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Published on October 25, 2011

Women’s Health: Become Informed, Be Proactive

Becoming informed, making lifestyle adjustments and being proactive can not only help keep women healthy, but in some instances can also help women to slow down the aging process.

Joseph Grover, M.D., chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at DCMH says, “A healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, regular exercise, maintenance of ideal body weight, adequate sleep, and the avoidance of unhealthy modifiable risk factors like smoking and heavy alcohol intake is good for everyone.”

Here is an overview of some common health concerns for women and simple things they can do to maintain good health.

Breast Health

For many women, the first health issue that comes to mind is breast health. The key to making treatment for breast problems easier and more effective is early detection. The best detection methods include: having regular mammograms (annually beginning at age 40), getting an annual breast exam by a medical professional and conducting breast self-exams each month. “Monthly breast self-exams can be beneficial,” says Rebecca Choitz, CNM, director of Midwifery Services for Crozer-Keystone Health System.

During a self-exam, it is important to check for any new lumps, unusual thickening of the breasts, sticky/bloody discharge from nipples, skin changes, or an unusual increase in breast size. If you suspect a problem, always discuss it with your doctor or midwife.

Cardiovascular Disease

According to the American Heart Association, more than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. Some actions that can help prevent cardiovascular disease include not smoking, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol level, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and eating a low-fat diet. It also is good to be aware of your family’s history of cardiovascular disease.

“Cardiovascular disease is by far the number one cause of death in women, and it is a particular concern for women after menopause. That makes it important to take preventative measures and to undergo appropriate screening for cholesterol, triglycerides, adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Thomas Bader, chair of the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Stress

Since women often play the role of caregiver, life can become stressful due to growing to-do lists and a lack of personal time. Stress may be the body’s way of defending itself, but this act of defense is only needed during emergency situations. If untreated, stress symptoms can lead to other physical issues. “Stress can affect diet, exercise, relationships and work, and can cause many physical symptoms,” Choitz says.

When the body becomes stressed, it is working overtime without a place to store the extra energy being produced. Common symptoms of stress include feeling anxious, afraid, worried or uptight. The level of severity may vary according to the person or situation.

Choitz says that learning relaxation techniques, addressing the sources of stress, identifying support resources or seeking professional counseling can help women who suffer from stress.

Sleep Disorders

In addition to stress, sleep disorders can affect women in various ways. Women are more likely to have daytime sleepiness, issues concentrating, poor performance on the job or at school, and may be more at risk for illness or weight gain. Sleep, a basic human need, is just as important as maintaining good health and a well-balanced diet. However, according to a 1998 study by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), women between the ages of 30 and 60 only sleep about six hours and 40 minutes per day during the week. Grover adds, “Sleep disorders affect a person’s sense of well-being, mood and general brain function.”

Depression

Often masked by other issues, depression can be misdiagnosed. In addition, those who suffer from depression may not take it as seriously as they should. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it difficult for cells to communicate with one another. Some triggers for depression can include: stressful life events, life changes (whether good or bad), some medications, and drug or alcohol abuse, and can even stem from other illnesses. It is important to contact a medical professional to discuss symptoms and work toward an individual treatment plan. Some other tips for depression are: to not isolate yourself, exercise regularly, set small achievable goals, and try not to make any major life decisions while depressed. Talking about your feelings or problems can also help reduce depression.

Menopause

Every woman reaches a point in her life when she must undergo menopause. Menopause is the end to a woman’s menstrual periods and is a normal part of her life. As a woman ages, the ovaries produce less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, that are both regulators of the menstrual cycle. Menopause can occur between ages 40-59, but the average age that a woman stops menstruating is 51.

Talk to your doctor if you experience changes in your monthly cycle, heavy bleeding, any blood spotting between periods or bleeding after sexual intercourse. “Mood changes can become significant in some women,” Grover says. “These are the main symptoms relating to the flux of hormones that are typically experienced by newly menopausal women. These symptoms usually resolve or at least improve by one year after the last period.”

Other common signs of menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinary tract problems, headaches, night sweats, or weight gain.

Crozer-Keystone’s experienced physicians and other caregivers can help women lower their risk and treat these health problems. To find a physician who is right for you, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258).

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