Many issues that affect a woman's health are unique to the female gender. What's more, the symptoms of some common health problems are different for women than they are for men. It's important to understand how to recognize signs and symptoms of common health problems related to women and to learn how to address them in order to avoid emergencies.
Women and Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), but many women don't realize when they're having heart troubles and may even mistake symptoms of a heart attack for everyday aches and pains.
Although many people think heart attacks are very painful, they don't always occur with major chest pain, especially in women. This means that symptoms may be more subtle and easier to mistake for other things. In fact, in women, a heart attack often presents as pressure or pain in the upper abdomen (which some mistake for stomach issues), shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, acid reflux, the flu, upper back pain, or extreme fatigue, according to the American Heart Association.
You should be aware of the lesser-known signs of heart issues and seek immediate medical attention for symptoms. Signs may include:
- A sense of pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of your chest that won't go away, or that goes away and returns
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain, that occurs when there has been no exertion
- Sudden onset of acid reflux or nausea
- Sudden onset of flu-like symptoms (i.e. breaking out in a cold sweat, light-headedness)
- Any of the above symptoms in combination, accompanied by chest pain
February 7, 2014, is National Wear Red Day, which is intended to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Heart disease kills more women each year than every form of cancer combined.
How can you help yourself?
- Quit smoking
- Start an exercise program and remain fit
- Change your diet
- Talk to a doctor about your risk factors for heart disease
Female Reproductive Health
Discussing female-only health issues may be embarrassing for some, but it may be the most important conversation of your life. Because gynecological cancers don't often show symptoms until the disease has grown to a life-threatening stage, it's important to overcome your embarrassment and have the tough conversation with your doctor.
Symptoms that should not go ignored are:
- Vaginal discharge that may contain blood
- Bleeding after sex
- Abnormal or excessive bleeding (not related to menstrual periods)
- Heavy menstrual cycle
- Frequent urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Swolling of the leg(s)
- Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
- Constant fatigue
- Persistent nausea
- Belly bloat
- Sudden weight loss or loss of appetite
Do you know what to avoid and what you need to do to ensure good vaginal and reproductive health throughout your life? Here are some tips:
- Don't downplay irregular periods - Unless you have been told by a doctor that you have nothing to worry about, you should have heavy or irregular periods assessed by a professional
- Get checked for any discharge – Discharge is your body's way of trying to eliminate infection, and a yeast infection isn't always the diagnosis. Discharge may be a sign of vaginitis (bacterial vaginosis) or a sexually transmitted disease. Some infections can lead to cancer, but are treatable if caught early.
- Stop powdering 'down there' – Some women who have sweating issues use powder in the genital area to help absorb moisture and odor, but using powder that has talc in it (talcum powder) may increase your risk for ovarian cancer, according to experts.
- Don't wait until symptoms to appear - Pap smears and other vaginal or reproductive health exams can play a major role in catching health issues early, before they cause a problem. Don't put off your regular gynecology exams.
Did you know that all women, regardless of lifestyle, are at risk for gynecological cancers (i.e. cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar)? The CDC points out that each gynecologic cancer is unique, and each will exhibit different signs and symptoms.
Knowing your risk factors, learning to recognize and understand your symptoms, getting good preventative health care and avoiding things that may make health problems worse are key to promoting better health and longer life.