Women’s Health Requires Managing Risk Factors
In 1900 a woman’s life span was around 50 years. In 2018 it is approximately 82 years, and life expectancy continues to increase. While numerous factors over the years have contributed to this increase in longevity, research shows a long and healthy life for women in the 21st century is directly related to how much they take charge of their own bodies in partnership with their health-care practitioner — maximizing personal fitness, modifying lifestyles to reduce chances for disability or premature death, and facing medical family trees and risks for certain diseases.
It is true that women without risk factors for a specific disease are not necessarily immune from getting it in their lifetime. It is also true that women with risk factors for a specific disease might not ever get the disease. More important is that risk factors tend to gang together and worsen each other’s effects. In other words, having multiple disease risk factors should be a woman’s wake-up call to reduce factors that can be avoided or reduced, while maintaining a well-balanced diet, optimal weight, physical activity,and a smoke-free environment.
Here are just a few health concerns women should increase their awareness of, and alert others to their symptoms and risks, as well as measures for prevention and management.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women (and men) in the United States, responsible for one in every four deaths. Studies show only 54 percent of women recognize this disease is their No. 1 killer. The need to spread the word is critical.
Women at higher risk for heart disease have a family history of it, and who are African-American, Mexican-American, Native American, Native Hawaiian and Asian-American. Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease, is where plaque builds up in artery walls, resulting in damage that limits the heart’s access to blood. Symptoms for women are not as obvious as for men who are most likely to experience pain in their chests, arms or both. Often silent and sometimes overlooked until a woman experiences full signs of heart failure, arrhythmi, or stroke, heart disease symptoms can also include jaw, neck and throat pain or discomfort; shoulder ache; upper abdomen pain, lightheadedness; cold sweats; fatigue; indigestion; nausea; vomiting; palpitations, and shortness of breath during rest, mental stress or physical activity.
The good news is with guidance and support from their health-care provider, women can take an active role in managing and improving these significant risk factors for heart disease: physical inactivity, high stress, poor diet, smoking, high LDL blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, excessive alcohol and high blood sugar. Controlling blood sugar not only lowers a woman’s risk for heart disease outcomes like strokes, but it also helps prevents prevent diabetes and kidney disease.
Breast and skin cancer are the most common cancers among women. The good news is that both are treatable with regular check-ups, screenings and early intervention.
Breast cancer risk factors for women include their age, family and personal history, race, earlier chest radiation, early onset of menstruation (before age 12), menopause after age 55, not having children, too much alcohol and obesity.
When it comes to skin cancer, the key risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, tanning beds and sun lamps. Other factors include exposure to toxic substances, a weakened immune system, age, family history and having moles, fair skin and blonde or red hair. Because UV damage is cumulative and begins building up in childhood, risk avoidance should start young and focused on wearing clothing not easily penetrated by UV light, including protective items such as hats and sunglasses.
Other outside habits to develop to lessen the risk of skin cancer include staying in the shade during peak hours when UV rays are most intense (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), and applying sunscreen at least every two hours. Remember UVB rays are responsible for producing sunburn. Protecting your skin from the damaging effects of UVA rays is also important. An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation; an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent. The words “broad spectrum” on a sunscreen label assures coverage from UVA rays, which is important, too.
Osteoporosis threatens 44 million Americans, of which 68 percent are women. Women of Caucasian and Asian ethnicity share the greatest risk for getting this disease. Largely preventable, the behaviors that women develop in childhood, adolescence and early adult years play a significant role in the development of osteoporosis, which can include hunched backs, back pain, frailty and fractures of the spine.
Often described as a “silent” disease, many women don’t know they have it until they break a bone. That is why women should talk to their doctor about bone density scans, and possible risk factors including a diet low in calcium and vitamin D, inactive lifestyle, family history, estrogen loss due to menopause, smoking and excessive alcohol.
It is never too late to maintain and keep bones strong — adequate calcium consumption and weight-bearing physical activity are two key components.REQUEST APPOINTMENT