Women's Health Issues that You Need to Know | Living Healthy List

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Introduction

Maybe I should begin by saying what this section is not intended to be.  This section is not intended to be expert medical advice such as that given by a doctor or other health professional.  Instead, this section is a general introduction to several specific topics that deepen your understanding of health and wellness as it relates to women’s health.  Some health issues truly require a physician.  However, many health issues are more general and chronic.  Many of these can be ameliorated by improving your overall health and wellness.  That’s where our experts might help.  Either way, a better understanding of these issues (the goal of this section) is important to healthy living.  Women’s health is a broad topic covering physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.  I have chosen just a few here.

There are many barriers to understanding women’s health.  First, the terminology used can sound like a foreign language and is often confusing (cancer, malignancy, lump or tumor can be the same thing).  Second, there are gaping holes in what experts know about some of the most common health problems faced by women. In some instances, the research is just lacking.  Third, in many instances, non-medical women have a greater interest and understanding of some of these issues.  That’s where our experts can help.  Finally, probably the biggest barrier is the current status of the internet—it’s just too hard to sift through all of the ads and the hype to get to really helpful information.  Overcoming the barrier of information overload on the internet is the core goal of Living Healthy List.

Talking about women’s health issues can be both scary and embarrassing.  From an early age, many of us were taught not to talk about things related to our emotions and our bodies.  However, if we keep silent, we cannot tap into our collective knowledge as women,  We hope that Living Healthy List will provide a sense of community and provide connections that will allow you to live a healthier life.  So let’s get started!

Heart Disease

Women are a high risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disease and many of us are completely unaware.  Women are more cognizant of other health issues like depression, osteoporosis and of course disease the physical and emotional effects of menopause but our understanding of them is remarkably limited.

In this section, we’ll touch on the symptoms, causes, and help answer some of the basic questions.  Our goal is to educate and encourage you to be your own advocate so you can take charge of your health. It’s your life, your health and you alone are responsible.

Learn about your family’s medical history, educate yourself on the health issues that affect women and pay attention to your body.    Find a licensed medical professional whom you trust and partner with them for your optimal health.

Despite the rise in awareness from campaigns like Go Red for Women only about half of the women polled in a recent CDC study realize that heart disease is the #1 killer of women; 1 in every 4 deaths.  We tend to think of heart disease as a man’s disease but statistically, heart disease affects men and women almost equally.

There are a number of factors involved in heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking. Genetics can also play a role however our lifestyle could be the biggest influence on whether we get heart disease in the first place.  High levels of stress, an insufficient amount of sleep, and diabetes are having an impact on heart disease.

The terms heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably however there is a difference. Heart disease is a general term for any disease of the heart including blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis); arrhythmias and genetic heart defects.  Cardiovascular disease is more specific and refers to conditions where there are blockages in the arteries (blood vessels) that supply oxygenated blood (to and from your heart and throughout your body.  Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

Causes of heart disease

Smoking: People believe that smoking only affects their lungs but in reality, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including your heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs.

High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension. When your heart is working under increasing pressure it is s susceptible to heart failure, thickening of the heart muscle, coronary artery disease that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Diabetes/Obesity: If you have diabetes you are more likely to develop heart disease and at greater risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are risk factors for heart disease. However, here we are focusing on Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose).  The high blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances that you will develop heart disease.

Obesity causes increased levels of fatty acids and inflammation, leading to insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes.

High cholesterol:  Your liver makes the cholesterol, a fat-like substance, that your body needs for certain functions like new cells, vitamin D and hormone production.    When levels get too high, the fatty deposits (called plaque) can build up in the blood vessel walls; a condition known as atherosclerosis.   Over time the plaque hardens and narrows your arteries limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of your body and can cause a stroke or heart attack.

It’s not unheard of for women to learn that they have cardiovascular disease when they are in the hospital having a heart attack.  For men, the classic symptom is chest pain however the symptoms are often very different for men than they are women.

Symptoms Women May Experience:

What You Can do to Lower Your Risk

 

Breast Cancer

No one is ever prepared to hear the words you have cancer especially when you think you’re living a healthy lifestyle.  The fact is that is the United States 1-3 women will get some form of cancer in their lifetime.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women though statistically, your chance of getting breast cancer is relatively low, 13% or 1 out of eight women.  The exact cause for someone to get breast cancer may be unclear but obesity, heavy alcohol use, and family history are strong risk factors. Like many cancers, the risk does increase with age.  Additionally, women who have inherited mutations in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a high risk of developing breast.

Awareness, education, and prevention are your best protection.

It seems we all know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and some of them are younger than you would expect.  There is an increase in the number of breast cancer diagnoses which is believed to be because the cancer is found earlier through screening and increased awareness.

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases caused when the DNA in breast cells mutate or change in the body and spread out of control. In general, most breast cancer originates in the lining of the milk ducts and can spread to nodes and to other organs.

For most women, it’s not uncommon at some point in their lifetime to find a breast lump.  Technically referred to as a tumor it’s important to understand that not all tumors are cancerous and Most breast lumps – 80% of those biopsied are non-cancerous. Although most breast lumps are non-threatening it is important to have each one checked by your health care provider.

Breast cancer symptoms

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump, mass, change in the feel or position of the breast. Other symptoms include:

There are other factors Other than may increase a woman’s risk for developing breast cancer.  Several of them are associated with lifestyle, which means you can make changes to reduce your risk. Other factors include:

Other Female Cancers

Most women are aware of the risks of breast cancer but may not be cognizant of other gynecological cancers that affect may affect us. The risks for these cancers may be lower but that doesn’t mean that they don’t occur. We’ve included l information to read through and you on these areas of

 

Osteoporosis

The simple fact that you are a woman puts you are risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means porous bone, is a disease in which the density and quality are diminished essentially weakening your bones and allowing them to easily break conversation

Eighty percent of those affected by osteoporosis are women which makes it one of the leading health concerns. The numbers are alarming!  One out of two, that’s every other woman over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Why is osteoporosis so prevalent in women?  In general, women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men do.

Estrogen is essential to female bone health because it promotes the activity of osteoblasts, the cells that produce bone.  Estrogen decreases sharply when we reach menopause. The fact that menopause begins to affect most women between the ages of 45-55 is also a good indicator.

Other factors include age, alcohol, certain prescriptions, genetics, lack of exercise, low body mass, smoking, and the use of steroids.

Good lifestyle habits can help you protect your bones and decrease your chance of getting osteoporosis. Eating Real Food is always the best choice for overall health and recent studies show that foods like olive oil, soybeans, blueberries, and those rich in omega-3s, like fish oil and flaxseed oil may also have bone boosting benefits.  Additionally, foods that are rich in calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients that are equally as important and offer overall health benefits making them excellent choices to add to your diet.

5 things you can do build healthy bones
  1. Eat your veggies:  A diet high in vegetables has been shown to help create healthy bones. Veggies provide a variety of vitamins and minerals that are good for your overall health, too!
  2. Resistance training: Exercises using light weights and weight-bearing exercises that force you to work against gravity like walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, are beneficial for increasing muscle mass.
  3. Eat adequate protein
    50% of bone is made of protein so eating an adequate amount is crucial for avoiding osteoporosis. Eating too little or much protein is problematic so in this case, you are looking for levels at that is “just right”. Low protein intake can decrease calcium absorption and too much may leach calcium from your bones to offset any increase in acidity. Calculate the amount that’s right for you. 
  1. Eat calcium-rich foods: calcium in the most abundant mineral in your bones so it goes without saying that it is essential to get the 1000 mg recommended daily intake (RDI), 1200 mg for women over 50.
  2. Get your Vitamin D & K: Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. However, it is estimated that 42% of the US population is vitamin D deficient. If you are unable to get a sufficient amount with sun exposure and food high in vitamin D supplementation may be beneficial.  Vitamin K supports bone health by modifying the protein osteocalcin, which aids in bone formation by enables it to bind to minerals in bones and helps prevent the loss of calcium.

Typically, osteoporosis is asymptomatic in the early stages of bone loss. Once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis you may experience:

Early detection is your best protection. Using and an X-ray or ultrasound diagnostic your health care provider can measure bone density. With this knowledge together with your medical professional, you can create a healthcare plan that works for you include dietary supplements, healthy lifestyle choices, or prescription medication.

 

Peri-menopause & Menopause

The change, that time of life, whatever you call it the biological process of menopause is a time of anxiety and distress!  Not to mention confusing and downright frustrating!

Saying adieu to your monthly cycle is only a part of menopause, a journey that may take place over many years.

With so many myths and misconceptions about menopause, it is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

Great strides have been made to understand and support pregnant women however menopausal women feel as if we’ve been left in the dust or are no longer relevant. Too often we are told that the slew of symptoms we’re experiencing is nature taking its course and we should just accept them.

Nonsense!  Although common, the symptoms of hormone imbalances during perimenopause through menopause are most definitely not “normal” (they call them imbalances for a reason!) and it is unnecessary to accept their unpleasantness and give up without a fight!

The confusion around menopause is exacerbated by the fact that the years prior to the actual event of menopause is fraught with fluctuating and declining hormone level as your ovaries gradually release less estrogen.

Perimenopause can last for 2-10 years but for some unlucky ladies up to as many 15 years.  It typically begins in your 40’s but can start as early as your mid to late thirties.

 

Common Symptoms of Perimenopause

 

  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Brain fog
  • Bone loss
  • Changing cholesterol levels
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Hot Flashes
  • Irregular periods
  • Insomnia
  • Lower sex drive/libido
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Thinning hair/hair loss
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urine leak when coughing/sneezing
  • Vaginal dryness/discomfort during sex
  • Weight gain
  • Worsening PMS

Your doctor may make a diagnosis of Perimenopause based on your symptoms. Hormone blood tests are available but often inconclusive due to fluctuating hormones. For accurate results the DUTCH Test is the most complete test that offers an extensive profile of sex, adrenal hormones, and melatonin, along with their metabolites, to identify hormonal imbalances.

The type of professional we seek care from could affect the guidance we’re given. Symptoms vary so much that even your primary care physician or gynecologist may be confused and unable to give you good advice.  They may be good in their respective areas however if they do not specialize in menopause, they are incapable of giving you good advice.  It’s just not their area of expertise.

We highly recommend that you find a provider who you trust and feel comfortable with to discuss a plan for preventive health care and any medical concerns you have.  Here is a great resource to help you find a menopause specialist in your location.

NOTE: If experiencing any of these symptoms see your licensed medical professional as they could also indicate other health issues.  See the section below on Autoimmune disease.

 So, what is menopause anyway?

Menopause is literally one day in your life. It’s the twelve-month anniversary of the day your menses stopped which means that your ovaries have completely stopped releasing eggs.  The average age of menopause is 51 years give or take a few.

Menopause is a very personal experience, unique to every woman, and is more than just a medical condition.  According to WebMD, there are 34 different symptoms associated with menopause.  No wonder it’s making us a little crazy.

Brain fog, memory lapse, stress, insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, and night sweats are the result of fluctuating hormone levels.  Why do hormones can cause such dramatic changes in our bodies?  Estrogen plays a role in almost every major part of the body; our heart, skin, hair, bones, breasts, and brain are all influenced by estrogen to some degree.

In addition to Estrogen, progesterone, all the hormones actually, impact not only our reproductive system but other parts of our body, too.  The dip in our hormone levels often results in emotional symptoms that may trigger anxiety or feelings of sadness and loss as well as anger and frustration.  Often misunderstood and underdiagnosed, migraines can be another debilitating symptom of menopause. Frequently improperly treated learn about what you need to know about migraines and menopause.

 Additional Symptoms (Do these look familiar?)

With over 37.5 million women going through menopause, the fact is that most of us will experience symptoms (peri-menopause -the end of menopause) for half of our lives.  Life expectancy for women is 80 years old and perimenopause typically starts when we are in our 40’s. Any way you do the math that’s way too long to deal with menopausal symptoms wreaking havoc on our bodies, clouding our minds, and disrupting our lives!

It is possible to feel comfortable and confident in your body while going through menopause!  Connect with our menopause specialist here. On Menopause.org you’ll find a free informative learning module on that teaches about Sexual Health and menopause,  I recommend you read it here.  Furthermore, you will find a Menopause Handbook that you can purchase for $10 on their website.

5 Things you can start today to ease menopausal symptoms

  1. Eat Real Food
  2. Maintain a healthy weight
  3. Exercise regularly 
  4. Keep your bones strong
  5. Get your sleep
  6. Supplementation

Decreased Libido

The physical effects of falling estrogen levels including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness can undermine your sexual desire and drive. Vaginal dryness can cause sex to be uncomfortable and even painful can undermine sexual motivation and drive, aka libido.  If that weren’t enough the age-related decrease in testosterone, although not directly related to menopause, plays a role in women’s sex drive and sexual sensation may reduce desire in midlife women, ie menopausal woman.  Lucky us!

Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause can also affect your mental health, which in turn, may cause a decrease in libido. See the section below on depression and anxiety.  Find tips to increase your libido here.

There are steps you can take steps at any age and any stage to keep menopause symptoms from taking over and negatively affecting your life.  Healthy lifestyle changes including diet and exercise can improve your overall health, alleviate symptoms and health of your hormones.

Managing Symptoms

Many women choose to try HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) to alleviate their symptoms. Although proven effective in relieving symptoms it may not be the best choice for a woman who has a personal or family history of female cancers.  See the section above on Breast and other female cancers.

There are many holistic methods to address the symptoms of hormone imbalances during these years. Many include lifestyle choices regarding diet, exercise, and stress reduction, as well as the use of certain supplements.

Complementary and alternative remedies (CAM) for menopausal symptoms are more acceptable and for many women the best option.

Generally, there are not many well-conducted studies or conclusive research that prove whether alternative medicine is effective in reducing menopausal symptoms.  There are, however, generations worth of personal stories and testimonials.

 

Types of Alternatives Types of Alternative Providers
  • Chinese Medicine
  • Naturopaths
  • Holistic
  • Integrative
  • Functional medicine
  • Menopause Health Coaching

A final note on managing menopausal symptoms.  It could literally be in your head. Your attitude toward menopause can have a huge impact on your experience.  Negative thoughts and beliefs about menopause can predict that you will have a more difficult time.  On the flip side the more you embrace the transition and stay positive the easier it is to make good health decisions that can alleviate symptoms.  “If you think of menopause as an ending your experience will be quite different then someone who considers it a new beginning in her life. Having a positive outlook goes a long way in helping to reduce the unpleasant symptoms associated with this stage of life,” Lorraine Miano, author of “The Magic of Menopause.”  For additional reading on menopause click here.

Key Words: Perimenopause, Menopause, Menopausal symptoms, Hot flashes, managing menopause, DUTCH test, HRT, Sexuality, Female sexual dysfunction, Estrogen deprivation, Testosterone depletion

 

Autoimmune Diseases

Let’s be honest.  We are busy.  Too busy.  We have careers, kids, spouses, households, pets, and probably aging parents that all vie for our energy and attention.  So, give us a break if we feel tired, cranky, and achy, right?   Has it ever occurred to you that these seemingly ordinary ailments could be the signs of something more serious?    They could be signs of an underlying autoimmune disease.

A properly functioning immune system protects us from infection, keeps us healthy, and guards us against things that can make us sick like bacteria and viruses.  Our skin and mucous, are effective natural barriers and the first line of protection against foreign  (unfamiliar) intruder cells. Once these cells get inside the body your immune system sends out the army of cells to defend against them.

Autoimmune disease happens when the body’s natural defense, your immune system, can’t tell the difference between your own cells and foreign cells, and mistakes part of your body, like your joints or skin and produces antibodies that instead of fighting infections mistakenly attack normal cells.

Autoimmune disease affects almost every organ system including the nervous, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems.  As if that isn’t frightening enough autoimmune disease also affects the eyes, blood vessels, skin, and other connective tissues.

More than 23.5 million some researchers believe up to 50 million Americans are affecting by Autoimmune Diseases so they are more common than you might think. Seventy-five percent (75%) of them are women which makes a general understanding of autoimmune disease a vital part of advocating for your health.

Some autoimmune diseases are rare, while others, such as Hashimoto’s disease, affect many people.  Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ. For example, Type 1 diabetes damages the pancreas. Other diseases, like systemic lupus, affects the entire body.

For women, autoimmune disease falls into the top 10 leading causes of death and disability.

The 5 Most Common Autoimmune Diseases
  1. Rheumatoid arthritis: a form of arthritis that attacks the joints
  2. Psoriasis: a condition marked by thick, scaly patches of skin
  3. Psoriatic arthritis: a type of arthritis affecting some people with psoriasis
  4. Lupus: damages areas of the body that include joints, skin, and organs
  5. Thyroid diseases: including Graves’ disease, where the body makes too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where it doesn’t make enough (hypothyroidism) of the hormone.

Statistics on Thyroid Diseases

Despite the varying types of autoimmune disease, many of them share similar symptoms. Common symptoms of autoimmune disease include:

With some autoimmune diseases the symptoms many come and go, they can be mild at times and other severe.

Diagnosis of Autoimmune Disease

The diagnosis of autoimmune disease is difficult because there is no single test.  With more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases that affect various parts of the body, it’s nearly impossible. Additionally, there are many symptoms that could be attributed to other issues so a number of different types of tests are necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.

Adding to the challenge of diagnosis is the fact that researchers don’t know exactly what causes autoimmune diseases. Genetics, diet, infections, and exposure to chemicals may all be involved but the evidence is inconclusive.

Your best defense against autoimmune disease is early detection.  If you have been healthy and develop one of these symptoms or if you begin to notice new symptoms seek the advice of a licensed medical professional.

SIDE NOTE:  A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract so many people suffer may benefit from adopting healthy lifestyle changes.

 

Depression and Anxiety

As women, we deal with hormonal fluctuations for most of our lives.  Remember, your teen years? Yep, waves of oscillating hormones.  Then there are the baby blues and postpartum depression.  Just as we get out of that stage and feel like we’re coasting along pretty steadily WHAM! Perimenopause hits us and we’re again on a roller coaster of fluxing hormones and emotions.

Transitioning into menopause (perimenopause) is a confusing and turbulent time for most women. Our fluctuating hormones can cause us to experience all sorts of new emotions and symptoms.  Hello, hot flashes!  The changes we are going through may also affect the chemicals in our brain, which influence our mood.

It is not uncommon that occasionally we feel emotional, anxious and even a bit depressed.  However, feeling depressed and depression are not the same.  When estrogen levels drop hot flashes and night sweats are not far behind.  When night sweats disturb your sleep night after night you are left tired and the lack of sleep can lead to anxiety and mood swings.

Sadness or grief in response to difficult life experiences; loss of a loved one, change of job, empty nest, are natural and sometimes we describe ourselves as being “depressed.  Being sad is not the same as having depression.

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. It inhibits your ability to experience normal moods and live your life.

Mood disorders are biological illnesses believed to be caused by changes in brain chemistry and sometimes depression is inherited genetically.  Depression often presents itself when a woman is in her 20’s often followed by a wave of postpartum depression.  It is thought that women who experience depression in their younger years may be more prone to depression during menopause.

Symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe and can include:

Feeling sad or having a depressed mood

Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed

Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting

Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

Loss of energy or increased fatigue

Increase in purposeless physical activity

Feeling worthless or guilty

Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

Thoughts of death or suicide

 

While menopause can cause a wave of emotions, however, severe ongoing panic, anxiety, and depression is NOT normal.  Consult your licensed medical professional.

Managing Depression and Anxiety

Doctors believe that following a healthy lifestyle is the first step in preventing mood swings reducing panic attacks.

Regular, gentle exercise can significantly reduce anxiety. Women who are going through perimenopause should pick their favorite form of exercise

 

Alzheimer’s Disease

I’ve got good news! We are living longer today than in past generations. Can you believe that back in 1900 life expectancy was 50 years old!  Today we are expected to live into our 80’s. We have clean water and proper sanitation that even 100 years ago was unavailable and advances in modern medicine have eradicated many diseases.

The bad news is that this longer lifespan does not necessarily equate to a high quality of life. It is said that with old age comes wisdom and for many people that is true.  However, so is arthritis, hearing loss, memory loss, and a decrease in cognitive function.

Forgetting things is a normal part of aging. As we get older changes in our body can be quite obvious.  At the same time out brain is changing, too.  Perhaps you notice that it that you lose your keys or your glasses, you don’t remember information as well as you used or and it takes you longer to learn something new. These are signs of age-related forgetfulness, not serious memory problems, like Alzheimer’s disease which contrary to a common understanding is not a normal part of aging.

 

What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning that disrupts daily life.

Two-thirds of all Alzheimer’s patients are women which were initially thought to be because women live longer than men.  However, research by Lisa Mosconi, MD believes that there is a possible link between Alzheimer’s and menopause.

“During menopause, the decline in estrogen contributes to a decline in brain cellular energy and may cause metabolic changes in the brain.  This loss of estrogen may significantly contribute to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease risk in women.”

There are no definite guidelines and strategies to prevent Alzheimer’s but there is promising research that shows you can reduce your risk with simple but effective lifestyle changes.

Current treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing but they can temporarily slow down the symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s.

Identify your personal risk factors, like genetics, adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle to preserve your cognitive function and maximize brain health. Find the steps that may prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease here.

 

 RESOURCES & REFERENCES

 Resources: Osteoporosis

 

Resources for Heart Disease

 

Resources for Alzheimer’ Disease

 

Resources for Menopause

 

Resources for Autoimmune Disease

 

Resources for Depression & Anxiety