Health issues that all women should be aware of
While plenty of conditions affect both women and men fairly equally, there are a handful that can be more prevalent in women.
Following on from International Day of Women’s Health (a day commemorated by health advocates to help raise awareness about women’s health matters) we have created a list of some of the physical and mental conditions that are often more prominent in women. From multiple sclerosis to mental health conditions, we look to share some of the symptoms and possible treatments, unique to the female population.
Leading charities such as Cancer Research are at the forefront of educating women about the dangers of cancer, including how to spot the early warning signs. With breast and cervical cancer thought to impact over 55,000 women each year in the UK, it’s important that women of all ages try to schedule regular check-ups to help spot the disease while it’s still in its infancy.
The good news is that most lumps and bumps aren’t cancerous, and, in fact, in a lot of cases, can just be swelling or thickened tissue. Ensuring you regularly self-examine your breasts is crucial, as well as attending mammograms and cervical smear test appointments. However, if you do notice anything untoward, including breast abnormalities (such as lumps or nipple pain), unusual bleeding, pain or discomfort, try seeking medical advice early on to put your mind at ease.
Endometriosis is a condition which can have a significant impact on the daily life of women. Endometriosis is a condition whereby endometrium (the tissue that lines the inside of the womb) is found outside the womb, such as the ovaries and lining of the abdomen. While this isn’t a cancerous condition, endometriosis can cause a whole host of painful symptoms, including heavy periods, abdominal and lower back pain, and more. In some cases, endometriosis can also affect the ability to conceive.
In most cases, whilst there is no cure, the symptoms can be managed with the help of painkillers and hormone medication, while surgery to remove the endometriosis tissue may also be suggested.
Mental health issues
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that, in England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem. This includes being almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Many women can also be susceptible to pre and post-natal depression, conditions that are thought to affect 1 in 10 mothers. It’s widely thought that the biological differences leading to menstruation and childbirth can result in increased body trauma, in turn leading to these psychological changes.
If you feel that you may have become depressed since giving birth or becoming pregnant, seeking medical guidance early on can be a huge help.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that is believed to affect roughly three times as many women as men in the UK. With around 100,000 people in the UK suffering from MS, it can be important for women to be particularly vigilant when recognising symptoms.
A substance called myelin protects the nerve fibres in the central nervous system and this helps transport messages between the brain and the rest of the body. With MS, the body attacks the myelin as it considers it to be a foreign body – this then results in scarring which disturbs the transmission of messages around the body. This can result in issues with your balance, vision, increased tiredness and memory problems, amongst others.
With MS, it can take some time to reach a diagnosis, but if you believe you could have MS, you may be passed on to a neurologist who will most likely suggest an MRI scan. While there is currently no cure for MS, there are some widely accepted treatments that can be used to control the varying degrees of success. The MS Society offers an abundance of online and one-to-one support outlets for both men and women.
Beyond Coeliac, an organisation seeking to improve the understanding of coeliac disease, suggests that women are diagnosed two to three times more often than men. While it isn’t fully understood why this is the case, it’s believed that the average age of diagnosis is from 40 to 60 years old.
Coeliac disease is a digestive condition whereby the sufferer has an adverse reaction to gluten. This is usually caused by foods like pasta, cakes, cereal and wheat, and can bring about an onset of symptoms ranging from bloating, tiredness and diarrhoea to numbness and swelling.
Urinary tract infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are extremely common among women. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all women will experience a UTI at some point in their life.
While most UTIs are mild (causing the need to regularly urinate, as well as pain in the lower abdomen), there are occasions where seeking medical attention can be even more important. For instance, if your symptoms worsen, last longer than a few days or you develop a temperature, a visit to the doctor may be in order. This is also true if you are pregnant.
To treat the UTI it is important to drink plenty of water and take painkillers as necessary (avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, as they can increase the likelihood of developing kidney problems.) In most cases, a steady dose of antibiotics may be enough to prevent the infection from returning.
Whilst there are some types of bacteria that live in the vagina, infections can occur when other bacteria, viruses and fungi are present there. Symptoms can include abnormal discharge, pain when passing urine or having sex, and bleeding outside of your normal period.
A slight imbalance could lead to one of many potential infections, such as thrush, bacterial vaginosis, cystitis and vaginal dryness. With some of these infections carrying similar characteristics, it is important for women to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of each, to ensure the appropriate treatment is being taken.
Check out this great online tool from Canestan that can be used to find out more about specific symptoms. If you’re in any doubt, it’s important to visit your GP or sexual health clinic as treatment will depend on the type of infection you have.
Each year, it’s estimated that 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. In fact, it is the third leading cause of death.
While, in many cases, strokes can arise from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and poor overall fitness, there are several studies that suggest that women may be faced with some unique risk factors. For example, pregnancy is believed to increase blood pressure and place extra strain on the heart, especially if the woman has been/is a smoker. This can also be true of women who experience migraines with aura; also thought to increase the likelihood of strokes.
Visit the National Stroke Association’s website for more information about the early warning signs, where you can also find advice about ways to reduce the chances of experiencing a stroke.
As a woman, you should celebrate your body! Taking care of yourself by receiving regular check-ups, being aware of different symptoms and self-checking can help you stay fit and healthy.
This article was first published on 20th June 2016.