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Health + Wellness Wellness

Taking Care: National Women’s Health Week

May 9, 2021

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we examine the most common health risks that women face — and how to mitigate them

By Danielle Alexander

It’s no secret that women are often so busy taking care of everyone around them that they often forget to prioritize their own health. But every May, National Women’s Health Week rolls around to remind them. In honor of the initiative, which kicks off its 21st year the week of May 9 -15, here are the six most common health issues women face, with tips from local experts on how they can manage their risks and maximize wellbeing.

Heart Disease 

Heart Disease in women

The Risk

Here’s a staggering fact: Every minute, one woman in the U.S. dies of heart disease, making it the country’s leading cause of death for women, especially those over 65.

Why Women?

“After menopause, cholesterol increases and elevated triglycerides and low HDL have been shown to increase the risk of death in women,” says Dr. Monica Jiddou-Patros, an interventional cardiologist at Beaumont Hospital. What’s more, many women may not recognize certain symptoms of heart disease since they don’t always feel, say, chest pain. “Women may feel more fatigued, short of breath or have gastrointestinal symptoms like indigestion, which are usually attributed to other factors such as stress, poor sleep, weight gain or something they ate.”

Wellness Boost

Jiddou-Patros advises engaging in typical heart-healthy behaviors: exercising for 30 minutes, five days a week, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other ways to reduce risk include managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis in women

The Risk

A condition in which the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time, osteoarthritis affects millions of people in the U.S. But women experience a higher overall prevalence of it, as well more severe symptoms and increased levels of disability, specially in their hands and knees.

Why Women?

According to Dr. Sabrina Qazi, a rheumatologist at Beaumont Hospital, genetic predisposition plays a part in developing osteoarthritis, but other important risk factors include obesity, as well as lower levels of estrogen — which quiets the inflammatory “noise” in our joints — that women experience during perimenopause.

Wellness Boost

Keep symptoms at bay by maintaining a healthy weight and strength training. “ The muscles, especially the ones that surround our knees and hips, must be kept strong,” Qazi says. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and yoga can help. She also suggests practicing Tai Chi: “It improves strength and coordination, which leads to better joint stability.”

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer awareness

The Risk

Simply being a woman is the main risk factor for the No. 2 most common cancer affecting U.S. women (skin cancer is the first). According to the American Cancer Society, about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women this year.

Why Women?

Women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can cause breast tissue to change and cancer cells to grow.

Wellness Boost

Dr. Deborah Portney, an OB/GYN in Farmington Hills, says that women only have so much control when it comes to preventing breast cancer — after all, genetics and exposure to environmental carcinogens are out of our hands. Still, “breast cancer is associated with obesity and a fatty diet,” she says, “and there are many studies that support decreasing risk with exercise, a lower fat diet and maintenance of healthy body weight.”

And don’t skip your screenings. Current guidelines recommend starting breast cancer screening — which includes mammograms and self-checks — at 40 years old; earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. Most importantly, says Dr. Deanna Angers, an OB-GYN resident at Ascension Providence Hospital, know your breasts and what’s “normal” for them in terms of color and shape. “Having open discussions with your providers about symptoms and changes will help not only decrease risk but also aid in early detection and treatment.”

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and Anxiety in women

The Risk

The mental load is real — and women are often the ones bearing the cost. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, one in eight women will experience depression in their lifetime, double the rate as men. About 12 million U.S. women experience clinical depression every year, with the condition occurring most frequently in women aged 25 to 44.

Why Women?

Biological, hormonal and social factors play a large role in overall mental health, says Kristen Beesley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in Farmington Hills. “In our culture, women tend to hold more complex and stressful roles, including the balance of providing primary child care, managing careers, caregiving to parents and friends, and holding the household’s emotional load,” she says. “This, in combination with the hormonal changes of puberty, pregnancy and postpartum and menopause, may increase a woman’s underlying susceptibility for anxiety and depression.”

Wellness Boost

Beesley says it’s important to remember that depression and anxiety don’t just present as sadness and excessive worry; instead, women may feel irritable, guilt-ridden and withdrawn, or they may experience low motivation, difficulty focusing or decreased libido. If any of those sound familiar, consider consulting a doctor or therapist. “Talking about current stressors … can help to develop healthier skills,” says Beesley, who also recommends regular physical activity, a good sleep schedule, meditation and journaling.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Abuse in women

The Risk

Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to more than 27,000 deaths among young women and girls each year, and the pandemic has had an especially dire effect on women’s drinking habits — a recent study published in Jama Network Open found that women engaged in “heavy drinking episodes” (defined as four or more drinks in one setting) 41 percent more in 2020 compared to 2019.

Why Women?

Research shows that women start to develop alcohol-related problems earlier — and at lower drinking levels — than men. Women absorb more alcohol and take longer to metabolize it, leading to more serious effects, including increased risk of cancer, heart disease and liver diseases. What’s more, alcohol-related cognitive decline can also develop more quickly for females.

Wellness Boost

Many people turn to booze when times are tough — but that’s a dangerous substitute for actual coping skills, says Elise DuBois, a Birmingham-based therapist who specializes in addiction and substance abuse. “It can become a habit where people lose the ability to manage stress with normal coping mechanisms.” Instead of reaching for that cocktail when you feel stressed, “ and a new pattern that doesn’t have negative effects,” she says, like calling up a friend or going for a jog.

Stroke

The Risk

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in women, according to the Centers of Disease Control, with the lifetime risk set at one in five for U.S. women between the ages of 55 and 75.

Why Women?

Stroke risk grows with age, and women live longer than men. Also, certain circumstances unique to women, like taking birth control pills and using hormone replacement therapy (both of which increase the chance of blood clots), present extra risk.

Wellness Boost

Besides controlling the well-known risk factors — among them high cholesterol and blood pressure — maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and protecting against atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that ups stroke risk) also play in, says Dr. Andrea Rossi, a neurologist in Rochester Hills. Another concern: sleep apnea. “If you wake up not feeling refreshed or your partner says you snore, get a sleep study to make sure your brain is oxygenating well at night.”

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