Today’s women have become career achievers and also manage to cope with family responsibilities efficiently. However, they neglect health issues and seek help only when they have complications and medical conditions which are difficult to treat. Incidences of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, vitamin D deficiency, thyroid disorders, heart diseases and cancers have increased tremendously. Sedentary lifestyle, increasing stress and fewer children have contributed to rising health problems in women.
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In the National Family Health Survey in 2007, Punjab ranked first in order of percentage of obese / overweight women with an incidence of 37.5% followed by Kerala at 34% and the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh at 22.7%.
Incidence of diabetes in Indian women is rising alarmingly. Approximately 29 million women are affected by high blood sugar. Women with diabetes still play a ‘caretaker role’ in the family and prioritise the health of others above their own. At a disadvantage compared to men, women have unequal access to resources preventing early diagnosis of the disease.
Since hypertension is easy to diagnose but not easy to treat, a few blood pressure recordings can confirm the disease and the treatment can be initiated early to prevent complications. The number of women affected by high blood pressure is very high – 17% as per one study in India and 22.6% in a WHO report on Indian women.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D deficiency and reduced bone mineral density is widespread. Vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in India due to several factors:
- Changing food fads and habits contribute to low dietary calcium and vitamin D intake.
- With modernization, the number of hours spent indoors has increased thereby preventing adequate exposure to sun. This is particularly true in urban Indians.
- Increased pollution can hamper the ultraviolet rays to adequately synthesize vitamin D in the skin.
- Cultural and traditional habits prevalent in certain religions like “burqa” and the “pardah” have been well known to be associated with vitamin D deficiency.
- Repeated and unplanned, and unspaced pregnancies in dietary deficient patients can aggravate vitamin D deficiency in the mother and the fetus.
Thirty minutes exposure of the skin on the arms and face to sunlight, without application of sunscreen, preferably between 10 am and 2 pm daily (as maximum ultraviolet B rays are transmitted during this time) is adequate to avoid vitamin D deficiency. An Indian study looked at 25-hydroxy Vitamin D and BMD in women of reproductive age group and post menopausal women in South India. They have reported vitamin D deficiency in 76% women of reproductive age, 70% in post menopausal women, and insufficiency in 16.5% in women of reproductive age and 23% in post menopausal women.
Thyroid disease prevalence in women is high and the disorder mostly affects older women, especially the ones with hormonal imbalances, such as the one occurring around menopause, or during pregnancy etc. But in recent times, however, the incidence of thyroid disorders among urban women in their early 30s, has increased and is on the rise. Almost 30% – 35% of women belonging to this age group are affected.
According to clinical data, the current trend of abnormal thyroid status in younger women is because urban young women though highly educated, in an attempt to enhance their career or in order to follow the modern lifestyle, tend to neglect their health to a critical extent. Not only their diet is improper with deficiency in iodine, it is also unbalanced from the perspective of adequate and accurate nutrition. They also lack the required physical activity appropriate for their age.
While they are in hot pursuit of their career, leading to a stressful lifestyle, there sets in a scenario where these women tend to turn a blind eye to symptoms such as obesity, failure to lose weight, tiredness, bodyache, mood swings, excessive hairfall, balding scalp, irritability, menstrual disorders, difficulty in conception, repeated miscarriages etc., which typically point towards medical disorders, of which thyroid related ailments are the most common presenting with such symptomatology.
Diabetic women are more prone to a disturbed thyroid profile. Also, over-burden of toxins (endocrine disrupting toxins) caused by pollution through air, water, and food add to complications. An early diagnosis goes a long way in preventing these serious health disorders.
A change in lifestyle like a healthy diet, exercise, proper nutrition and stress reduction can help minimise the chance of developing thyroid disease. Sea kelp, selenium, flaxseed oil, zinc, multi-vitamins, etc can help in hypothyroid cases.
Diagnosis of heart attacks in women is late because classic heart attack symptoms as in men are absent, but many experience vague or even “silent” symptoms which they will miss. There are six symptoms which are common in women –
- Chest pain or discomfort which may feel like a squeezing or fullness
- Pain in your arm(s), back, neck, or jaw
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness
Heart disease is now the leading cause of death in women. There is a lack of information about the prevention and management of atherosclerotic heart disease in women from a range of communities that comprise the extremely diverse population of India. Westernization of Indian women has lead to smoking and alcohol addiction and this is also contributing to high cardiovascular disease in women.
Women and Cancer
Last, but not the least, incidence of cancer in women is on rise, and Indian women top the world with the highest number of cervical cancer deaths. Pap smear examination and knowledge about its value in detection of cervical cancer at the earliest is lacking. Experts say that now women marry late and give birth to fewer children, all of which leads to a dip in cervical cancer but rise in breast cancer.
Breast cancer is now more prevalent than cervical cancer. Educated as well as uneducated women lack knowledge about self breast examination and the awareness to seek help. Late marriages, fewer children, use of oral contraceptive pills, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits are fuelling cancer growth in women.
Cervical cancer vaccine and Hepatitis B vaccine prevent cancers. Ask your doctor for vaccinations to prevent these cancers.
Now let us look at what every woman should do to look after themselves:
- Weight should be checked every week. Maintaining body mass index of 23 is essential.
- Exercise daily for 30 minutes. Household work is accustomed exercise and will not burn your calories.
- Eat healthy; avoid high calorie carbohydrates, saturated fats. Increase vegetable intake and fruits in daily diet.
- Check for thyroid swelling in the neck every day when you look into the mirror.
- After the age of 30, get sugar, BP and thyroid tests done.
- Every woman should get a Pap smear done 1 – 2 years after starting active sexual life. Getting cervical cancer vaccine before starting sexual activity is a very wise decision.
- Self breast examination should be taught to every girl after attaining menarche (first menstrual period) and it should be done every month after bleeding stops.
- Get your thyroids checked and diabetes risk checked before planning pregnancy.
- Daily sun exposure for 30 minutes from 10 am to 2 pm will keep bones healthy. Drinking milk and taking calcium rich diet protects you from osteoporosis.
- Yearly health checks and doctors consultation will go a long way in keeping healthy.
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A Healthy Woman Brings Up A Healthy Family!