March is Women’s Month. And what better way to mark it than by celebrating your health.
Here are the top 8 health issues that women should be aware of:
1. Cardiovascular disease
Heart disease is the No.1 killer, whether male or female.
For women younger than 50, there is some protection against this disease due to the presence of estrogen. Above 50, women have the same risk as men in suffering a heart attack, stroke and coronary disease.
Prevention and early recognition is the key.
How to prevent: A diet rich in fiber and with less salt and fat can lessen the risk of cholesterol plaques building up inside the walls of the blood vessels.
Moderate exercise of 30 minutes three times a week may keep the heart strong and healthy.
Beginning at the age of 35, do a yearly blood lipid profile test.
2. Breast cancer
This is the most common type of cancer for women the world over. Breast cancer affects 1 out of 8 women with the highest incidence at ages 45-55 years old.
Risk factors for breast cancer include: age, genes, obesity, alcohol intake, not having children, and prolonged intake of hormones.
Symptoms like a lump, pain or discharge appear late so waiting on these symptoms will lead to more complications.
How to prevent: Do not wait! Have a mammogram every year as soon as you reach 40. Women have a good survival rate during the early stages of breast cancer.
3. Cervical cancer
Among Filipino women, cervical cancer is second most prevalent cancer.
It is caused by the Human Papilloma virus. Because it is a virus like the common cold, it is contagious.
It is a slow-growing tumor with a 10-15 year incubation period from time of exposure to the virus to Stage 1 of the disease.
Like most cancers, there are NO symptoms during the early, treatable stages. Once symptoms appear, the tumor is in its late, inoperable stage.
A pap smear is not a means of preventing this disease. It is only a test in order to catch the cancer at an early, curable stage. As soon as a woman is sexually active, she must have a pap smear every year.
How to prevent: The only way to prevent cervical cancer is through vaccination. Currently, there are two brands in the market. Each brand has a different advantage over the other. Discuss with your doctor which one will suit your specific need.
4. Ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect because it is buried deep in the female pelvis. Many cases are discovered in their final stages because the mass has already grown large enough to be felt on the tummy.
Other symptoms include: bloating, abdominal pain, frequent urination, constipation, loss of appetite or feeling full very quickly.
Unfortunately, this cancer cannot be prevented and the only method of treatment is to remove the tumor by surgery.
How to detect early: A yearly pelvic examination and vaginal ultrasound for women older than 35 years may catch the disease at an early stage.
5. Colon cancer
The colon or the big intestines is that part of the digestive tract that stores the waste materials. It is more common in women who have a high fat intake, presence of polyps in the intestines and a family history of polyps or colon cancer.
The earliest sign of cancer in the large intestines is microscopic blood in the stool.
How to detect early: Women 45 years and above are encouraged to have a stool exam every year. Meanwhile, a positive family history warrants a colonoscopy every 3 years.
This is the most common non-cancerous tumor in women. One out of 5 women is affected by myoma or fibroid.
Not all myomas need surgery. These slow-growing masses very often have no symptoms and many will shrink on their own after menopause.
Criteria for surgery of these benign masses are: profuse or prolonged bleeding, abdominal pain, and masses larger than 5 centimeters.
How to avoid enlargement: A practical way to prevent the enlargement of myomas is to avoid food that stimulate its growth such as soy, legumes, beans and nuts. Eating less animal fat also helps.
It is best to monitor the growth of a myoma by doing a vaginal ultrasound twice a year.
Nearly one-third of women who have diabetes are not aware of it. They usually visit the doctor because of high blood pressure due to damage to the blood vessels from prolonged and uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
Diabetes has a very strong genetic influence.
Symptoms of uncontrolled blood sugar are: frequent urination, unquenchable thirst, weight loss despite a big appetite, weakness, fatigue, numbness or tingling or toes and fingers.
How to prevent: Women with diabetes in their family should control their sugar intake and commit to a regular exercise program. Those over 35 years and with a family history should have a yearly blood sugar test.
Anemia is a disease characterized by low levels of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs and heart into the different organs like the brain, kidney and muscles.
Lack of oxygen in these areas may present as drowsiness, lethargy, headaches, fatigue, palpitations, physical incapacity and even kidney failure.
The World Health Organization has targeted the Philippines as one of the countries with the highest rate of anemia. Almost 40% of all Filipina women suffer from anemia.
How to prevent: Supplementation with iron tablets is cheap and easy. One tablet a day can do the job. But dietary sources are even better. Stock up on green leafy veggies, liver spread, shellfish and red meat.
There are many, many more health issues to discuss but all these diseases send out one unified message: Eat right, do some exercise and see your doctor regularly!
Happy Women’s Month!
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.
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