When the topic of women’s health care is raised, the first disease that comes to mind is probably breast cancer. But surprisingly, that’s not the number one health care issue confronting women today. In fact, heart disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined. By knowing the most significant risks in women’s health care and what you can do to combat these health care issues, women of all ages can take a proactive approach to leading healthier lives.
The #1 Women’s Health Care Issue:
More than 489,000 American women lose their lives each year as a result of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. In fact, more women than men die from heart disease each year. Until recently, little research focused on women and heart disease, but the good news is that’s no longer the case. From research into the effects of hormone replacement therapy on heart health to studies of how cholesterol-lowering medications work in women, there’s an unprecedented increase in the amount of information available to women working to live with and ward off heart disease.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic offer simple common sense advice to women (and men) in the fight against heart disease: don’t smoke, eat a diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes a week, and maintain a healthy weight.
In addition, they encourage women to see their family doctor each year for a physical which includes blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. Studies indicate that there is a 46% increase in stroke risk for women for each 7.5 mm HG increase in their diastolic blood pressure, so monitoring blood pressure and controlling hypertension are vital.
Women who suffer migraines, are pregnant, have atrial fibrillation and those with the auto-immune disease Lupus also appear to run a greater stroke risk. Diabetes is another women’s health care issue with a direct impact on heart health. The American Heart Association notes women with diabetes have a two to six times greater risk of heart disease and heart attack and are at a significantly greater risk of suffering a stroke. All of these risk factors make an annual visit with your doctor one of the best ways women can manage and improve the health of their hearts.
The Second Deadliest Health Care Issue Women Face
While breast cancer is often at the top of the list of health care issues for women, several other types of cancers also pose a significant threat to women’s health. In this country, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime according to current data which means that a little more than 2 million women are currently living with breast cancer in the U.S. But melanoma, a form of skin cancer, actually kills more young women than any other cancer according to statistics provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation. In fact, melanoma is the most common form of cancer in women between the ages of 25 and 29 and its incidence has tripled in women under 40 in the last thirty years.
Ovarian cancer is another women’s health care concern. Usually symptomless until it is widespread, this disease is the fourth most frequent cause of death for American women. The American Cancer Society estimates 26,000 new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, there are few definitive screening tests that detect this disease, but experts advise a thorough annual gynecological exam and for women to be alert to pelvic pain and pressure, low back discomfort, mild nausea, and an increase in constipation or gas. A serum CA-125 blood test can detect certain forms of ovarian cancer, but the test is not accurate enough to be used as a routine screening tool.
The rate of women suffering from cervical cancer has dropped a great deal over the years, thanks in part to the increase in the number of women who get an annual Pap smear which can indicate the presence of abnormal cells on the cervix. It’s a strong argument for making sure you never skip your Pap smear. Women who have had Human Papillomaviruses (HPVs), herpes simplex virus, those with suppressed immune systems, and those who have had multiple sexual partners run a greater risk of cervical cancer. On the prevention front, a recent trial of a vaccine against cervical cancer was 100% effective in the short term at blocking the disease.
A Growing Health Care Issue for Women
In the field of women’s health care, psychological problems, which include eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders, affect millions of American women. From coping skills to medications to alternative and complementary medical approaches, there is a growing body of knowledge being brought to bear on this important health care issue.
More than 19 million people in the United States, the greatest percentage being women, live with anxiety disorders that disrupt their lives. The different types of disorders within this group include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. Treatment options include talk therapy and a wide range of medications that can quell the symptoms of the condition. Many women also combine alternative approaches to treatment such as acupuncture, meditation, and diet modification with traditional forms of treatment.
According to the American Psychological Association, women are almost twice as likely to suffer from major depression as men. In fact, some experts in the field have called depression the most significant mental health risk for women, especially those in their childbearing and rearing years. Studies have found that married women and mothers are especially vulnerable to depression. It’s important for a woman who feels she may be suffering from depression to be carefully evaluated by a physician because the source of the depressive symptoms could be birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or thyroid disease. Treatment for depression, like most other psychological conditions, includes talk therapy and medications. Some women also find relief in alternative medicine with herbal supplements, meditation, and other complementary techniques.
Though many of the women who struggle with eating disorders are in their teens and twenties, these conditions also affect women at other stages in their lives. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are the most well-known forms of eating disorders. Statistics show that one out of every one hundred girls between the ages of 10 and 20 is anorexic, 4% of college-aged women are bulimic, and 1% of women are binge eaters. The root causes of these diseases include stress at home and at school or work, depression and anxiety, major life changes like a divorce or death, and physical and sexual abuse. Breaking out of the cycle of eating disorders requires a combined approach to this health care issue including psychological treatment, nutrition counseling, and in some cases, hospitalization.
A Holistic Approach to Women’s Health Care
As women become more proactive about their health, many seek a holistic approach to improving their well-being and fighting disease. But coordinating information among several health care providers, keeping on top of the latest breakthroughs in health, and finding the United States’ best doctors is a daunting task for any women.
Some are turning to private professional health care advocates, like those available at PinnacleCare, to help them achieve their goal of a whole-woman centered approach to health care issues. From compiling and electronically storing comprehensive medical records to researching treatment options and providing accelerated access to the United States’ top doctors, PinnacleCare’s health advocates make a holistic approach to health care possible.
“I passionately believe that what our PinnacleCare Members experience is the way healthcare ought to be delivered,” explains John Hutchins, PinnacleCare’s Managing Director. “The healthcare system has gotten so complex that most people are at a loss to find their way through it without professional guidance and objective counsel.”
by Carolyn O’Keefe