Top Health Concerns for Women
May is recognized as Women’s Health Month – a time to empower women to make their health a priority, and maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle. Though most women don’t relish the thought of getting older, they should be prepared for common health concerns that can inevitably come with age, and issues that are unique to women with their reproductive organs.
Let’s celebrate Women’s Health Month by raising awareness of these common health concerns for women by age group. We encourage women to regularly visit a trusted primary care provider for early detection and treatment of these health concerns.
Health Concerns by Age
Women in their 20s don’t have many age-based health concerns, so using this time to be proactive and establish healthy habits can help lessen the likelihood of serious health problems in the future. Here are a few actions to consider:
- Regular Well Woman Exams: It’s important for all women, if they have not done so already, to establish care with a trusted primary care provider. Women should visit their primary care provider for a standard PAP smear and pelvic exam to screen for any early indications of cervical cancer or HPV every 2-3 years until age 30, according to HealthyWomen.org.
- Sexual Health: As some women become more sexually active in their 20s, health concerns such as STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease can arise and effect their fertility and health in the future, so it is crucial to take preventive measures such as:
- Using condoms during sexual contact.
- Staying up to date with HPV and hepatitis B vaccinations.
- Establish Healthy Habits: Practicing healthy habits when young can lessen health risks as women get older. Here are a few habits we recommend getting into:
- Eat and Drink Healthily: Getting the right nutrients can prevent diabetes, boost serotonin, and promote heart health.
- Get Active: Combining exercise with a nutritious diet helps women in their 20s maintain a healthy weight and prevent future health conditions from arising.
- Get Sufficient Sleep: The National Institute of Health recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep for an adult woman each night. This can prevent short-term health effects like fatigue or depression, and long-term health effects like hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
Women in their 30s and 40s are presented with unique challenges as they go through their potential childbearing years to perimenopause. It is important for women to be aware of these issues and continue to integrate their primary health care and reproductive health care to achieve optimal health and prevent future health concerns.
- Women in their 30s often experience health issues typically either related to, or resulting from, pregnancy and/or childbirth. Beginning at age 30, women should also visit their primary care provider for “co-testing” which consists of a standard PAP smear and screening for high-risk types of HPV. After age 30, women should repeat these screenings every 5 years.
- As women enter their 40s, hormone levels decrease, and their ovaries start to release fewer eggs in preparation for menopause. This can cause irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, infertility, weight gain, trouble sleeping, and vaginal dryness. In turn, women are more vulnerable to other health issues like heart disease, obesity, and chronic pain. This is why it is so important for women to complete age-appropriate health screenings with a trusted primary care provider.
Women ages 50 and older should be aware of their personal risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, followed by cancer. These top health concerns can be caused by lifestyle choices or family health history, so it is vital for women to speak with their primary care provider to assess their risk levels for the following:
- Heart Disease: The decrease in estrogen levels that comes with menopause lessens the flexibility of blood vessels, causing higher blood pressure that thickens a woman’s artery walls and, in turn, her heart health becomes more at risk. Monitoring a woman’s blood pressure and cholesterol can help identify risk levels.
- Breast Cancer: This is the most common type of cancer experienced by women in the United States. Certain factors can increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer such as dense breast tissue or a history of chest wall radiation, but a vast majority of diagnosed women do not have any present risk factors besides their sex and age. The good news is greater than 25% of breast cancer cases are preventable with precautionary measures to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
- Cervical Cancer: Generally caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) if it does not go away on its own, cervical cancer can be detected when a woman visits her primary care provider or gynecologist for a routine PAP smear which usually continues until age 65. If discovered early on, radiation and surgery are treatment options and proactively taking steps towards future prevention is possible.
- Ovarian Cancer: Two thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are older than 55, the contributing factor being that the more ovulations a woman has had, the more her risk potentially increases. While menopause does not directly cause ovarian cancer, women’s chances of developing it do increase with age.
- Osteoporosis: Women are 4 times more likely than men to experience osteoporosis according to the 2017 study Gender Disparities in Osteoporosis. Believe it or not, estrogen also strengthens and protects a woman’s bones, so as they reach menopause their bones become rapidly more frail.
Finding a primary care provider who is trusted, value-based, and takes the time to listen to a woman’s overall health is the most important thing you can do to promote a healthier future. Regular visits and age-appropriate health screenings will allow women to take advantage of preventive care opportunities so that they can enjoy long, happy lives as their healthiest selves!