The Brummitt Group
By Edward Clifford, MD, Surgical Group of North Texas
With so many diseases and medical issues consuming and claiming lives, it is pertinent to drive attention towards women’s health. Women tend to overlook their own health because they are often preoccupied with other things, like raising a family, running a business, or possibly both! The media also doesn’t do the best job of portraying medical warning signs towards women. A lot of medical diseases that are just as prevalent to women, as they are to men, are misconstrued, and therefore, are not acknowledged by women as being a major issue of concern in regards to female health.
One common medical concern, particularly in women, is breast cancer. Studies compiled by the American Cancer Society and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers have shown that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer, overall, and also the most common type of cancer found in women. Women between the ages of 40 and 59 have been shown to have the highest incidence of this deadly disease.
One of the best ways to catch this culprit early on is for women to have regularly scheduled mammograms beginning at the age of 40. Mammogram – just the name of this procedure can sound daunting to many women, but it could ultimately save one’s life. A mammogram is a low-level radiation screening test done using an X-ray technique on women who do not currently show signs or symptoms of breast cancer. No dyes need to be swallowed or injected, and it does not require any instruments being put into the body. Women should talk with their doctor to determine how often they should have a mammogram done depending on their individual risk factors.
Although breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world today, it is not the deadliest disease taking women’s lives each year. The number one killer of women is actually heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) tells us that approximately one woman dies every minute as a result of heart disease. The AHA has also found that 90% of all women already have at least one risk factor for developing a heart condition. While breast cancer claims 1 life out of every 31 women annually, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 3 female deaths each year.
A great way to limit the risk of heart disease is to improve stress management. One good place to start is with positive self-talk. Instead of saying “I can’t do something,” rephrase it and say, “I am going to do the best I can.” Many everyday hassles can also cause stress, like being stuck in traffic or situations in the workplace or at home. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a stressful situation to allow yourself to gather your thoughts and reset your mind. Also, try counting to 10 slowly, or take 3-5 deep breaths before you speak to calm yourself if you are in a tense situation. Making time to do things you enjoy, like starting an art project or meeting up with a friend for coffee, can allow you to relax and relieve tension in your mind and body.
Some other ways to improve your heart health and reduce stress include incorporating healthy choices into your life little by little. Don’t try to fix everything at once, but rather trade one bad habit for one healthy one – one step at a time. If you don’t exercise much, don’t set an unrealistic goal for yourself of being at the gym 2 hours a day for six days a week. Rather, add 30 minutes of exercise to your daily routine by walking three 10-minute intervals throughout the day. Then, increase your time and intensity as you feel comfortable. Having both a healthy diet and regular physical activity are keys to preventing heart disease.
Another less discussed medical issue among women is hormone management. Some women may find it embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, but it is important for women to be cognizant of hormonal signs and symptoms they may face as they get older. The organ responsible for producing and secreting regulatory hormones is the thyroid, which can sometimes make too much or too little thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says women with an autoimmune disease, such as diabetes, are at a higher risk of thyroid disease than those without an underlying illness. Symptoms of thyroid disease are vast and range from fatigue, weight loss/gain, changes in menstrual cycle, muscle aches, hair loss, changes in appetite, and loss of sex drive. Blood tests, ultrasounds, and scans can be done to diagnose a thyroid problem, and women should begin regular thyroid screenings with their doctor at the age of 50. ACOG recommends that women who aren’t at risk should have their thyroid checked every 5 years, but more often if their risks for thyroid disease are higher depending on their familial background and medical history.
It is important for women to remember to take care of themselves, too. Caring for your heart, mind, and body can improve your quality of life and increase your chances of living longer to continue doing what you love and caring for the people that love you in return. Making small improvements to your routine each day can have significant impacts on your health and well-being.