Both men and women are affected by various conditions, but women are affected differently. Women experience unique health conditions such as uterine fibroids, cervical cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial or uterine cancer, menopause, and pregnancy.
From a heart attack to depression, women are at higher risk. Women die from heart attacks more than men. Women experience stress and depression twice as likely as men. Urinary tract infections occur more often in women than in men, and sexually transmitted diseases impact women more. Osteoarthritis, one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, is more common in women than men.
The following diseases and conditions pose considerable risks in women’s health.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, accounting for approximately one-third of all female deaths. Primarily myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke are the important causes of morbidity and mortality among women. Cardiovascular disease in women is often overlooked, and symptoms may go unrecognized due to the misperception that women are ‘protected’ against cardiovascular disease. Women tend to develop cardiovascular disease 7 to 10 years later than men. Studies suggest a decline in hormone estrogen following menopause increases the risk of coronary artery disease in women.
Diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity, unhealthy diet, inactivity and sedentary behaviors, excessive alcohol consumption, or smoking- factors that contribute to heart disease. Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, age, and ethnicity (African-American women are at higher risk of CVD than Caucasian women). However, modifiable risk factors that can be controlled or reduced by lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. One in 6 women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime, and one in 11 women die from the disease. According to GLOBOCAN 2020 estimates, female breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer. Colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer are also common in women. Between 30% and 50% of cancer cases are preventable.
Modifying or avoiding key risk factors can help. Healthy BMI, smoking cessation, moderate drinking, avoiding menopausal hormonal therapy and birth control pills, regular screening, etc., can lower the risk for cancer in women. The HPV vaccine can prevent human papillomavirus types that cause most cervical cancers. Routine screening tests can prevent and detect breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers early.
Bleeding and discharge are a normal part of the menstrual cycle. However, added symptoms can indicate serious health issues.
Menstrual disorder is common, characterized by heavy or prolonged bleeding, painful menstruation, irregular periods, bleeding between periods or intercourse, etc.
Common gynecological problems include endometriosis, cervical dysplasia, pelvic pain, menstrual disorder, pelvic organ prolapse, polycystic ovarian syndrome, uterine fibroids, urinary incontinence, menopause, recurrent urinary tract infections, genital tract infections, infertility, etc. Vaginal odor can be a sign of infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or reproductive tract cancer.
Pregnancy is a normal, natural condition, and most pregnancies are healthy with no complications. But conception, pregnancy, and delivery are noticeably complicated processes and sometimes result in serious complications. Approximately 8% of all pregnancies involve complications. Complications can be pre-existing conditions of the mother before pregnancy, or it can occur unexpectedly. If untreated, it can cause serious complications in both mother and baby.
Common complication includes, but not limited to:
- High blood pressure- can lead to slow fetal growth, preterm labor, and preeclampsia.
- Gestational diabetes- uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to high blood pressure and preeclampsia and have a large infant.
- Infections- can cause miscarriage, preterm labor, low birth weight, birth defects, stillbirth, newborn death, and maternal health complications.
- Preeclampsia- can lead to preterm delivery and death.
- Placenta previa- can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and delivery
- Preterm labor
Other complications include hyperemesis gravidarum, iron deficiency anemia, etc.
An autoimmune disorder is a condition in which the host’s immune system cannot differentiate its own host cells and harmful foreign antigens and mistakenly attacks itself. Autoimmune diseases affect approximately 8% of the population, and nearly 78% are women. Autoimmune diseases tend to affect women during the period of stress, pregnancy, or hormonal imbalance. The exact mechanism is not known. The X chromosome contains a high density of immune-related genes, and the presence of two X chromosomes explain the female preponderance in autoimmune diseases.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common type of lupus that affects women more. X chromosome inactivation is a process of turning one X chromosome off in female cells during development. Lack of X chromosome inactivation can lead to the overexpression of immune regulatory genes. It eventually creates autoantibodies against the host cells and weakens the immune system. Lack of X chromosome inactivation is one of the leading causes of SLE. Research suggests women have more VGLL3 in skin cells. VGLL3 regulates immune response genes in skin cells and has a strong correlation to SLE.
Psoriasis (red, itchy, scaly patches of skin) affects women more but men suffer from more severe symptoms than women. Recent research suggests hormonal changes play a significant role in triggering the onset of psoriasis. Women experience more hormonal changes than men and have greater quantities of many of the hormones, which clearly explains why more women are more likely to develop psoriasis than men.
Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic inflammatory disorder affecting joints) and Sjogren’s syndrome (which causes chronic dry eyes and mouth) are hypothesized to occur more in women due to the hormonal changes. The hormonal and immunological changes that occur during pregnancy can increase female susceptibility to autoimmune diseases. Hormonal changes in the postpartum are associated with an increased incidence of rheumatoid arthritis.
Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. Osteoporosis, the chronic disease caused by a reduction in bone mass, affects one in three women above 50 years. Bones become weak and brittle, and as a result, women having osteoporosis are at high risk of fracture. Bone loss accelerates post-menopause, a significant drop in estrogen levels in postmenopausal women leads to more bone resorption resulting in osteoporosis.
Conditions such as hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, celiac disease, chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, etc., can lead to bone loss and to osteoporosis. Smoking, alcoholism are important modifiable risk factors. Climate, diet, certain medications such as corticosteroids, antacids, thyroxine, chemotherapy particularly aromatase inhibitors also contribute to the development of osteoporosis.
Both pharmacotherapy and lifestyle modification is recommended to manage osteoporosis in women.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and women are about twice as likely as men to suffer depression. Depression can result from inherited traits, biological, environmental, or psychological factors. The main symptoms of depression are lack of interest in usual life activities, negative thought, depressed mood, changes in sleep and appetite, poor concentration, inability to enjoy life, suicidal thoughts, ect.
Studies support the association between hormonal changes and the development of depressive symptoms. Starting at puberty, women are at greater risk for depression. Women experiences depression-related illness such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of premenstrual syndrome), postpartum depression and postmenopausal depression. The underlying mechanisms are still unclear.
Increased prevalence of depression during puberty, before menstruation, during and following pregnancy, during menopausal transition suggests that female hormonal fluctuations may be a trigger for depression.
Certain genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of depression in women alone. Stress plays a major role. Women are more likely to experience abuse, domestic violence, work overload, discrimination, etc., which may increase the impact of depression in women.
Women with depression often suffer from other conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, drug, or alcohol misuse.
Treatment of depression in women is the same as men including psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.
MDforLives for Women’s Health Survey
MDforLives, the online medical survey helps to get an overall idea of the healthcare problems facing women today. MDforLives conducts Women’s health survey regarding issues about Women’s health care. The women’s health survey helps to identify the gaps in the healthcare services provided for women and find the opportunities to improve the patient outcome.