Women are the epitome of strength, love, sacrifice and courage. They have attained immense success in every field. Women constitute around 50 percent of the population. Women are the primary caretakers of children and elders in every country of the world. The contribution of women to a society’s transition from pre-literate to literate likewise is undeniable. Basic education is key to a nation’s ability to develop and achieve sustainability targets. Education can improve agricultural productivity, enhance the status of girls and women, reduce population growth rates, enhance environmental protection, and widely raise the standard of living. Women represent the cornerstone of a family's overall health, ensuring they have access to quality care also can lead to improved health for children and families. The health of families and communities are no doubt, tied to the health of women.
Women’s health involves a variety of gender-specific issues, like estrogen production, mental health, sexual health and fertility concerns. Women go through dramatic mental and physical changes as their reproductive systems go through major changes. Women can take charge of their health by eating a proper diet, seeking the proper screenings and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Women’s bodies go through major changes throughout their lives, leading to differences in health concerns for varying age groups. During times of physiological change, women are more susceptible to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and eating disorders. In adulthood, sexual health issues like fertility, avoiding STDs and practicing safebirth control gain importance. After menopause, some women experience health conditions caused by changes in hormone levels. Fortunately, most of the diseases that affect women are treatable if detected early, and women can live long and happy lives by following simple health tips.
How Women Age
The reproductive cycle greatly affects many stages of a woman’s life. Estrogen levels directly affect many of the physical changes women experience during adolescence, adulthood and old age. At the moment of conception, girls immediately begin displaying physiological differences from boys. They express genes in the placenta differently, improving placenta development and pregnancy maintenance. Girls begin developing breasts while they are still in the womb, and they are born with the milk-duct system already in place.
During childhood and adolescence, girls begin to develop identities through repeated interactions, conflicts and disappointments. As young as age six, girls begin developing concerns about their weight. Around the age of eight, the ovaries begin to produce estrogen causing the breasts and areolas to enlarge and buds to appear around the nipple. They also begin to grow pubic hair and hair under their arms.
Common diseases and conditions
Women are affected by many of the same conditions and diseases as men, but the diseases affect them differently and at different times. There are also many gender-specific diseases that only affect women. Today, our challenge is to make those extra years of life healthy and productive.
Some of the most prevalent health concerns impacting women, and what you can do to manage your risk include:
1. Heart disease
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women. Symptoms of of a heart attack include chest pain, shortness of breath and weakness in arms. Women are also likely to experience shortness of breath, and nausea or vomiting. However, women may not recognize their symptoms as a heart attack, and dismiss it as working out too hard or having heartburn. And while menopause does not cause heart disease, certain risk factors are more common after menopause, such as higher blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower estrogen.
There are two types of stroke: hemorrhagic or bleeding in the brain, and ischemic, or the blockage of a blood vessel that causes impaired blood flow. Although symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause of stroke, hallmark symptoms include difficulty with speech and numbness of extremities.
There is also a link between pregnancy and stroke. Preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy, can increase the risk for stroke.
Although diabetes is certainly not exclusive to women, it does increase the risk forheart disease by four times in women. Women are also more susceptible to diabetes-related complications, such as blindness, kidney disease and depression. Gestational diabetes is a condition that can occur during pregnancy in which your glucose level goes up and other complications develop. This occurs in at least 3 in 100 women, and treatment may include a careful diet, exercise, blood glucose monitoring, insulin injections and oral medication.
4. Urinary tract infections
UTIs occur when germs get into the urethra and start to multiply. They are particularly common in women, as they have a shorter urethra than a man does. This decreases the length bacteria has to travel in order to reach the bladder. Symptoms of a UTI include frequent urination, pain or burning when urinating, and cloudy urine. While a UTI can go away on its own, a doctor can prescribe antibiotics if necessary. If UTIs become a recurring problem, other tests can reveal if the urinary tract is normal.
5. Sexual health
There are more than 30 types of sexually transmitted infections. One of the most common, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), can be prevented with the HPV vaccine.About 80 percent of sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. HPV is incredibly common. There are more than 100 types, with at least 14 linked to cancer. The most high-risk types in the United States are types 16 and 18, both of which are associated with precancer of the cervix.
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of death in women. Now, with the invention of the Pap smear, providers can detect precancerous cells and deliver treatment to eliminate them, dramatically reducing the rate of cervical cancer.
6. Breast cancer
Second only to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women. Monthly self-examination can help you identify any changes in your breasts to share with your primary provider. This is in addition to following your yearly scheduled mammogram, which should start at age 40. For those who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase the risk for breast cancer, your physician might recommend #D mammography, which produces highly detailed images. You can manage risks by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising and quitting smoking.
Osteoporosis is the leading cause of fractures among post-menopausal women worldwide. One in two women over the age of 50 suffers from an osteoporotic fracture. Hip fracture risk equals the combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Women are twice as likely to suffer from osteoporosis on account of the fact that women have thinner bones. During menopause, the hormone estrogen takes a dip causing bone loss, weakening, and consequent stress fractures. Knowing the risk factors especially during menopause can go a long way in preventing disabling fractures. Women undergoingmenopause must increase their daily dietary calcium and vitamin D intake. Getting sufficient sunlight during the day is a good way to get vitamin D. Exercise helps prevent osteoporosis. Annual bone-mineral density tests are recommended to stay warned and prepared. Younger women withamenorrhea (absence of menstruation) may be put on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to prevent early osteoporosis.
Some common health issues
Although women and men share several similar chronic health problems, women have their own unique health issues, which deserve special consideration. Due to the chaos of a woman’s daily life, healthy living may take a back seat. It is vital that every woman has access to knowledge about the spectrum of women’s health conditions, not only about her reproductive system, but related to all aspects of her body. Their awareness can promote healthy lifestyle practices, which in turn are the best way to avoid disease, prolong life, and improve quality of life.
It is very common for women to have issues with periods, including heavy, scant, missed or irregular periods. Period cramps remain to be another health issue among women. Heavy menstrual bleeding is the menstrual blood loss of more than 80 ml or periods lasting more than seven days. It has been estimated that about 9 to 14 out of 100 women get heavy periods. Heavy menstruation problems can interfere with daily life and even result in iron deficiency anaemia in severe cases. Talk to your doctor, if you have heavy menstrual bleeding to rule out the underlying cause.
Another problem women faces with periods is pre-menstruation syndrome (PMS), which affects 47.8% of reproductive age women worldwide. The common symptoms of PMS include changes in appetite, weight gain, abdominal pain, back pain, headache, swelling of the breasts, nausea, constipation, anxiety, mood swings, etc. These symptoms occur within a few days of the start of menstruation.
A rising concern of today’s woman is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common metabolic and endocrine disorder of reproductive age. Women with PCOS may have infrequent menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. This disorder is getting prevalent in India that accounts to 3.7 to 22.5% of females. Women affected with PCOS are at increased risk of obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, heart disease, infertility, and acne.
Latest report revealed that the fertility rate of Indians has come down by more than 50% from 4.97 to 2.3, it will be further reduced to 2.1 during 2025 to 30. Currently, the infertility rate is 10 to 14% which is higher in urban areas where 1 out of 6 couples is affected. Various causes responsible for infertility in women are PCOS, contraception complications, abortion infections, STDs, post-partum infections, pelvic inflammatory diseases, etc. Lifestyle problems such as smoking, alcohol, consuming processed food, physical and emotional stress can also play a significant role in infertility. The problem of infertility can be treated with the help of a doctor depending on the underlying cause. There are certain hormone tests, such asFSH test, that your doctor might suggest to get a sneak peek into your condition.
Thyroid disease is twice as prevalent in women as in men and is common among women of child-bearing age (18-35 years). Women generally have hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels), in which the metabolism slows down. Symptoms include weight gain, feeling sluggish and tired, etc. On the other side, high thyroid levels can also cause early onset of menopause, before 40 years or in the early 40s. Besides, pregnancy can raise the level of thyroid hormones in the blood and almost 5% to 10% of women suffer from postpartum thyroiditis, which occurs within 1 year after giving birth.
Sexual health and bladder issues
Women should be concerned about their sexual as well as bladder health as they rapidly get affected by both sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and urinary tract infections. It has been observed that the effect of a STD is more severe on women than on men. Although STDs often go untreated in women as symptoms are less noticeable or have higher chances of getting misdiagnosed with another condition, they have serious implications such as infertility in women.
Apart from sexual health, women should take care of their personal hygiene. Women have a shorter urethra, which enables the bacteria to travel a smaller distance before they reach to the bladder and start an infection. Hence, urinary tract problems, including infections and incontinence, are more common in women.
Prenatal and Maternity Care
Ensuring that women receive prenatal care—regular check-ups with a doctor that include screening for conditions such as gestational diabetes or birth defects, monitoring for potential complications, and education to encourage healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and healthy eating—can reduce the risk of premature delivery, low birthweight and infant mortality. Infants of women who receive late or no prenatal care are twice as likely to have a low birthweight, compared to infants of women who receive prenatal care during the first trimester.
Life after Menopause
Menopause begins in the late 40s and early 50s in most women. It officially begins when a woman goes a full year without menstruating. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. As estrogen levels decrease, many tissues in the body – including the breasts – lose hydration and elasticity.
Around this time of life, children often leave home, elderly parents begin needing care and marriages are often affected by a partner’s medical issues or changing life goals. All of these factors lead to a high rate of depression and physical fatigue in many women.
As life expectancy increased, the number of postmenopausal diseases has also increased. Many women are affected by physical conditions like urinary incontinence, chronic migraines and breast cancer. Osteoporosis, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in arteries) also begin affecting many women after menopause.
In their elderly years, many women experience the loss of friends and family members. Their physical strength and memory weaken, and many women end up living in solitude in their remaining years, which contributes to mental health issues. The risk of cardiac and cerebral vascular diseases also increases at old age.
Breast, ovarian, endometrial and cervical cancers are the leading killer of women globally. If cancers are detected early, there is a good chance of remission and cure. Women need to educate themselves with the help of doctors to understand their personal risks due to genetic and familial factors.
Breast cancer risks include increasing age, genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, family history of the disease, early onset of menstruation or menopause, not having conceived and use of hormones. Women above the age of 40 must opt for annual screening and mammograms along with regular self-examination of breasts. A breast self-exam for breast awareness is an inspection of your breasts that you do on your own. To help increase your breast awareness, you use your eyes and hands to determine if there are any changes to the look and feel of your breasts. If you notice new breast changes, discuss these with your doctor. Though most breast changes detected during a self-exam for breast awareness have benign causes, some changes maysignal something serious, such as breast cancer.
Ovarian cancer risks include age, non-conception of children, unexplained infertility, bearing children after the age of 30 and harmone-replacement therapy. A pelvic exam should be on every woman’s health check-up routine. Women must immediately seek medical help if they experience symptoms like abdominal swelling, digestive issues, abdominal or pelvic pain and heaviness in the pelvis.
Endometrial cancer usually occurs in women over 55 years of age and older. Use of estrogens without progesterone, not having children, late conception, early menstruation and late menopause are significant risks. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOD) and obesity are other clear risks. Women must be aware of early symptoms of unusual spotting or bleeding.
Cervical cancer can affect any women who have had active sexual relations. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is transmitted during sex and causes cervical cancer. Cervical cancer risks also include smoking and poor nutrition. Cervical cancer testing needs to begin as early as 21. The pap smear test is the best way to early detection and treatment. Even women who have received the HPV vaccination need regular screening.
Gynecological Health Issues
Women face disruptive health due to a number of gynecological issues like menstrual problems (heavy bleeding, pain, cramps, nausea, fatigue) and irregularities, urinary tract issues like frequent infections and inflammatory disorders, fertility related issues like uterine fibroids, PCOD, endometriosis (inflammation of the endometrial lining) and primary ovarian insufficiency. Being aware of one’s body type and symptoms and seeking immediate medical help is a must to avoid unnecessary risks and complications.
Women also face some issues related to pregnancy like miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor and premature birth. Women often do not get medical access immediately, and this leads to a number of issues like infections, blood loss and even death. Pregnancies in rural areas are often handled by non-medical people who may not have sufficient knowledge or skills.
Mental health and well being
Mental ill health among women is on the rise. One in five women (19%) experience a Common Mental Disorder (such as anxiety or depression), compared with one in eight (12%) men. Women in poverty are more likely to face poor mental health, with 29% of women in poverty experiencing a common mental health disorder compared to 16% of women not in poverty. Women in poverty who have experienced abuse are even more likely to experience poor mental health.
Many conditions and diseases that affect women can be treated or prevented. Eating a healthy diet can reduce a woman’s risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, some types of cancer and osteoporosis.
Mental disorders can affect women and men differently. Some disorders are more common in women such as depression and anxiety. There are also certain types of disorders that are unique to women. For example, some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression. When it comes to other mental disorders such asschizophrenia and bipolar disorder, research has not found differences in the rates at which men and women experience these illnesses. But women may experience these illnesses differently – certain symptoms may be more common in women than in men, and the course of the illness can be affected by the sex of the individual.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health problems are the most common health problems in young people. Anxiety, depression and substance abuse are the leading mental health problems in young people. Mental health issues need to be taken seriously as they can lead to poor academic achievement, poor social functioning, unemployment, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. Recognizing problems and getting appropriate and timely help are very important.
The mental health of women and girls is endangered when they experience violence and gender-based discrimination, including poor access to education and lack of autonomy in the family and broader community. The psychological consequences of violence increase the risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, including the risk of these conditions in the perinatal period.
Mental health is a growing concern in countries all over the globe. The WHO reports that mental illness is underdiagnosed, and individuals are reluctant to seek help. Only about two in every five people who struggle with addiction, anxiety, or mood disorders seek help within the first year that symptoms of the condition become apparent.
Women at high risk for mental illnesses
Generally, about one in three people experience a mood, anxiety, or somatic disorder of some kind, but women are much more likely than men to report these complaints. Unipolar depression, for example, is twice as common in women as men, as are anxiety disorders and phobias. Women are also more likely to report comorbid mental health disorders, or a co-occurrence of addiction and a mental condition, compared to men.
Finding appropriate treatment is key to overcoming symptoms of any mental health or behavioral condition. Working with a Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist to get evidence-based therapy and medically supervised detox as needed is the foundation for anyone.
Adolescence is key
Adolescence is a critical period for a person's development, particularly as our brains go through important changes during our teenage years. Since prevention is better than cure, it is really important for all of us in society to understand together why this is and start reducing the rates of mental disorders in young people.
Psychological distress in women aged 16-24 is at an all-time high, with record numbers admitting to harming themselves to relieve their distress, according to an alarming study.
Experts say young women are now a “high-risk group” and point to links between mental illness and violence or sexual abuse, and possible pressures from the rise of social media. This has prompted calls from researchers for more funding to protect the nation’s mental health.
Factors affecting women’s Health
Major life transitions such as pregnancy, motherhood and menopause can create physical and emotional stresses for women. Negative life experiences – infertility and perinatal loss, poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment and isolation – also impact on women's mental health and well-being. Unequal economic and social conditions also contribute to women's higher risk of depression. Mental health disorders in adolescence are a significant problem, relatively common, and amenable to treatment or intervention.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in adolescents. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder Anxiety disorders are clinically significant when they interfere with important areas of functioning, such as school, work, or relationships with family and peers. They often occur in conjunction with depressive disorders or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Risk factors for anxiety or mood disorders
• History of depression or other mental health disorder
• Parental history of anxiety or mood disorder or other mental health disorder
• Increased academic or social demands
• Stressful family environments (eg, poverty, harsh discipline, minimal support)
• Early or significant losses (parental death, divorce, termination of a relationship)
• Chronic illness
• History of being bullied, including cyberbullying
• History of neglect or physical, mental, or sexual abuse
• History of alcohol or other substance use
• History of conduct disorder, delinquency, or other antisocial behaviors
Depression is more common in female adolescents than in male adolescents.
Nonsuicidal self-injury (eg, “cutting”) is intentional self-inflicted damage to the surface of one’s body with the expectation that the injury will lead to only minor or moderate physical harm. This typically is done to obtain relief from negative feelings or cognitive states. The estimated lifetime prevalence of nonsuicidal self-injury among high school students is 12–23%, with rates higher in females than males. Nonsuicidal self-injury often is associated with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and especially with a history of sexual abuse or chronic neglect and maltreatment in childhood. Screening for depression and suicide also should include screening for nonsuicidal self-injury.
Adolescent Substance Abuse
Many unhealthy behaviors often begin during adolescence and represent major public health challenges. Substance abuse has a major impact on individuals, families, and communities, as its effects are cumulative, contributing to costly social, physical, and mental health problems.
Substance use refers to the use of any psychoactive substances or drugs, which include licit and illicit drugs, other than which are medically indicated. Substance use at a young age is usually associated with a poor prognosis and a lifelong pattern of irresponsible behavior. Youth is a time for maximum experimentation and formation of identity.
Kashmir women are falling prey to drugs. The rise in drug abuse among youth in Kashmir is a worrying trend as the cases are increasing rapidly as drug addict women are coming to the hospital for treatment. Kashmir is suffering from a drug epidemic as most of the addicts who are brought to the hospital for treatment are drug addicts. There is an epidemic of drugs because 95 percent of cases are of substance abusers. Cases of drug overdose deaths are also due to a drugs overdose. Heroin is emerging as the most common substance of addiction. The problem of drug abuse in Kashmir was first highlighted by the United Nations International Drug Control Programme survey in 2008 which showed that there were more than 70,000 drug addicts in Kashmir. That survey also revealed that 65 to 70 percent of the student community in Kashmir was into drugs and that 38 percent of female students were involved in drug abuse. More than 70 percent of addicts fall in the 18-35 age group.
A drug to which a person becomes addict does not merely impair the person’s cognitive skills and behaviour but also permanently damage certain abilities depending on the amount of a dose. Experts believe that certain changes due to the addictions disappear shortly after drug use while certain anomalies remain permanent. One of the first changes in the brain that may occur in response to repeated drug abuse is tolerance. Tolerance develops when a person requires a higher amount of drug to reach that leave of pleasure or a state of alteration of consciousness that he achieved previously through lower doses of drugs. Drug Abuse spoils a number of human lives and also destroys the golden periods of life.