March is Women’s History Month.
We’ve taken great strides as a country in the journey to gender equality. But when it comes to women’s health, there are so many nuances and issues that aren’t given enough attention and education, many of which because they’re ‘taboo’ to talk about.
To celebrate and empower the women in our communities, we’re breaking the taboo behind common women’s health issues and sharing the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable.
4 women’s health issues we should be talking about
Heart disease might not actually be taboo, but we need to talk about heart disease and women. It’s the number one cause of death for women in the United States.
We’re all familiar with movie scenes in which a male character has a heart attack, clutches their chest, and gasps for air, all with a dramatic flair. But for women, the experience can be quite different.
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, like nausea, dizziness, pain around the belly button, and neck, jaw, or shoulder pain. It’s actually possible for a woman to have a heart attack with no chest pain at all.
Even if women do suffer from the more standard symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness in the arms), they may not recognize their symptoms as a heart attack, and dismiss it as working out too hard, acid reflux, or even the flu.
Prioritize your heart health through regular cardio exercise, eating plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and if you’re a smoker…just stop. You can always schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn more about your risk of developing heart disease. And if you ever suspect you’re having heart attack symptoms, call 911.
Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterine cavity. (The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium.)
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue grows on your ovaries, bowel, and tissues lining your pelvis. The hormonal changes of your menstrual cycle affect the misplaced endometrial tissue, causing the area to become inflamed and painful. This means the tissue will grow, thicken, and break down. Over time, the tissue that has broken down has nowhere to go and becomes trapped in your pelvis, which can cause irritation, severe pain during menstruation, scarring, and fertility issues.
Common signs and symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Pelvic pain and cramping may begin before and extend several days into a menstrual period. You may also have lower back and abdominal pain.
- Pain with intercourse. Pain during or after sex is common with endometriosis.
- Pain with bowel movements or urination. You’re most likely to experience these symptoms during a menstrual period.
- Excessive bleeding. You may experience occasional heavy menstrual periods or bleeding between periods (intermenstrual bleeding).
- Infertility. Sometimes, endometriosis is first diagnosed in those seeking treatment for infertility.
- Other signs and symptoms. You may experience fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, bloating or nausea, especially during menstrual periods.
Endometriosis may affect more than 11% of American women between 15 and 44. Chances are you know someone who has or has had it. The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, some rarely noticing it, and some feeling totally immobilized by it.
While there is no cure, there are options for pain and symptom management. If you suspect you may have endometriosis, schedule a visit with your doctor to begin the process of accurate diagnosis and eventually create a plan based on your specific situation.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that affects a woman’s hormone levels.
Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal amounts of male hormones. This hormone imbalance causes their body to skip menstrual periods and makes it harder for them to get pregnant.
PCOS also causes hair growth on the face and body, and baldness.
Many women who have PCOS aren’t even aware that they do — one study showed that 70% of women with PCOS had never been diagnosed.
The most common PCOS symptoms are:
- Irregular periods. A lack of ovulation prevents the uterine lining from shedding every month. Some women with PCOS get fewer than eight periods a year or none at all.
- Heavy bleeding. The uterine lining builds up for a longer period of time, so the periods you do get can be heavier than normal.
- Hair growth. More than 70 percent of women with this condition grow hair on their face and body — including on their back, belly, and chest.
- Acne. Male hormones can make the skin oilier than usual and cause breakouts on areas like the face, chest, and upper back.
- Weight gain. Up to 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or have obesity.
- Male pattern baldness. Hair on the scalp gets thinner and may fall out.
- Darkening of the skin. Dark patches of skin can form in body creases like those on the neck, in the groin, and under the breasts.
- Headaches. Hormone changes can trigger headaches in some women.
There are quite a few ways to treat PCOS including diet and lifestyle changes, hormonal birth control, Metformin (a type 2 diabetes treatment), and a few other medication options. There is no diagnostic test for PCOS, but your doctor can do pelvic exams, bloodwork, and ultrasounds to see how likely it is you might have it.
If you’ve missed periods (and you’re not pregnant), have been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 months, or have symptoms of diabetes such as excessive thirst or hunger, blurred vision, or unexplained weight loss, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.
If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection is high. Some experts rank your lifetime risk of getting one as high as 50%, with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years.
UTIs are incredibly common and treatable with an antibiotic, but they can be incredibly uncomfortable and even downright painful. Common symptoms include:
- A burning feeling when you pee
- A frequent or intense urge to pee, even though little comes out when you do
- Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling pee
- Feeling tired or shaky
- Fever or chills (a sign that the infection may have reached your kidneys)
- Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
If you’re experiencing symptoms, you’ll want to get started on an antibiotic immediately. With telemedicine, you can have a consultation with a provider without leaving your home.
There are also a lot of ways you can prevent UTIs:
- Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you’ll urinate more frequently — allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
- Drink cranberry juice. Although studies are not conclusive that cranberry juice prevents UTIs, it is likely not harmful.
- Wipe from front to back. Doing so after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse. Also, drink a full glass of water to help flush bacteria.
- Avoid potentially irritating feminine products. Using deodorant sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in the genital area can irritate the urethra.
- Change your birth control method. Diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can all contribute to bacterial growth.
There. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Women’s health is human health, and we need to have these conversations to keep our communities as informed and healthy as possible.
Whether it’s Women’s History Month or not, we’re here for you all year. If you’re concerned about any of these health issues or are ready for an annual check-up, schedule a visit now!