Back in the day, a woman speaking of her personal health could land her in a mental asylum or subject to bloodletting by leeches. Mothers were hush-hush with their teen daughters about their changing bodies, and older ladies gave nary a whisper about their joint pains. In the centuries long before employee wellness programs and biometric screenings, some diseases were blamed on night air and expressive emotions. And women who pursued an education were warned that intellectual pursuits damaged their reproductive health.
Women across the globe have progressed in moving their health to the forefront of everyday conversations and medical advancements. This betterment is evident in the celebrations of March as Women's History Month in the United States and March 8 as International Women's Day, yet countless females remain in the dark about their ongoing health and fitness. Many go undiagnosed with illnesses for years despite repeatedly seeking help from their physicians.
"Shortfalls still exist in women's health," said Heather Lantry, Owner and General Manager of Right at Home North Shore/Chicago Metro. "It is one of the reasons we stay watchful of the senior women we serve through our at-home caregiving. Older women face increased challenges to staying attentive to their medical conditions. These challenges can be everything from thinning skin to serious breathing problems. It is important for both aging women and men, with the help of their families and caregivers, to stay on the lookout to detect health issues early."
Women are often at high risk for specific diseases, but many do not know it. Lantrynotes a WebMD report on the top five health concerns of women. The list includes heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression and autoimmune diseases. Heart disease is the leading killer of both women and men. In women, it is responsible for roughly 30 percent of deaths in the United States. Autoimmune chronic illnesses include type 1 diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis and thyroid disease.
Lantry suggests the following actions women can take to protect their health as they age:
Understand your own body. Although there are commonalities to stress, pain and illness, every person responds differently to these factors. What makes you energetic or sluggish? What are your optimum hours of sleep? How much exercise is enough without causing muscle fatigue or strain? What foods upset your stomach? If you are in menopause, how is your body adjusting? The more you are a student of your own body, the more you'll be prepared if something seems off-kilter and you need to seek medical attention.
Educate yourself on health issues. With ever-expanding technology and instant access to information, women of all ages can stay up to date on pertinent health topics. Local physician offices and hospitals often host health programs and forums just for women. The federal government's Office of Women's Health - womenshealth.gov or 1-800-994-9662 - shares a wealth of facts about women's health and wellness. Healthfinder.gov is another national-level resource for organizations and services available to assist with a woman's well-being.
Know and act on your family health history. Did your grandfather have diabetes? What types of cancer run in your family? Do your siblings have high blood pressure? Collecting an accurate health history on your family of origin can give your doctor a better picture of your current health and your risks for disease. Ask relatives from both your father's and mother's sides about any medical conditions they have or have had. Record the ages when these conditions first occurred. If your family member does not remember specifics, approximate ages and general health descriptions are still useful. You may not be able to change your family health portrait, but you can make changes in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lax eating habits.
Seek preventative health information.The life expectancy for U.S. women continues to rise, moving from 78 years in the mid-1980s to 81.1 years in 2016. Preventative health information and early detection tests are adding years to people's health. To keep your own health in check, stay current with your doctor on the screening tests for the following health conditions that often increase with age:
- High blood pressure - manual or digital blood pressure monitor
- Cholesterol - fasting lipoprotein panel
- Heart disease - blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and other cardiovascular tests
- Diabetes - fasting blood glucose level, or A1c test
- Colorectal cancer - fecal occult blood test (stool-based), colonoscopy
- Breast cancer - clinical breast exam, mammogram
- Ovarian cancer - pap smear
- Skin cancer - annual skin test
- Osteoporosis - bone mineral density test
- Glaucoma - eye exam with dilation of pupils
As our country and world lend special honor to women this March, you are encouraged to be proactive about your own health. And you can be grateful for all the ladies who lived before you and helped changed the tide on physical conditions being attributed to night air, expressive emotions and educational pursuits.