The Top 4 Women's Health Issues, Risk Factors and 10 Prevention Tips

Heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes are some of the top women's health issues in the United States.  This blog is a great compilation of useful material.  The guideline for women's health screening tests is a great table to print out and use as a guideline.  I know this is a lot of information, but all helpful and most importantly, a great guide to use as you move through 2017 with the goal for health and overall wellness.

As we age, we become more susceptible to illness and disease, which means paying closer attention to our bodies to maintain overall good health.  In addition to adopting healthy lifestyle habits—such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, getting proper rest, maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition and regular exercise—knowing your family health history and educating yourself on major health issues and risk factors can help you stay on top of your health.

Let’s explore recommendations for health screening tests and some of the risk factors associated with heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes as well as prevention tips.

Women’s Health Screening Tests

Of course, the best prevention is to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but staying on top of recommended health screenings is also a good prevention strategy.  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force established these guidelines for women’s health screening tests.  Below are some of the highlights to remember.

Women over 30 should see their doctor about:

  • Getting their blood pressure tested every two years if normal
  • Getting a PAP and HPV test every 5 years
  • Getting tested for HIV at least once
  • Getting their cholesterol checked if a family history of heart problems exists
  • Any family history of cancers
  • Getting screened for hepatitis B and hepatitis C
  • Stress, depression, and other mental health concerns

Women over 40 should see their doctor about all of the above plus:

  • Getting tested for diabetes if overweight or obese
  • Having a screening mammogram

Women over 50 should see their doctor about all of the above plus:

  • Getting a mammogram every other year
  • Getting screened for colorectal cancer
  • Getting a lung cancer screening if they are 55 and older and have a history of smoking
  • Getting a bone mineral density test if at risk of osteoporosis

Heart disease

Heart Disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women. In women, the condition is responsible for 1 in every 4 of deaths, reports the CDC.

Although more men die of heart disease than women, females tend to be underdiagnosed, often to the point that it's too late to help them once the condition is discovered.

The American Heart Association lists risk factors for heart disease as:

  • Increasing age
  • Male gender (men typically develop heart disease at a younger age)
  • Heredity (including race). People with family history of the disease have greater risk as well as African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian-Americans.
  • Smoking
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Diabetes

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women.

The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Being a woman
  • Getting older (most invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 and older).
  • Certain inherited genes. Nearly 5% to 10% of breast cancer is linked to mutations in certain genes (most commonly, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes) passed on from a parent.
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Race and ethnicity. White women have a slightly greater risk of getting breast cancer compared with African-American women.
  • Dense breast tissue. Women with dense breasts on mammogram have up to 2 times more risk than women with average breast density.
  • Benign breast conditions
  • Early onset of menstruation (before age 12)
  • Menopause after age 55
  • Having radiation to your chest
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES)
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • Not having children (or not having a child before age 30, and not breastfeeding).

Osteoporosis

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a woman’s risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to her risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined.  They list risk factors for osteoporosis including:

  • Being over age 50
  • Being female
  • Menopause
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Low body weight/being small and thin
  • Broken bones or height loss
  • Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Getting too much protein, sodium and caffeine
  • Having an inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Losing weight

Diabetes

According to the CDC, it is estimated that 12 million women aged 20 years and older have diabetes, and approximately 27 million have prediabetes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases lists the following risk factors for diabetes

  • Being 45 years of age or older
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history of diabetes (immediate family member)
  • Race or ethnicity (people of African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American and Pacific Islander dissent are at higher risk).
  • Having had gestational diabetes (during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • High blood glucose (blood sugar) levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal cholesterol (lipid) levels (HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) is less than 35 or triglyceride level is higher than 250).
  • Physical inactivity (sedentary lifestyle)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Acanthosis nigricans (skin around the neck or armpits that appears dark, thick and velvety).
  • Blood vessel problems affecting the heart, brain, or legs

Top 10 Prevention Tips

Not to sound like a broken record but, adopting healthy lifestyle habits—such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, getting proper rest, maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition and regular exercise—paired with regular health screenings is key to preventing illness and disease.  For women, here is our list of top 10 prevention tips:

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. Maintain a healthy body weight as determined by your BMI
  3. Exercise daily for 30 minutes.
  4. Eat five or more servings of fruits or vegetables daily
  5. Avoid refined sugars and starches
  6. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (no more than two drinks per day for men, one per day for women).
  7. Keep your blood pressure under control.
  8. Have your cholesterol checked regularly
  9. Keep your blood sugar in normal range
  10. Have regular mammograms