National Women’s Health Week: Women’s Health 101

By: Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, medical director and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
The Institute
for Women’s Policy Research
grades the overall health of Michigan women as
a “D+”. Though the below-average
score may be surprising, it’s another important reason why females should
schedule regular doctor visits and practice healthy habits every day. National
Women’s Heath Week
, which kicks off every Mother’s Day, empowers women
and girls to make their health a priority through education, awareness and
preventive care. Knowing health numbers (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and Body Mass Index
(BMI) and making time for checkups/screenings is crucial to identifying
the risk for illness. Some of the most prevalent health issues affecting women
in the U.S. include:

Autoimmune Diseases: Of the 50 million
Americans living with autoimmune disease, more than 75
percent
are women. Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100
serious, chronic illnesses including: Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, psoriasis,
rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. These conditions
develop when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks functions or parts of
the body it’s meant to protect.
  • Symptoms vary based on the condition, but may include: achy
    muscles/joints, changes to bathroom patterns (frequent urination or
    constipation), fatigue, fever, painful rashes, swelling or vision loss.

Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is the second
leading cause of cancer death in women, killing one out of every 38 females. Lung,
ovarian, endometrial and colon cancer are unfortunately common as well. A woman
whose immediate family has a history of breast cancer is two
to three
times more likely to develop the disease. Regular screenings with
a primary care doctor are crucial to detect abnormalities early on. Maintaining
a healthy weight and nutrient-dense diet, along with limiting alcohol intake
and avoiding tobacco products, are known to reduce the risk.

  • Symptoms may include, but are not limited to: chest discomfort,
    discharge, swelling or an unfamiliar lump/mass.  

Depression: About one in
eight
women experience symptoms of depression in their lifetime. This
mental health condition is nearly twice
as common in females and often results from loss, pregnancy, childbirth and/or chronic
stress. Thankfully, research shows a healthy diet and regular exercise can
lower the risk of depression and improve mental health overall.

  • Symptoms
    include, but are not limited to:
    changes
    to appetite and sleep patterns, fatigue, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, isolation,
    loss of interest or mood swings.

Heart Disease: As the leading
cause of death for women in the U.S., heart disease is responsible for one out
of every four female deaths. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking
are some of the key risk factors for the disease, which affects nearly half
of Americans. Staying active, eating healthy and managing a healthy weight are
important means of prevention (and treatment) of cardiovascular disease.

  • Symptoms include, but are not
    limited to
    :
    discomfort in the arms or neck, fatigue, leg or ankle
    swelling, loss of feeling/numbness in limbs, persistent congestion/coughing and
    pressure or pain in the chest.

Osteoporosis: Approximately one
in two
women over age 50 will injure or break a bone due to osteoporosis. Unfortunitely,
just being a woman is a primary risk factor for the condition. A diet rich in
calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise and strength training can reduce the
risk. It’s especially important for young girls and teens to build their bone
strength, as puberty and adolescence are a crucial time for bone development
and growth.

  • Symptoms include, but are not
    limited to
    :
    back pain, bone fractures, joint or muscle aches or stooped
    posture.

Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, is a medical
director and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For
more health tips, visit
AHealthierMichigan.org.

A Healthier Michigan

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