Women: Health Information
Women face unique health issues related to their reproductive system and fluctuating hormone levels. Fortunately, women who maintain a healthy lifestyle can easily take charge of their physical and mental well-being.
Issues Affecting Women’s Health
Unique issues affecting women’s health include menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. And while men and women often develop some of the same health problems, they will likely experience them differently. For example:
- Heart attacks are more likely to be fatal in women compared to men.
- The signs of depression and anxiety are more apparent in women.
- Sexually transmitted diseases can have more serious consequences for women.
- More women than men develop osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
- Urinary tract problems are more likely to affect women.
Diseases that commonly affect women include:
- Heart Disease: Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women. Heart disease in women is thought to be underdiagnosed, and is often not discovered until it is too late. While most people associate chest pain with heart disease and heart attacks, women may experience other symptoms, including jaw pain, shoulder ache, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath. You can reduce your risk of heart disease by eating right, exercising, and maintaining a health weight. It’s also important to drink alcohol only in moderation, and to avoid smoking and tobacco products entirely.
- Breast Cancer: This is the most common cancer affecting women, and is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death. To reduce your risk, take steps to control your weight, exercise regularly, and quit smoking. Also talk to your doctor about your risk and appropriate screening for breast cancer.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis affects 44 million Americans, of which 68% are women. Adequate calcium consumption and weight-bearing physical activity can help prevent the condition.
- Depression: 12 million women are affected by a depressive disorder each year compared to about 6 million men.
- Autoimmune diseases: About 75% of autoimmune diseases, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and Type 1 diabetes, occur in women. As a group, the disorders make up the fourth-largest cause of disability among American women.
- Urinary Tract Infections: UTIs affect more women than men, and are especially prone in women over 60.
- Human-papilloma viruses: HPVs can cause a number of cancers in women, including cervical cancer, anal cancer and throat cancers.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders are far more likely to affect women than men.
- Endometriosis: Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium – tissue normally found inside the uterus – grows in other parts of the body. Women who suffer from the condition experience painful periods, lower back pain, pain during sex and digestive problems. About half will have difficulty getting pregnant.
Recommended Health Screenings for Women
Health screenings recommended for all women include:
- Mammograms: Recently, there has been a great deal of debate over when a woman should begin having regular mammograms. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force mammogram guidelines recommend women begin screening at age 50, while the American Cancer Society recommends women begin screening at age 45. However, both acknowledge that screenings starting at age 40 may make sense for some women. When to start mammograms is a decision you should make with your doctor.
- Pap Smears: Screening for cervical cancer should begin at age 21, and continue every three years until the age of 65.
- HPV: Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should receive an HPV test every five years.
- HIV: Women younger than 65 should be screened for HIV.
- Diabetes: Diabetes screening is recommended for anyone who has high blood pressure.
- Lung Cancer: Screening for women who smoke.
- Osteoporosis: Screening should begin at age 65.
- Colon Cancer: Screening starting at age 50, or sooner if there is family history of the disease.
- Depression: Screening if you are experiencing prolonged sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, or stress, or if you feel little pleasure doing things.
Drugs and Medical Devices That May be Harmful to Women
While the use of certain prescription drugs and medical devices can benefit many people, they may also be associated with serious side effects. Those of particular concern to women include:
- Lipitor: Lipitor may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes in post-menopausal women.
- Power Morcellators: These surgical devices are often used in minimally invasive hysterectomies and myomectomies (fibroid removals). However, data suggests that uterine morcellation might promote the spread of undetected uterine cancer cells, resulting in upstaging of the disease and greatly reducing a woman’s risk of long-term survival.
- Transvaginal Mesh: Vaginal mesh products used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse have been linked to debilitating and life-changing complications.
- SSRI Antidepressants: Some research suggests that SSRIs may increase the risk that a baby will be born with birth defects if they are exposed to SSRIs in the womb.
- Zofran: While many expectant mothers use Zofran to treat morning sickness, some studies suggest pre-natal exposure during the early months of pregnancy may increase the risk for birth defects.
- Essure Birth Control: In 2016, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) added a new Black Box Warning to the Essure label regarding its potential to cause serious complications. However, some patient advocates maintain that the contraceptive coils should be removed from the market.
- Filshie Clips: Widely used in tubal ligations, a number of case reports suggest that Filshie Clips may migrate, resulting in pain and other serious complications.
- NuvaRing: Merck has settled hundreds of NuvaRing lawsuits filed by women who allegedly suffered blood clots and other dangerous cardiovascular complications due to the birth control ring.
- Yaz and Yasmin: The popular birth control pills have been named in thousands of lawsuits over their alleged link to heart attacks, strokes and blood clots. Bayer has agreed to pay billions to resolve the litigation involving these oral contraceptives.
Last Modified: February 14, 2017