As a woman, you are likely the primary "caregiver" in your household. Thus, much of your life may center on tending to the needs of others, such as a spouse, small children or even elderly relatives. As a result, you may find that you need to "make time" to make your own health and well being a priority.
Do your best to make exercise a part of your life, to eat healthy and to maintain a healthy body weight. If you smoke, ask your doctor about techniques that can support your efforts to successfully quit. Limit alcohol consumption. Check your breasts monthly for suspicious lumps and changes. Always use sunscreen. Don't drive anywhere without buckling up.
It is also critical to have a good relationship with your health care provider. National studies have shown that women make more visits to the doctor than do men and are highly interested in and informed about health care issues. However, compared with men, studies have also shown that women may not be as satisfied with the information they receive from their health care providers or the level of communication with their health care providers. Furthermore, several studies have found that health care providers treat women differently than they do men. Compared with the treatment given to men, health care providers may give women less thorough evaluations for similar complaints, minimize their symptoms, provide fewer interventions for the same diagnoses, prescribe some types of medications more often, or provide less explanation in response to questions.5
Here are some tips for making the most of your medical visits.
Be informed. Before visiting the doctor, do your homework. Take advantage of the millions of Web pages of credible health information on the Internet, but be sure the information is from "credible" sources, such as leading medical facilities or government agencies. Take a list of questions with you when see your doctor and take notes during the visit.
Be informative. Make sure to tell your doctor about any unusual symptoms you may be having, even if you don't think there is cause for concern. Be as detailed as possible to describe what it is you have experienced and when.
Be proactive. Make sure you keep up with the preventive screenings and diagnostic tests recommended for women your age. These may include mammography screenings, Pap smears, pelvic exams, stress tests, routine blood work, and colorectal screenings.
These facts about women's health may surprise you and can help you to make informed decisions regarding your health.
Heart Disease and Stroke5:
- Heart disease is the number one killer of American women.
- Although it is typically viewed as a man's disease, more women actually die of heart disease each year than do men.
- On average, women develop heart disease later in life than do men. In addition, women are more likely than are men to have other co-existing, chronic conditions that may mask their symptoms of heart disease.
- Symptoms of a heart attack in women may also differ from those in men, which can lead to a misdiagnosis of the disease in women.
- Women who recover from a heart attack are more likely to have a stroke or to have another heart attack than are men. In fact, 42 percent of women die within a year following a heart attack compared to 24 percent of men.
- Taken together, stroke and heart disease kill nearly twice as many American women as do all types of cancer combined. More than one woman in five in this country has some form of major heart or blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. However, in a 1997 national survey, only 8 percent of American women recognized heart disease and stroke as the leading cause of women's deaths.
- Cancer is the second leading killer of American women.
- Since 1987, lung cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. In recent years, the mortality rate from lung cancer has declined in men but has continued to rise in women. This alarming trend is under-recognized by women, and is due almost exclusively to increased rates of cigarette smoking in women.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cancer killer of American women. With the increased use of mammography screening, breast cancers have increasingly been detected earlier in their development, when they are more treatable. This earlier detection, coupled with improved treatment, has led to a decline in death rates from breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer accounts for the third leading cause of cancer deaths in American women. Many cases are preventable with regular screening; regular exercise; and a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods.
- With the advent of the Pap smear, the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer has improved dramatically. Both the incidence and death rates from this disease have declined by 40 percent since the early 1970s. However, many elderly, low-income, and rural women remain at high risk for this disease because they are not obtaining regular Pap screenings. Other major risk factors include cigarette smoking and infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- The Pap smear and pelvic examination are only partially successful at detecting endometrial (uterine lining) cancer. Although the incidence of ovarian cancer is lower, ovarian cancer is the most deadly of all the cancers of the female reproductive system. Symptoms often appear only in the very advanced stages of the disease.
- Melanoma-the most serious form of skin cancer-is the most frequent cancer in women 25 to 29 years of age and the second most frequent (after breast cancer) in women ages 30 to 34. While men as a group are more likely to develop skin cancer than are women, women under the age of 40 comprise the fastest growing group of skin cancer patients. Furthermore, the rate of new melanoma cases is increasing.