Top 7 Health Concerns for Women – and What to Do About Them
Preventive Medicine Expert Offers Tips
When we’re young, most of us don’t worry much about our health. But starting in our late 30s, some health concerns start nagging at us. Or we notice our friends grappling with health problems.
Major health concerns vary by age, says Cleveland Clinic preventive medicine expert Raul Seballos, MD. "For example, women begin to grow concerned about menopause in their 50s and start to worry about osteoporosis in their 60s," he notes. Here are the major health concerns for women, along with tips for prevention:
- Breast cancer. Lower your risks by not smoking, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol use and controlling your weight. In your 20s and 30s, have clinical breast exams every three years, and at age 40, start getting yearly mammograms. You may need earlier, more frequent screening if you have breast cancer in the family or other risk factors.
- Cervical cancer. Get your Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer; Pap smears reduce both cervical cancer incidence and mortality.
- Colon cancer. Start screening at age 50 with annual high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or colonoscopy every 10 years. All three methods are effective in reducing colorectal cancer mortality.
2. Cardiovascular disease/high blood pressure/high cholesterol
If cardiovascular disease runs in your family, or if your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are high, ask your doctor about taking medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol. Your doctor can also advise you on whether you’ll benefit from taking a daily aspirin.
To preserve bone mass, avoid cigarettes, limit your alcohol intake, get adequate calcium and vitamin D, and do weight-bearing exercises such as walking. Risks of bone fragility are greatest after menopause, so supplement your diet with 1200 mg of calcium plus 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D3 starting at age 50. Begin bone-mineral density screenings at age 65, or earlier if you have one or more risk factors (at age 50 if you’ve suffered a bone fracture). Screening every two or three years will detect any bone-thinning, and you can take bone-building medications on a weekly, monthly or annual (intravenous) basis if needed.
4. Menopause treatment options
If lack of sleep, continuous hot flashes or severe mood swings are disrupting your life, consider hormone replacement therapy. Take the lowest dose of hormones you need to relieve symptoms, for the shortest period of time. Avoid ’bioidentical’ hormones from compounding pharmacies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns; they aren’t effective. Your physician will guide you to the right hormone combination and best mode of administration.
5. Weight management as you get older
Eat smaller portions and healthier foods, and exercise more as your metabolism slows down with age. This will help prevent type 2 diabetes, arthritis and other weight-related problems.
Nearly 60 million Americans have pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar), the precursor to type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and loss of limb. Studies now prove that a healthier diet and increased activity can restore normal blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes. It’s critical to control weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, and to quit smoking as well.
Take one baby aspirin daily starting at age 65; it may help to prevent stroke. Meanwhile, call 9-1-1 if you see anyone develop weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg(s); confusion; speech or comprehension problems; vision loss; dizziness; or difficulty with walking, balance or coordination. These are early warning signs of stroke, and immediate treatment can be lifesaving.
For more information, visit Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health.