TOPIC: WOMEN's Health: What to Know When
Monday, April 23, 2012
Lee Fentriss, MD: Internal Medicine
news notes via www.webmd.com
Women's Top 5 Health Concerns
Why women are at high risk for these problems but may not know it.
Imagine living without illness to slow you down. While there are no lifetime guarantees, enough scientific research has been done to make long, healthy living a possibility.
In order to make full use of this information, we encourage women to take charge of their health. Women need to work in partnership with their doctors by finding out their family medical history, educating themselves on health issues, and paying attention to their bodies.
Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women. In women, the condition is responsible for about 29% of deaths, reports the CDC. Yet death in itself isn't the biggest problem for women with heart disease. The real trouble is in premature death and disability, says Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network.
"There are far too many women dying of heart disease in their 60s, when no one expects to die because that's too young in this country," says Pearson. "There are (also) women, who, for many years, are really ill with heart disease -- being out of breath, not being able to walk up one flight of stairs … because heart disease impairs their ability to get around." Although more men die of heart disease than women, females tend to be underdiagnosed, often to the point that it's too late to help them once the condition is discovered.
"The symptoms for women are typical for women, and they are often missed by doctors and the patient themselves," Mark explains. "We often think of symptoms … like chest pain. Some people may have that, but others may just have a little bit of jaw pain, shoulder ache, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath."
The American Heart Association lists risk factors for heart disease as:
"The burden of heart disease in women is very great," says Gregory Burke, MD, professor and chairman of the department of public health sciences at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "The earlier folks adapt healthier behaviors, the lower their overall risk for heart disease or stroke outcomes."
Burke says people can reduce their risk of heart disease by modifying lifestyle to include a well-balanced diet and exercise.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women. Experts say the fear of breast cancer can sometimes be exaggerated, stopping women from going to their doctors for screening, or pushing women to make rash decisions about mastectomy, when it may it may not be necessary. Women need to keep their emotions in perspective and to educate themselves about the issues.
The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for breast cancer:
Stephen F. Sener, MD, president of the American Cancer Society, recommends controlling your weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and talking to your doctor about your risk and appropriate screening for breast cancer. He also says to keep risk factors in perspective.
"Just because your mother didn't have breast cancer, it does not mean you are immune to this problem," says Sener. At the same time, it's also important to note that some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer.
Hunched backs, back pain, and frailty used to be things older women had to accept before doctors knew anything more about osteoporosis. Now, there are steps women and girls can take to avoid such problems.
Osteoporosis threatens 44 million Americans, of which 68% are women, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation. "Osteoporosis is largely preventable," says Mark. "The behaviors that women develop in their childhood, in their adolescence, and in their early adult years really play a significant role in the development of the disease."
That's because bodies build up most of bone mass until age 30. Then new bone stops forming and the focus is on maintenance of old bone. It is never too late to keep bones strong and avoid fractures.
"Your body will do what it can to repair bone damage, but you have to provide the tools for it, such as adequate calcium consumption and weight-bearing physical activity.Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
Depression appears to affect more women than men. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 12 million women are affected by a depressive disorder each year compared to about 6 million men. Dorree Lynn, PhD, a psychologist and author of Getting Sane Without Going Crazy, says women need a connection with others in their lives.
"They need that sustenance," says Lynn. "If they don't have it, they tend to get depressed." Sometimes, hormonal changes can also trigger the condition, particularly after pregnancy (postpartum) or around menopause.
Other risk factors for depression include:
To help reduce risk of depression, Lynn recommends finding a reason to get up in the morning. She says things such as work, community, love, pets, and volunteering can be good reasons.
"Statistically, the healthiest adults, both in women and men, are people in significant caring relationships," says Lynn. She says adults not in nurturing relationships can reduce their risk of depression by making efforts to reach out into the community.
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.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), about 75% 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 the fourth-largest cause of disability among American women.
It is not known what causes the body to turn on itself, but genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors are suspects.
"That's such a major area of needed research," says Helentjaris.Since autoimmune diseases are not very well understood, pinpointing specific risk factors is difficult. Symptoms can also be nonspecific, hampering proper diagnosis. However, if you know something is wrong with you or a loved one, it's important to become an active health advocate.
"It's very common for women to make multiple visits to multiple doctors to finally get a diagnosis," she says. "Insist that someone take your symptoms seriously." If you don't feel like your doctor is taking your complaints seriously, Pearson advises finding another doctor that will take the time to investigate your symptoms.
Preventative Health: Nutrition, Exercise, Screening & When to See Your Doctor
Climbing to the Top of the Food Pyramid
If you've seen the new food pyramid, you may wonder why it changed. After all, what was wrong with the old food pyramid? Is everything they told us about healthy nutrition no longer true?
The good news is that experts say the new food guidelines are quite similar to the old guidelines. The graphic changes in the food pyramid are more specific and clearly represent what the guidelines actually say.
Eating by the Rainbow
The changes in the new food pyramid include brightly colored vertical stripes. Each stripe represents one of six food groups:
The food pyramid's stripes are also wider at the bottom and narrower at the top. This conveys the idea that not all foods within that group are of the same value. For instance, chicken and beef might fall within the same group. But chicken and beef have different nutritional values -- and calories.
Don't Be Confused: Give It Time
You may have visited www.mypyramid.gov to review the new food guide pyramid. Perhaps you were overwhelmed by the guidelines. Maybe you felt that making the best food choices was easier said than done.
Give it time! By making a few healthier food choices each week, you can slowly work your way closer to the top of the food pyramid. This means eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meat, and beans. It also means eating less refined grains, whole milk, cheese, hamburgers, and soda. Think baby steps!
The Food Pyramid: Your Take-Away Message
Along with touting the best food choices, the new food pyramid also gives the benefits of exercise -- complete with a figure running up the side over a set of steps. This figure is there to remind us that healthy eating and physical activity are inseparable -- both are necessary for optimal health, disease prevention, and weight management.
Exercise can be working out at the gym, using a pedometer to track the number of steps you walk, or incorporating physical activity throughout your day. For instance, getting off the bus two blocks before your stop, taking the stairs for a few flights, and walking to the store from the farthest parking spot in the lot all constitute exercise. Even routine chores like mopping, vacuuming, gardening, and pulling weeds are easy ways to exercise and be active.
The new food pyramid gives another new message: No single eating plan is right for all people. Not everyone needs the same amount of food. Men, women, and children have different food requirements as do people who are overweight or underweight.
To help figure out which pyramid has your name on it, go to www.mypyramidtracker.gov. At this web site, you can enter your age, weight, gender, and activity level to find out what you need to eat. You can assess your diet and exercise and track your food intake at this site.
Plates a-Plenty: Portion Control
One of the biggest criticisms of the old food pyramid was that while it suggested what to eat, it never really told us how much. And though we can't get into too much trouble in categories like fruits and vegetables, many Americans overindulge in the section labeled "grains."
Because most people didn't know what a whole grain is, they end up eating tons of white bread, white rice, and pasta.
Today's food pyramid guidelines clearly explain that of the 8 ounces of grains needed every day, at least half should be whole grains. Whole grain foods include oatmeal, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and whole-grain cereals.
For example, a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is two servings of grains. A sandwich for lunch made on whole wheat bread adds two more grain servings -- and that may be your total requirement for the day.
Likewise, meeting the requirements of vegetables is equally easy. If you eat a cup of salad at lunch and dinner, that's four servings of vegetables. Add a half cup of another vegetable and you've met the minimum daily requirement.
For breakfast, drink 4 ounces of a whole juice. Grab an apple or orange for an afternoon snack and that meets your fruit requirement for the day.
The goal of the new food pyramid is to help you make intelligent food choices that fit in your busy lifestyle - opting for the most nutrient-dense foods. The food pyramid also reminds each of us to watch our portion sizes and get some exercise and physical activity every day.
Medical Tests for Women in Their 40s
How healthy are you? Your 40s are a great time to assess the current state of your health, correct the abuses of your past, and prepare your body for the next four, five (or six) decades of your life.
Your doctor can help by checking you for problems that can rob you of your health. Here's a list of the basic tests women should ask for. (Note that your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.)
Blood sugar. Decades of eating the wrong food (think chocolate, hot dogs, fries -- you get the picture) plus weight gain (often due to hormone changes) may have overworked your poor pancreas. It can't keep up and that can lead to diabetes. Starting at age 45, be sure to get a fasting blood sugar test, and then at least once every three years.
Breast exam and mammogram. You're probably checking your breasts at home regularly and your doctor does an exam annually, but most experts recommend adding a mammogram to the mix somewhere after age 40 or 50. Not all breast cancer experts agree. When to start? Work with your doctor to decide.
Blood pressure. Don't be surprised if your blood pressure starts rising now -- that's common. Fortunately, you can lower your blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medication. It's worth the effort. Lower blood pressure is a key factor in longevity.
Cholesterol profile. Take heart: this simple blood test can save your life. One in five Americans has high cholesterol, a condition that leads to heart attacks or strokes - diseases that claim a life every 33 seconds! If you have high cholesterol, protect yourself by changing your diet and taking medications such as statins.
Stepping on the scales. You blissfully enjoyed chips and hamburgers while ignoring your expanding waistline, but the scale doesn't lie. Pay attention to the results: being overweight puts you at high risk for developing a number of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
Pelvic Exam and Pap. Yes, you still need these -- especially if you're sexually active. Ten minutes of mild discomfort once every one to three years pays big dividends in protecting you from cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
Looking for moles. Those years of getting "a healthy tan" can lead to something not so healthy -- skin cancer. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. So don't forget to ask your doctor to check your skin for unusual moles or skin changes once a year.
Protecting your eyes. Having trouble reading or working at the computer? It's not unusual. Be sure to get your eyes examined regularly -- every one to two years to check for common problems like presbyopia, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. (Go more often if you have vision problems).
Checking your immunizations. Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus booster shot, and whether you should consider a flu shot.
This year, give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Schedule a visit to your dentist, and call your doctor to see if there are important tests you should take. By investing an hour or so with the doctor now, you y be able to add years to your life.
Tips for a Safe and Healthy Life
Protect yourself and