and the American Cancer Society also urges women to perform monthly breast inspections on themselves as well.
More than 44 million Americans – 68% of which are women – are at risk for osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Luckily, osteoporosis, or bone loss, can be preventable. Getting enough calcium in your diet and engaging in weight-bearing exercises like weightlifting or yoga can help keep your bones healthy and strong. Hormones and age put many women at risk, so be sure to talk to your doctor about your risk factors and how to control those risks.
Gynecological and Pregnancy Health
Women can suffer from unusual gynecological symptoms that could indicate issues like sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, or infections. A yearly pelvic exam is recommended for all women ages 20 and older, and for young women at menstruation age if a doctor recommends it.
Pregnancy can also make pre-existing conditions like depression, asthma, or diabetes more challenging and can also result in other conditions like preeclampsia (high blood pressure), anemia, postpartum depression, and gestational diabetes.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, depression is more common among women than men thanks to biological, hormonal, and social factors that are unique to women. For instance, pregnancy, the postpartum period, perimenopause, and the menstrual cycle can cause depression symptoms in women beyond the usual factors. Medication, therapy, and hormone replacement can help ease symptoms.
Medications Common for Women
Women are also prescribed medications differently from their male counterparts, due mostly to their unique female makeup. The Mayo Clinic says research shows that women and older people are prescribed more medications than men are but are less likely than men to take their medication as prescribed.
Some of the most common prescriptions given to women include antidepressants, statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs, beta-blockers and ACE Inhibitors for high blood pressure, hormonal birth control, pain medications, and asthma medications.
According to research conducted by Medco Health Solutions Inc. (now acquired by Express Scripts), and the Society for Women's Health Research, women are not prescribed drug treatments as effectively men are, especially for the treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Women are also at higher risk of overdose and should only take prescription medicine as directed by a health care provider. More than 7,000 women died from overdoses of prescription opioids in 2016.
How to Stay Healthy at Any Age
Whether you’re 8 or 98, adopting robust habits is the key to staying healthy at any age. Eating healthy and staying physically active is important for all people, as is paying attention to your mental health, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.
A healthy lifestyle also means adopting safe behaviors such as not smoking, protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases, and avoiding drug and alcohol addictions. Distracted driving is becoming another leading health issue for women; the CDC says approximately nine people are killed every day in the U.S. and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.
For women, in particular, regular well-woman checkups, preventative screenings such as mammograms, and staying up to date on vaccines and hormonal changes are other ways to make sure your body remains strong and hearty.
Some examples of recommended preventive screenings for women include:
Screenings are one of the most important things women can do in protecting their breasts and lives. Early detection can greatly improve the successes in treating breast cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women begin having mammograms or other breast screenings every year starting at age 45, but high-risk women may want to speak to their primary care providers about how often they should be screened.
A Pap smear is a test that looks for changes in cervical cells, which could indicate conditions that may lead to cancer. Women should plan to have their first pap smear by age 21. Though some experts say women ages 21 to 65 can have a Pap smear every three to five years, some doctors still suggest yearly pelvic exams and Pap smears. Even better, insurance usually covers annual well-woman screenings and tests.
Women ages 20 and older should have their cholesterol tested at least every five years to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. A simple blood test checks the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Depending on your family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, colorectal cancer screening tests usually begin at age 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer or who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease may need to be tested earlier and more often.
Bone Density Test
A bone density test is recommended for women age 65 and older. This test measures the density of your bones to track your risk of developing osteoporosis. Most health experts agree that screenings should begin after menopause for women with an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Women should have a full skin exam every three years from age 20 to 40 and then yearly after 40. A skin exam checks for moles that are large, oddly shaped, or have a change in color or size in order to check for the possibility of skin cancer. Melanoma is one of the most lethal forms of skin cancer, and the Melanoma Research Alliance predicts over 7,000 U.S. citizens will die of melanoma in 2019; 2,500 of those will be women.
Women are unique, and women’s health concerns are unique as well. If you have any concerns or issues about your health, don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor. No matter what preventative medications or prescriptions your doctor recommends, your Community Cares Rx Prescription Discount Card can get you up to 70% off generics and 20% of brand name medications. Download your free card today and start saving on medications for your entire family.