By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Just like every individual person has a variety of circumstances that affect their health from family history to environment, both men and women have various health ailments that can affect them in different ways.
“In our society, women often take on the role of caregivers and managers of the health of their families and subsequently leave their own care last on the priority list,” said physician Faye Justicia-Linde, clinical assistant professor of the department of obstetrics and gynecology for the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Services in Buffalo. “I try to remind patients that their own health is just as important and is what allows them to be effective in all that they hope to accomplish.”
Justicia-Linde talks about five facts that women should know about their health.
1. Routine visits
There are several routine visits that women should pay attention to. A well-woman exam is one of the most important steps that women of all ages can take to protect their health. This is an annual preventive screening of breast and gynecological diseases. During the visit, the doctor will discuss your health and lifestyle behaviors and will perform a physical exam of your breast and pelvis. In addition to regular sexually transmitted disease screenings, women should also focus on pap smears, mammograms, bone density scans and colonoscopies. A common condition among older women, osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps.
“During the time we are taking a patient’s history, we are assessing for risk factors for adverse health outcomes by discussing things like day-to-day activities, menstrual patterns, diet, physical activity, environmental exposures, use of substances, mood status and more,” said Justicia-Linde. “In the exam, the blood pressure measurement, as simple and mundane as it appears on the surface, is one of the most important components of the exam. A regular, thorough, dermatologic exam is very important.”
2. Cardiovascular diseases
Cardiovascular disease are heart conditions that include diseased vessels, structural problems and blood clots. Some examples are coronary heart disease, which damages the heart’s major blood vessel or high blood pressure, which refers to the pressure of blood against your artery walls. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death for women amounting to one in five deaths.
Another factor is that women experience contrasting symptoms to ailments such as heart attacks. Men often describe their chest pain during a heart attack as a crushing weight on the chest.
“Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms when having a heart attack. Rather than crushing chest pain radiating to the left arm and neck, women tend to have nausea or a heartburn-like sensation, weakness and shortness of breath,” said Justicia-Linde. “Anyone with risk factors for cardiac disease such as elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes should get evaluated if they have sudden and new onset of those symptoms. In general, women, especially women of color, often face minimization of symptoms or attribution of symptoms to anxiety or depression without also considering organic illnesses.”
3. Disparity in health
Justicia-Linde believes disparities in maternal health, especially severe maternal morbidity and mortality, have finally come to increased national attention. The postpartum period is also getting additional attention, from recognition that it often is the most risky time for adverse events in connection to breastfeeding for both maternal and child health.
“Every year at the medical school graduation, the new graduates and faculty in attendance recite the physician’s oath. One of the lines of the oath is ‘I will prevent disease whenever I can; for prevention is preferable to cure,’” she added. “Intervention has the best chance of success when implemented before significant problems arise. Regular encounters with a health care provider increase the chance of identifying warning signs and taking steps to prevent the onset or worsening of disease.”
4. Myths and stereotypes
Many times there are myths about certain health ailments that can be dangerous because they penetrate through society and people can decipher the difference between fact and fiction.
“There seems to be a widespread belief that many troublesome symptoms are just to be accepted as the price of being a woman or ‘the price of getting older’ and are downplayed or normalized,” said Justicia-Linde. “For example, irregular, painful or very heavy periods are not normal and can be a sign of an underlying disease. Many things women struggle with and are embarrassed to talk about due to social taboos but it can be treated and improve quality of life is possible.”
5. Understand your body
Medical experts hope that people take more of an active role in recognizing and evaluating their bodies so that early prevention can take place.
“Of all things, I really wish more women would have a better understanding of the anatomy and function of the reproductive system. Without that foundation, red flags are missed while women suffer needless anxiety over normal phenomena,” she said.