Women across the world manage different roles at home and work. Though research shows that the human mind is quite bad at multitasking, women often have to work hard and long to strike some sort of balance between the roles.
But in all of this juggling, they often forget to consider one of the most important things – their own health.
Then again, due to lack of information, a lot of women don’t even know what to look for and how to care of their health. Sure, a healthy diet and lifestyle could help you keep disease-free but you need to understand that there are several unique aspects to women’s health that you need to take care of.
For starters, did you know that women don’t always have the same symptoms as men in medical situations like heart attacks?
This International Women’s Day, although celebrated yesterday March 8, we are covering different topics that touch upon women’s health. In this very article, we are listing some of the things that women should know about their health.
Know the common diseases that affect women
Women are biologically different than men and, therefore, may suffer some health conditions that men are not at risk for. These include problems related to menstruation and reproductive health such as irregular periods, amenorrhea (absence of periods), PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome), uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and menopause.
Conditions related to pregnancy such as gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, thyroid problems, and miscarriage also affect women.
Women are also more prone to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, systemic sclerosis and lupus. And women become more prone to breast cancer and osteoporosis (bone degeneration) as they age.
Certain health conditions also show up differently in women and men. For example, a woman would experience fatigue, nausea and vomiting and shortness of breath when she is having a heart attack. This is different from the telltale sign of a heart attack in men – chest pressure – that most of us know of. As a result, the condition mostly goes unnoticed in women and may cause trouble later.
Similarly, not all STDs show prominent signs in women and women are more likely to suffer more side effects from medicines than men. This is because, historically, clinical trials for new drugs have had more male participants than women!
Regular workout is anyway good for health. It keeps you fit and helps prevent diseases. However, for women, the importance of exercise holds much more importance – in that, it can help you keep osteoporosis (a disease characterized by weakening of bones) at bay.
Experts say that regular workout can help improve muscle mass and reduce the rate of bone loss. Bone mass starts decreasing sometime in the 30s so if you start working out in your 20s, you can improve your bone strength and mass.
Even if you are already in your 30s, you can begin working out now, it is never too late. However, if you have health conditions like diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor before you start exercising regularly.
Lifting weights, dancing, jogging, hiking and swimming are some of the exercises you can try.
Get regular health checkups
Ask any doctor and they will tell you that regular health check-ups are necessary even if you are otherwise in good health. This is because these check-ups help them look for disease conditions that you may get in certain phases of life, especially if you have a family history of the condition.
Breast cancer risk (we discussed that earlier), for example, goes up if someone in your family has it. Similarly, the risk of heart diseases and diabetes goes up. So, if you don’t know your family history, make sure to ask your parents or someone in your family about it.
That said, here are certain tests that you should get done:
Pap smear: Every woman should get a pap smear, starting from the age of 21. You need to get this test done every three years – however, if your test comes back negative for the HPV virus, you can wait five years before getting the next one.
A pap smear looks for the presence of human papillomavirus infection – the cause of cervical cancer in women.
Mammography: Mammography looks for the presence of breast cancer and is generally not recommended until the age of 40. However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, it is best to start getting this test done sometime before the age at which the said member got diagnosed with breast cancer.
Test cholesterol, BP and blood sugar levels: Have your cholesterol levels checked every five years if you are between 20 years and 45 years old. All women aged 18-39 should get their blood sugar and blood pressure checked frequently.
Eyes and teeth check-ups: Do not forget your twice a year dental and eye exams.
Don’t ignore depression
Women are more prone to depression and anxiety than men due to various biological and social factors. However, not many people (both men and women) understand the difference between sadness and depression. Clinical depression is real and it can happen to anybody.
Talk to your doctor if you notice the following signs in yourself or a loved one – irritability, a general loss of interest, hopelessness, weight loss, persistent fatigue, digestive issues and general aches in the body, suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances and an inability to focus.
And then women have specific types of depression, like PMS, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), postpartum depression and perimenopausal depression.
It is important to note that not everyone has the same signs of depression. So make sure you communicate all your symptoms clearly to your doctor. This will help them make the correct diagnosis so they can treat you well. Depression is usually treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medications.
Take charge when it comes to your sexual health
Lack of attention to sexual health comprises all aspects of your reproductive life including, sex, pregnancy, STIs, and satisfying relationships. Some women find it difficult to express themselves when it comes to sexual health.
However, you should understand that open communication is all that it takes to sort out most issues. You can just tell your partner that you feel shy or uneasy talking about sexual health and see where it goes from there. As you build confidence, it will get easier to talk about things like STIs, safe sex practices, and your emotional and physical intimacy needs.
Value your own opinions, build a positive body image and chose partners that treat you well. If you don’t already, know more about contraceptives and birth control, especially if you are not looking to get pregnant. Generally, condoms can prevent both STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
Know your nutritional needs
It is generally believed that men need more calories than women. However, calories have nothing to do with gender. Your calorie needs depend on your body weight and height. So, women who are taller and weigh more need more calories.
Women do need certain minerals more than men – iron and calcium for example. With age, women lose more bone mass than men, due to changes in hormone levels. So, they are often asked to take calcium supplements, especially after the age of 30.
However, a calcium supplement won’t help you much if you are deficient in vitamin D, and most experts suggest that you take your daily recommended calcium from diet and food. This is where your routine check-ups would come in handy.
Your health reports will help your doctor recommend supplements for you even before you notice any signs of a mineral or vitamin deficiency or ill-health.
Additionally, all women who menstruate lose some amount of iron every month. It is always a good idea for women to replenish this through iron-rich foods like meat, chicken liver, pumpkin seeds and spinach.