Women's Health
Basic Information

Women's Health

You don't need medical degree to know that men and women are different. But do these gender differences impact physical and mental health? The answer is a definite yes! One of the most striking differences occurs with life expectancy data.  On average, women will live until they are 81.6 years old, compared to men, who can expect to live approximately 76.9 years. Other differences, though less dramatic, are also important.  Many women are unaware that they can react differently to medication, are more vulnerable to certain diseases, and may experience different symptoms than men with similar conditions.

There are additional health-related differences between the two genders. For instance, women are more likely to visit the doctor than men. This higher health care spending rate by women is the result of more visits for conditions of the reproductive system, such as menopause, cervical cancer screening, and pregnancy.

Women are also more likely to de...

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What medical disorders are the leading causes of death in women?

  • Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. A women's best chance of decreasing her risk for developing heart disease is a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a low fat, high fruit and vegetable diet, and restricting dietary sodium to less than 2.3 gm a day.
  • After heart disease, cancer is the most common cause of death for women in the United States. Cancers women can face include breast, lung, colorectal, cervical, and uterine/endometrial.
  • Much of the focus on decreasing deaths from cancer goes toward ensuring that women have routine screening tests such as mammograms, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and pap smears. In terms of cancer prevention, a women's risk of developing cancer is affected by her lifestyle and dietary choices.

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What reproductive health issues can women face?

  • A number of other reproductive health concerns besides cervical and uterine cancer impact women. These female-specific concerns include: problems with the onset of the menstrual cycle and ongoing hormonal fluctuations; organ-specific conditions such as benign fibroid tumors; and the final hormonal changes that occur with the onset of menopause.
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a condition where physical and emotional symptoms (such as tiredness, food cravings, bloating, sleep changes, body aches, and breast tenderness) develop just prior to the onset of a women's monthly cycle.
  • Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium, or the uterine lining, grows outside of the uterus. Most commonly this growth occurs in the abdominal cavity. Endometriosis occurs in approximately 10% of women.
  • Fibroids are a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the uterine muscle wall that occurs with over-growth of the smooth muscle cells. This type of tumor occurs in 5 to 80% of women.

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What is menopause and how does it affect a woman?

  • A woman enters menopause when she has not experienced a menstrual period for more than a year.
  • The perimenopause time occurs when there is a change in menstrual flow and a lengthening of the time between periods.
  • We know that menopause is affected by a decrease in the hormone estrogen, but we don't know precisely which changes in a woman's body chemistry cause the specific symptoms that accompany menopause.
  • Treatments for menopause syptoms often include herbal remedies and alternative treatments.
  • Historically, physicians recommended hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at the time of menopause because estrogen best controlled hot flashes. An "about face" on the use of HRT at the time of menopause occurred following the release of information from a study called the Women's Health Initiative (which concluded in 2002), which found a possible increased risk of heart attacks and stroke for women using this therapy.
  • Many women experience mood swings during the menopausal transition, but it is unclear if there is an increased rate of depression at the time of menopause. It is also difficult to sort out whether mood changes are actually caused by menopause itself, or by the associated life stressors common in this stage of life such as aging parents, job transitions, children leaving home, and deaths in family or friends.
  • Once a woman begins to experience bone loss she is at risk for developing osteoporosis. Other risk factors include advancing age, low body weight, maternal history of osteoporosis, history of previous fracture(s), and poor calcium or vitamin D consumption.

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What are autoimmune disorders and how do they affect women?

  • Our immune system protects us from diseases. Ideally, antibodies, which are part of the immune system, recognize and destroy infections like bacteria and viruses so we do not get sick.
  • Autoimmune diseases occur when the body misinterprets "self" as "non-self," resulting in the destruction of its own cells.
  • Approximately 5% of the population in Western countries have autoimmune diseases, and of people with autoimmune conditions, 75% are women.
  • The two most common conditions are rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune thyroiditis.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic disease that results in inflammation and swelling of the joints.
  • The thyroid is a gland located in your neck that secretes thyroid hormone and affects many organ systems throughout the body. Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) can cause an overproduction or underproduction of the thyroid hormone.

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What can women do to stay healthy?

  • A woman's health needs change with her age and while we have no control over our genetic makeup, we all know that our health is influenced by diet and lifestyle choices that we can control.
  • No matter what their individual family risk factors are for given diseases, all women can stay healthier longer by not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping alcohol intake to one drink a day, and eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables while low in saturated and trans fats.
  • Women can also help themselves by keeping current on screening tests, which allow doctors to diagnose diseases earlier, which means that that women can obtain quicker treatment and have fewer health complications.
  • Immunizations play another important role in promoting women's health.
  • At routine visits a women and her health care provider can make certain she is current on her preventive care (such as cancer screening and immunizations), evaluate for healthy lifestyle habits, as well as discussing any physical or emotional issues that are impacting her quality of life.
  • For women, the most frequent preventive advice given by physicians is to improve their diet and to increase their frequency of exercising.
  • Medicines can also have a place in preventative health care. Any routine medication should only be used under the advice and consultation with your primary care physician.

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