Understanding Common Women’s Health Issues
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June 1, 2017
By Mackenzie Simmons, ATC
The main objective of National Women’s Health Week, observed from May 14th through May 17th this year, was to encourage women to take the necessary steps to improve their health and make it a primary focus in their life. Although this awareness week is a great reminder for women, it is also a great reminder for Athletic Trainers to be aware of potential issues that could affect their female patients. This blog will focus on several health issues that affect women. A short description about some of the major conditions are listed below.
Anemia occurs when you have a low number of red blood cells, or your red blood cells do not have enough hemoglobin. Women are at a greater risk for anemia, especially if they have a chronic disease. Some of the common signs and symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath and irritability. Women experiencing these systems should to see their doctor to get a blood test conducted.
Cervical cancer occurs when the body’s cervical cells divide quickly and grow out of control, causing a tumor to grow. This type of cancer affects 12,000 women each year. Risk factors include smoking, having HIV, having a high-risk type of HPV or taking birth control for an extended time. All women should get tested starting at age 21; age and health history will determine how often a womant needs to be tested.
Depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy and occurs in about 13 percent of mothers. Signs and symptoms include crying, having no energy or motivation, having memory problems, losing interest in activities and feeling restless or moody. After pregnancy, a woman will go through many hormonal changes that may cause postpartum depression. A new mother going through postpartum depression may feel overwhelmed with a new baby, feel tired from lack of sleep or be stressed out about changes in routine. Women should be referred to a doctor if the depression gets more intense and they feel like they cannot care for themselves or the baby or if they have thoughts of harming themselves or the baby..
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue grows outside of the uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong. It is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, tissues that hold the uterus in place and the outer surface of the uterus. Signs and symptoms include digestive problems, infertility, spotting in between periods or pain. Endometriosis can be treated with medication or surgery, depending on the severity. Patients with endrometriosis can still get pregnant, but it may be more difficult. Patients should discuss with their doctor options on increasing fertility.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Some common types of heart problems that affect women are heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart valve disease and angina. When a woman is having a heart attack, she is likely to experience indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and pain in the back, neck, jaw or throat. It is important to call 911 immediately if experiencing a heart attack. Several ways to reduce the risk of heart disease include exercising regularly, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol use and eating healthy foods.
Menopause is the time when the menstrual period stops because the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. Women have officially gone through menopause after one full year without have a period. The signs and symptoms include trouble sleeping, mood changes, irregular periods and hot flashes.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is caused by an imbalance of the reproductive hormones, resulting in problems in the ovaries. This affects 5-10 percent of women of childbearing age. Some signs and symptoms include irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain, skin tags, thinning hair and acne on face, chest or upper back. While PCOS can lead to infertility, some women are still able to get pregnant. Women should talk their doctor about how to increase your chance of getting pregnant. Different tests will need to be conducted for an accurate diagnosis, including a physical exam, pelvic exam, ultrasound and blood tests.
Thyroid disease can affect women in a couple different ways.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is when the thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormones. Common signs and symptoms are constipation, muscle weakness, unexplained weight gain, feeling tired and excessive menstrual bleeding. It can be treated with mediations, and you will need to take the hormone pills for the rest of your life.
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is when the body makes more thyroid hormones than your body needs. Common signs and symptoms are weight loss, feeling nervous or anxious, feeling irritable, increased sweating and muscle weakness. Medication can be used to treat this condition, but surgery is also an option.
Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) occurs when the body’s immune system makes antibodies that attack the thyroid. The most common is postpartum thyroiditis, affecting 10 percent of women. It is easily confused with postpartum depression, which causes it to go undiagnosed a majority of the time. The thyroid usually will return to normal size on its own in 12-18 months
Uterine fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the uterine wall, and are most often benign. Some signs and symptoms include heavy bleeding, enlargement of the lower abdomen, frequent urination, pain during sex, low back pain and reproductive problems. There is no known cause, but there are factors that increase the risk of developing fibroids; some of these factors are obesity, eating a lot of red meat or having a family member with fibroids. Depending on the severity, some fibroids can be treated through medication, while others will need to be surgically removed.
Urinary incontinence occurs when the body has a lack of bladder control, causing leakage. This condition is more likely to occur in females than in males, mostly due to pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Other causes of urinary incontinence are constipation, certain medications, caffeine and alcohol use, nerve damage and obesity. There are several treatment options that have proven to be successful, such as behavioral treatments, medications or physical therapy
Varicose veins and spider veins are enlarged blue, red or flesh-colored veins that can cause swelling, pain, or a rash, and is most commonly found in the legs. You are more likely to get varicose veins during pregnancy, as your body is going through hormonal changes, and as you are getting older. Varicose and spider veins are not avoidable, but there are ways you can prevent them. Wearing sunscreen, exercising regularly and avoiding wearing high heels for long periods of time can all help reduce the risk of developing varicose and spider veins.
Yeast infections is an infection of the vagina that causes an itching and burning sensation. Other symptoms may include painful urination, soreness or white vaginal discharge that is odorless. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out any sexually transmitted infectionss as a differential diagnosis. Antifungal medication will be used as the main treatment for a yeast infection.
If your patient is currently experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions, you should recommend they reach out to your primary care physician or gynecologist. All women should schedule appointments for their well-woman visits; it’s also important to complete preventative screenings. Your doctor will be able to inform you what screenings you should get done, based on your age and current health status. For more information on this, visit https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw.
National Women's Health Week. (2017, May 10). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw