What is women’s health?
Women’s health refers to the branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment and diagnosis of diseases and conditions that affect a women’s physical, mental, psychological and emotional well-being.
The WHO defines health as: “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Health can be promoted by encouraging healthy activities such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep, and by reducing or avoiding unhealthy activities or situations such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices such as whether to engage in a high-risk behaviour, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still, other factors are beyond both individual and group choices.
Women represent the cornerstone of a family’s overall health, ensuring they have access to quality care which can lead to improved health for children and families. At each stage of a woman’s life, there are important preventative health care steps to follow in order to provide early detection of medical problems.
The studies link education with reduced child and maternal deaths, improved child health, and lower choice for pregnancy. Women with at least some formal education are more likely than uneducated women to use contraception (family planning), marry later, have fewer children, and be better informed on the nutritional and other needs of children.
Amazing facts about women’s body
o They have stronger immune systems
o They have better memory. They have better chances of surviving traumatic injuries. Their bodies are designed for remarkable changes during pregnancy.
o Their bodies are structurally made for greater flexibility.
Women’s health is increasingly recognised as a global health priority. The leading causes of death in women aged between 15 and 44 years include infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, maternal health conditions, and injuries.
Major life transitions such as pregnancy, motherhood and menopause can create physical and emotional stresses for women. Negative life experiences – infertility (childlessness), poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment and isolation – also impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing. Gender has implications for health across the course of every person’s life. Gender can influence a person’s experiences of crises and emergency situations, their exposure to diseases and their access to healthcare, water, hygiene and sanitation. Gender inequality disproportionately affects women and girls.
Women’s health involves a variety of gender-specific issues like mental health, sexual health and fertility concerns. Women go through dramatic mental and physical changes as their reproductive systems go through major changes. Women can take charge of their health by eating proper diet, seeking proper medical screenings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Gender equality is fundamental to the achievement of human rights and is an aspiration that benefits all of society, including girls and women. The universal advantages of gender equality have been well- documented, and several international frameworks have affirmed its centrality to human rights and sustainable development.
The reproductive cycle greatly affects many stages of a woman’s life. Estrogen levels directly affect many of the physical changes women experience during adolescence, adulthood and old age.
At the moment of conception, girls immediately begin displaying physiological differences from boys. They express genes in the placenta differently, improving placenta development and pregnancy maintenance. Girls begin developing breasts while they are still in the womb, and they are born with the milk-duct system already in place.
During childhood and adolescence, girls begin to develop identities through repeated interactions, conflicts and disappointments. As young as age six, girls begin developing concerns about their weight. Around the age of eight, the ovaries begin to produce estrogen causing the breasts and areolas to enlarge and buds to appear around the nipple. They also begin to grow pubic hair and hair under their arms.
Life after menopause
Menopause begins in the late forties and early fifties in most women. It officially begins when a woman goes a full year without menstruating. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. As estrogen levels decrease, many tissues in the body – including the breasts – lose hydration and elasticity. Around this time of life, children often leave home, elderly parents begin needing care and marriages are often affected by a partner’s medical issues or changing life goals. All of these factors lead to a high rate of depression and physical fatigue in many women.
As life expectancy increases, the number of post-menopausal diseases also increases. Many women are affected by physical conditions like urinary incontinence losing urine and breast cancer, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) after menopause.
In their elderly years, many women experience the loss of friends and family members. Their physical strength and memory weaken, and many women end up living in solitude in their remaining years, which contributes to mental health issues. The risk of heart diseases also increases in old age.
Common diseases and conditions
Women are affected by many of the same conditions and diseases as men, but the diseases affect them differently and at different times. There are also many gender-specific diseases that only affect women.
High blood pressure causes a variety of health problems. Women usually have a lower risk for high blood pressure than men until age 45, and women have a higher risk for high blood pressure after 65. Additionally, many women with normal blood pressure develop high blood pressure after menopause.
Throughout their entire lives, women are at a higher risk syndrome causing high blood pressure, high sugar levels, abnormal lipid levels and increased waist size. Women with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
Women are also more likely to experience urinary tract infection, especially women older than 60. Urinary infection causes frequent urination and a burning feeling during urination. If untreated, it can spread to the kidneys, causing sepsis. Sepsis is the body’s response to infection which sometimes causes death. Women’s health refers to the branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment and diagnosis of diseases and conditions that affect a woman’s physical and emotional well-being.
Women’s health includes a wide range of specialties and focus areas, such as:
Birth control (family planning) sexually transmitted infections and gynecology.
o Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other female cancers, menopause and hormone therapy, pregnancy and childbirth, sexual health, heart disease, benign conditions affecting the function of the female reproductive organs.
Preventative care and screenings
Preventative care for women include the following services: Regular gynaecological checkups including pelvic and breast examinations.
o Pap smear and HPV testing, bone density testing, breast cancer screening.
o Discussions about colon cancer screening.
o Age-appropriate immunisations, healthy lifestyle risk assessment.
o Hormonal testing for menopause, Immunizations, Screening for STIs.
Breast self-exam instruction may also be included.
Breast care services
o Lymphedema, a condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling
Sexual health services
Sexual health is an important part of your overall well-being. Women’s sexual health services may include: contraceptives, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually-transmitted infection, therapies to help with problems with sexual function
Gynaecology and reproductive health services
Gynecology and reproductive health services may include the diagnosis and treatment of various conditions and diseases, including, abnormal cervical smears test, presence of high-risk HPV, abnormal vaginal bleeding, bacterial infections, heavy menstrual cycles, Irregular menstrual cycles, other vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), pelvic pain, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibroids in the womb, and vaginal yeast infection.
Pregnancy and childbirth services
Regular prenatal care is an important part of every pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth services include:
o Planning and preparing for pregnancy, including information about proper diet, prenatal vitamins, and review of pre-existing medical conditions and medicines used, prenatal care, delivery, and after delivery care, high-risk pregnancy care, breastfeeding and nursing, infertility specialists are an important part of the women’s health services team. Infertility services may include: testing to determine the cause of infertility, blood and imaging tests to monitor ovulation, infertility treatments, and counseling for couples who are dealing with infertility or loss of a baby.
Bladder care services
Women’s health services team can also help diagnose and treat bladder-related conditions. Bladder-related conditions that may affect women can include: bladder emptying disorders, urinary incontinence and overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, and prolapse of the bladder.
If there is a bladder condition, a women’s health specialist may recommend that you do Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor.
The top killer of women, heart disease, is responsible for one-third of all female deaths every year. Women often overlook it because experts once thought it was a “man’s disease”. The results of cardiovascular disease include heart attacks, heart valve problems, strokes and arrhythmias (abnormal beating of the heart).
Women are more likely to experience heart disease 10 years later in life than men, and about 42 percent of women who have a heart attack die within a year. Comparatively, only 24 percent of men die within a year of a heart attack. Heart disease accounts for about 25 percent of all female deaths. An estimated 64 percent of women who die suddenly from heart disease never reported feeling symptoms.
Cancer kills more than a quarter of a million women every year in the US. The types of cancers that affect women most include skin cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
Breast cancer affects about 12 percent of women but the survival rate is high if it’s detected early. It is the second-highest cause of cancerous death among women, accounting for about 40,000 female deaths per year.
HPVs cause a variety of cancers that can be harmful to women.
Cervical cancer – HPV causes almost every kind of cervical cancer in women.
Anal cancer – HPV causes about 95 percent of anal cancers in women.
Oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the throat) – HPV causes about 70 percent of all throat cancers in women. However, vaccines can often prevent the contraction of HPV.
Millions of people have osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to weaken. It affects older women the most, causing their bones to break more easily. The hip, spine and wrists are most susceptible to fractures or breaks in those with osteoporosis.
Millions of men and women are affected by eating disorders but women make up the vast majority of those diagnosed. Females make up an estimated 85 percent of the total number of people with stress. Eating disorders are mental and physical illnesses. Culture, family history, stress and genes contribute to the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
Sexual Health and Fertility Sexual health refers to a state of well-being in which a woman can completely participate and enjoy sexual activity., Physical, psychological, social and interpersonal factors affect sexual health
Recommended screenings for women
Women aged 40 to 49 should ask their doctors about mammograms (breast cancer screenings).
Ages 50-74 should receive a mammogram every two years.
Ages 21-65 should receive a pap smear every three years.
Ages 30-65 should receive an HPV test every five years.
Ages 50-75 should be regularly screened for colorectal cancer.
Younger than 65 should be screened for HIV. All women should be screened for diabetes if they have high blood pressure.
For lung cancer, begin screening if there is a history of smoking tobacco
Health tips for women
Be physically active: This includes walking, gardening and dancing. Try to do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity during most days of the week. Eat a healthy diet: eat a diet balanced in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and avoid foods high in cholesterol, trans fats, saturated fats, salt and added sugars.
Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids and emptying the bladder helps prevent urinary infection. Maintain a healthy weight. Balance calories consumed with calories burned. Take steps to avoid infection. Get tested, and know your partner’s history.
For further information, who website, email to [email protected]. Send messages only to Dr Azadeh on WhatsApp 002207774469 from 3 to 6 pm.
The author Dr Hassan Azadeh MD, is a senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia and is the clinical director at Medicare Health Services.