What are the main health issues for women?
According to Forbes, women’s health issues and disease risks change markedly every 10 years or so. The magazine quotes Dr Gigi El-Bayoumi, associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center in the U.S as saying: "When women of all ages think about their health, they tend to focus on breast cancer, and increasingly, heart disease. While those are valid and important concerns, you don't want to overlook the bigger picture or forgo crucial screenings that can detect problems early, when they're easiest to treat."
Here is the breakdown of women’s top health concerns, by decade, and their diagnosis and treatment options:
The biggest female health concern for women in their 20s is sexually transmitted diseases. According to data, more than half of the new cases of STDs that occur each year are in 19- to 24-year-olds, as younger women tend to have more sexual partners, increasing their odds of transmission. Women in their 20s are also at a heightened risk for eating disorders. This includes anorexia and bulimia, as well as binge eating and disordered eating such as orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with ‘healthy’ food.
Fertility tends to top the list of women's health issues when they are in their 30s. Educated professional women tend to put off childbearing for longer, but fertility begins to decline slightly in your early 30s, and more significantly with each passing year. It's also the time in which women who battle their weight may develop pre-diabetes – a dangerous condition of above-normal blood glucose levels that puts them on the cusp of developing diabetes.
Women in their 40s are at an increased risk of depression, and although experts aren't sure why, hormonal changes due to perimenopause (the start of menopause, which most women enter in their late 40s) may play a role. Women in their 40s are also often juggling both children and aging parents, and that stress can be taxing. Hormones are also why women in their 40s may find it easier to put on weight and harder to take it off. Your metabolism slows down as you age, and as your body produces less oestrogen, that also appears to negatively affect weight.
Breast cancer is still relatively rare for women in their 40s – affecting about one in every 68 women – but because treatment is most successful when the disease is caught early, screening should start now. The same applies to heart disease, as more women are developing heart disease at a younger age.
Your 50s and beyond
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and most women who develop it will begin to experience symptoms during or after their 50s. Oestrogen appears to have a cardio-protective effect, and as oestrogen levels decline, heart risks increase.
Many doctors also wait to do bone density screening until women are in their 60s, but some prefer a proactive approach. This is because if some bone loss is detected, dietary intervention like calcium supplements and increased weight-bearing exercise may help.
The risk of almost all cancers increases with age, but breast and colon cancer remain the biggest concerns (along with lung cancer, which disproportionately affects women who've smoked). By their mid-50s, most women will have gone through menopause – the period that marks the end of menstruation – and related issues like hot flushes will eventually resolve themselves, although menopause can mean permanent changes in weight, vaginal dryness and loss of libido for some women.
Women’s 8 biggest health problems and how to treat them
1. Heart disease
Heart disease is the overall leading overall killer of both men and women. In women, the condition is responsible for 3,000 deaths in New Zealand each year. Although more men die of heart disease than women, females tend to be under-diagnosed, sometimes to the point that it's too late to help them once the condition is discovered.
Obesity, stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and inactivity increase the risk of heart disease. Left untreated, heart disease can lead to heart attack and stroke.
What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease?
Common signs and symptoms include chest pain, jaw pain, shoulder ache, nausea, vomiting or shortness of breath.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
The tests needed to diagnose heart disease depend on what condition your doctor thinks you might have. No matter what type of heart disease you have, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask about your personal and family medical history before doing any tests.
Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease can include an electrocardiogram (ECG), holter monitoring, an echocardiogram, a stress test, a cardiac catheterisation, a cardiac computerised tomography (CT) scan or a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
How is heart disease treated?
Heart disease treatments vary by condition. In general, treatment for heart disease usually includes:
- Lifestyle changes.These include eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
- If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to control your heart disease. The type of medication will depend on the type of heart disease.
- Medical procedures or surgery. If medications aren't enough, it's possible your doctor will recommend specific procedures or surgery. The type of procedure will depend on the type of heart disease and the extent of the damage to your heart.
2. Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and it is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women. One in nine New Zealand women will develop breast cancer at some stage of their lives. Research suggests that while doctors are getting better at treating the disease, incidence rates are on the rise, largely due to lifestyle factors. Today, women are getting married later, having children later and are more overweight, stressed out and generally more inactive than previous generations.
The causes of breast cancer are not known. However, the main risk factors for developing breast cancer are: Being a woman over 40, having a family history of breast cancer, having had breast cancer previously, having had a biopsy showing an ‘at risk’ breast lump or thickening and having a faulty gene, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
The first sign of breast cancer is often a new lump in the breast. Other signs include a new area of thickened tissue in the breast, nipple discharge or a change in the nipple, dimpling or puckering of the skin of the breast or a change in breast size or shape.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
If an abnormal lump is found, or other symptoms are present, a referral to a breast specialist for assessment and diagnosis will probably be recommended. In order for an accurate diagnosis to be made the three-step approach of clinical examination, imaging (mammography and ultrasound scanning) and biopsy will be required.
How is breast cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the type of breast cancer, its size and position, whether it has spread, the woman's age and general health, and the woman's preference. In general, some type of surgery is recommended followed by additional treatments.
- Surgical treatments include a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy) or a mastectomy. In most cases, the breast cancer tumour can be removed without having to remove the entire breast. The area of the cancer is removed along with a ‘margin’ of healthy surrounding tissue, to ensure that all the breast cancer is removed. A mastectomy involves removing the entire breast and all the breast tissue from just below the collarbone to the upper abdomen.
- Non-surgical treatments are commonly given after surgical removal of a breast cancer. These include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy.
3. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. It affects as many as 1 in every 10 women of childbearing age and it is the leading cause of infertility due to the presence of high levels of androgens (male hormones).
This androgen overload is caused by an imbalance in insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Excess insulin bombards the ovaries, causing them to produce too much testosterone and develop cysts. Around half of all women with PCOS end up with prediabetes or diabetes.
What are the signs and symptoms of PCOS?
Besides irregular periods, or none at all, you may notice more hair on your face, chest, back, and limbs. Also typical is acne, baldness, and rapid, substantial weight gain (more than 4-5kg a year) that seems impossible to control.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
No single test does the job. Instead, the doctor needs to know your symptoms. Then he or she will check your reproductive organs for signs of masses or growths using a pelvic or vaginal ultrasound and physical exam. Blood tests are used to measure levels of glucose and several hormones; they also can exclude abnormalities, like hypothyroidism, that mimic PCOS.
How is PCOS treated?
There's currently no cure, so treatment is designed to manage the symptoms and prevent infertility, diabetes, or heart disease. Birth control pills help regulate menstrual cycles, lower androgen levels, reduce hair growth and clear up acne. Metformin, which controls blood glucose and lowers testosterone production, can help you lose weight.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterised by a decrease in the density of bone and an increase in fragility. It leads to abnormally porous bone that is compressible, like a sponge. This disorder weakens the bone and results in frequent fractures (breaks) in the bones.
A number of factors can increase the likelihood that you'll develop osteoporosis — including your gender, age, race, family history, lifestyle choices and medical conditions and treatments.
What are the signs and symptoms of osteoporosis?
There are usually no symptoms of osteoporosis until a bone breaks. For this reason, it is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’. Fractures of the wrist, hip, spine, pelvis and upper arm are most common in osteoporosis. The fractures can be very painful and can lead to disability and loss of independence.
Over time there may be a gradual loss in height due to weakened and compressed vertebrae in the spine. Spinal fractures or crumbling of affected vertebral bones can lead to a Dowager’s Hump or Widow’s Hump. This results in an increasingly bent-over posture and may cause back pain.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
A full medical history, including signs, symptoms and family history will be taken. If osteoporosis is suspected, a specialised x-ray to measure bone density is usually recommended. Bone density testing is usually done using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).
How is osteoporosis treated?
The goal of treating osteoporosis is to prevent bone fractures by reducing bone loss or, preferably, by increasing bone density and strength. Although early detection and timely treatment of osteoporosis can decrease the risk of future fractures, none of the available treatments for osteoporosis are complete cures. In other words, it is difficult to completely rebuild bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis.
The following are osteoporosis treatment and prevention measures for optimal health of the bone:
- Lifestyle changes, including stopping smoking, curtailing excessive alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and consuming a balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D.
- Medications that stop bone loss and increase bone strength, and medications that increase bone formation.
5. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
Nobody knows what causes the extreme fatigue common to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but studies point to dormant viral infections, hormonal imbalance, and stress. At least 20,000 people in New Zealand are believed to have CFS, which affects more people than breast cancer or multiple sclerosis.
Women, especially in their 40s and 50s, are four times as likely as men to have it. "It may have something to do with hormonal changes and menopause," says integrative medicine expert Dr Erika Schwartz, who treats women with hormonal disorders.
The fatigue usually worsens with physical or mental activity and doesn't improve with rest, so people with CFS often function at a substantially lower level than they did before getting sick. Tasks like getting ready for the day or cleaning a room, which usually require an hour, may take several hours, if not days. Loss of memory or concentration and unexplained muscle pain are common, too.
How is CFS diagnosed?
There's no test, so before arriving at a diagnosis, a doctor will rule out other diseases or conditions that may cause similar symptoms, such as mononucleosis, Lyme disease, thyroid problems, or depression.
How is CFS treated?
A 2006 study found that psychostimulants like Ritalin lessen fatigue and improve concentration in some people, but the treatment is experimental in this context. A doctor may suggest moderate daily activity and exercise to boost stamina, as well as more rest and efforts to reduce stress, alcohol and caffeine.
Other common female health issues
6. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) attacks the linings of the joints (called synovium) via the immune system, causing swelling, aching, and potential deformity in hands, wrists, hips, knees, and feet. There are about 40,000 sufferers of RA in New Zealand and women are three times more likely to be affected than men. Symptoms most often appear between the ages of 25 and 50. RA can make even the simplest activities – such as opening jars, climbing stairs, putting on clothes – difficult and painful. Women typically find that RA goes into remission while they're pregnant, but it can return after giving birth.
This disease affects women about 50 percent more than men, largely because of hormonal changes (for example, postpartum depression that develops post-pregnancy), or lifestyle factors (feeling disconnected from loved ones, a family history of the disease, or substance abuse). It also can be triggered by a stressful life event, a history of childhood abuse, or neglect.
8. Autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks the body and destroys or alters tissues. There are more than 80 serious chronic illnesses in this category, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women. By themselves, each disease appears to be uncommon -- except for diabetes, thyroid disease, and lupus -- but as a group, the disorders make up a significant cause of disability among women.
Since autoimmune diseases are not very well understood, pinpointing specific risk factors is difficult. Symptoms can also be nonspecific, hampering proper diagnosis.
How Herbal Ignite for Women helps support women’s health
Herbal Ignite for Women is an over-the-counter dietary supplement taken daily with food to support pre-menstrual tension and menopause and to restore hormone levels to a healthy balance. It also helps reduce stress levels and increase libido.
Herbal Ignite for Women contains four key ingredients:
- Damiana is the key fatigue and stress fighter in Herbal Ignite for Women. Known as the ‘ultimate feel-good herb’ for women, it combats fatigue, relaxes the body, reduces stress and anxiety, lifts mood and enhances sexual response. It also helps balance female hormone levels, control hot flushes and is especially renowned for its libido enhancing qualities.
- Dong Quai is known as ‘the women’s herb’ or ‘female ginseng’ because it is recognised in traditional Asian medicine as an excellent all-purpose women’s herb. It is used to calm nerves, relieve anxiety and mood swings, aid in the treatment of various skin conditions, promote youthfulness, reduce stress and is also considered effective in treating cancer. It also helps restore hormonal balance, improve menstrual regularity and relieves PMS and hot flushes.
- Tribulus Terrestris is a general tonic that supports sex drive, ovulation and reproductive health. It also balances hormone levels, boosts vitality and sense of wellbeing.
- Horny Goat Weed has been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac to increase libido, improve sexual response and function and create a feeling of wellbeing during menopause. It has been used since ancient times to promote physical and mental energy. It stimulates libido by enhancing sexual response and orgasm, relieves symptoms associated with PMS and menopause, balances hormones, relieves stress and aids in the treatment of osteoporosis.
Horny Goat Weed contains a flavonoid called Icariin that assists to increase nitric oxide levels relaxing genital muscles, promoting orgasms. It also influences the stress hormone cortisol to help relieve stress.
Herbal Ignite has been used successfully by thousands of women in New Zealand and Australia to help beat stress and fatigue, boost libido and sexual satisfaction. It is 100% natural and free of unpleasant side effects. It is made in New Zealand to the highest standards, with thorough testing and guarantees of no adulteration or undeclared ingredients.
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Disclaimer. This information is provided for general informational purposes only and does not substitute for the advice provided by your medical professional. Always seek specific medical advice for treatment appropriate to you. Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.