There are many health issues women face that can be unique to them or have a higher risk of suffering from than men would. Health issues including menopause, thyroid problems, and gynecological problems are some of the most prominent issues on Womens health.
Menopause is a natural biological process that occurs in women and signifies the end of their reproductive period. It is defined as the absence of menstruation for 12 consecutive months, usually occurring around the age of 51. The process of menopause is influenced by several hormonal changes, including the levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Estrogen is a hormone that is produced by the cells surrounding the eggs in the ovaries and is responsible for maintaining parts of the body such as the endometrium, cervix, breast ducts, and bones. As women approach menopause, the number of eggs decreases, leading to a drop in estrogen levels by up to 90%. Progesterone is responsible for mucus levels in the cervix, acidity levels in the vagina, milk cells in the breasts, and can also make you moody. As women approach menopause, the levels of progesterone decrease, affecting the body in several ways. Testosterone is produced by the ovaries and other parts of the body, playing a crucial role in women’s sexual desire, emotional wellbeing, and bone and muscle strength. The levels of testosterone decrease gradually with age, with some women experiencing a fall of up to half between the ages of 20 and 40 years.
Postmenopause is the period after menopause, during which the body adjusts to lower hormone levels, and women may experience fewer menopausal symptoms. However, changes due to aging and lower levels of estrogen can increase the risk of developing certain health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women globally, accounting for 35% of deaths among women. Women before menopause have a lower risk of heart disease than men, but as women age and their estrogen levels fall, their risk of cardiovascular disease increases. After menopause, risk factors for heart disease increase, including high blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and blood fats, such as triglycerides. Women can reduce the risk of heart disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weakened, leading to an increased risk of fractures. About half of all women over 60 years of age will have at least one fracture due to osteoporosis. Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80% are women. Worldwide, osteoporosis is estimated to affect 200 million women – approximately one-tenth of women aged 60, one-fifth of women aged 70, two-fifths of women aged 80 and two-thirds of women aged 90. After menopause, lower levels of estrogen affect women’s bone health, putting them at greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Women lose up to 10% of their bone mass in the first five years after menopause, with the rate of bone loss slowing after this period. Women can reduce the risk of osteoporosis by consuming the right amount of calcium per day, getting sufficient vitamin D through sunlight or supplements, doing regular weight-bearing exercise, and avoiding excessive coffee intake.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that plays a vital role in regulating the body’s metabolism and growth. It secretes three hormones – thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and calcitonin – that work together to control how the body uses energy, impacting various functions such as metabolism, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and heart rate. Regular thyroid testing is essential to detect any abnormal levels of these hormones. Thyroid problems can affect women of any age, and the functions of the thyroid gland have a significant impact on a woman’s reproductive system, particularly if the gland is overactive or underactive.
During puberty and menstruation, thyroid disorders can cause abnormal early or late onset of puberty and menstruation. Abnormally high or low levels of thyroid hormone can lead to very light or very heavy menstrual periods, very irregular menstrual periods, or amenorrhea. An overactive or underactive thyroid may also affect ovulation, the release of an egg for fertilization, and cause cyst development in the ovaries.
Thyroid disorders during pregnancy can harm the fetus and may lead to thyroid problems in the mother after birth, such as postpartum thyroiditis. Women with overactive thyroid during pregnancy are at risk of having more severe morning sickness, and a deficiency of thyroid hormone can cause miscarriages, preterm delivery, stillbirth, and postpartum hemorrhage.
The most common thyroid problems come with hypothyroidism, which is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, cold intolerance, weight gain, constipation, hair loss, “brain fog,” skin dryness, nail changes, and menstrual cycle changes. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, can cause unintentional weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and feelings of anxiety.
If a thyroid condition is not adequately treated, it can lead to mood changes and difficulty in getting pregnant. An underactive thyroid gland can increase the risk of heart disease, making the heart beat slower and less efficiently. An overactive thyroid, particularly in the elderly, can increase the risk of a potentially dangerous heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation and increase the risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) and fractures over time.
Breast and cervical cancer
Breast and cervical cancer are two of the most common cancers that affect women. Detecting these cancers early is crucial for maintaining the health and well-being of women worldwide. Unfortunately, low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by these diseases, where screening, prevention, and treatment options are limited or non-existent.
According to the latest global statistics, around half a million women die each year from cervical cancer, and another half a million die from breast cancer. These numbers highlight the urgent need for improved access to screening, prevention, and treatment options in these regions, as well as the need for widespread vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer. Breast cancer is currently the world’s most prevalent cancer, with 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with the disease in the past five years as of the end of 2020. Female gender is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer, and while it is rare, approximately 0.5-1% of breast cancers occur in men. The treatment of breast cancer in men follows the same principles of management as for women.
Breast cancer typically presents as a painless lump or thickening in the breast, making it important for women to seek medical attention without delay when they find an abnormal lump, even if there is no associated pain. Seeking medical attention at the first sign of a potential symptom is crucial for early detection and treatment success. Aside from a breast lump or thickening, other symptoms of breast cancer include changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast, dimpling, redness, pitting, or other alterations in the skin, changes in nipple appearance or skin surrounding the nipple (areola), and abnormal nipple discharge.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects women’s reproductive system. It develops in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. This type of cancer is usually caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). In fact, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection. The good news is that cervical cancer can often be prevented. Attending cervical screening is one of the most effective ways to detect and treat any changes to cells in the cervix before they develop into cancer. Screening involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix to check for abnormalities. If any abnormal cells are found, they can be treated before they turn into cancer.
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of cervical cancer. These include unusual vaginal bleeding, changes in vaginal discharge, pain during sex, and pain in the lower back, between the hip bones, or in the lower tummy. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult a healthcare professional without delay.
There are certain risk factors that can make you more likely to develop cervical cancer. These include being under 45 years of age, having a weakened immune system, being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in the womb, and having had multiple children or children at an early age (under 17 years old).
Cervical screening and HPV vaccination are the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer. All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for regular cervical screening. The screening test aims to find and treat any changes in the cells of the cervix before they turn into cancer. In addition, all children aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. This vaccine helps protect against all cancers caused by HPV, as well as genital warts. It’s important to note that the HPV vaccine is most effective when given before a person becomes sexually active.
If abnormal cells are found during cervical screening, a colposcopy may be recommended. A colposcopy is a simple procedure that allows the doctor to examine the cervix more closely using a microscope. If necessary, a biopsy may be taken to check for cancer cells.
These examples of the most prevalent health concerns impacting women highlight the importance of monitoring your symptoms, testing and screening, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.