Top Health Concerns In Women
by Joshua Wong, Senior Patient Care Pharmacist
It’s hard to be a superhero; but it’s even harder being a woman.
From the monthly war they have to fight and the discomfort that comes with pregnancy, to the frustrating, body-changing menopausal stage, a woman’s life is not as glorious as it looks.
And that’s why we’re here to help women understand and deal with these concerns.
What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?
Commonly abbreviated as PMS, premenstrual syndrome refers to a health condition that exhibits a range of physical and psychological symptoms relating to the menstrual cycle.
Symptoms of PMS
PMS symptoms affect most women and are frequently severe enough to affect the quality of life. The symptoms usually occur within the second half of the menstrual period, and often cease within one to two days after the next menstrual cycle begins.
Common physical symptoms include stomach upset, bloatedness, changes in bowel habits, breast tenderness, headache, the appearance of acne, and muscle and joint pain.
A woman suffering from PMS may feel tired, lack energy, be confused, or have problems concentrating. Sometimes, it may be accompanied by mood swings, anxiety, increased irritability, sleeping problems and changes in sex drive.
Testing for PMS
The diagnosis of PMS is usually done by ruling out the possibilities of other health conditions that may have similar symptoms to PMS.
To achieve that, a complete medical history and some physical examination or lab tests may be required. A PMS diary that notes down the onset and duration of the symptoms is also useful as a diagnostic tool.
Menopause & health risks
Menopause is not a disease on its own, but it’s a point in life where women are more susceptible to certain health problems. The decrease in oestrogen, a hormone, is largely responsible for most health risks during and after menopause.
With the fall in oestrogen levels, women may experience physiological changes in the body, which include increased blood pressure and abnormal blood lipid profiles. Subsequently, these changes will increase the risk of a heart disease.
Besides heart diseases, women of menopausal age are also more prone to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis in women
Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterised by a loss of bone mass density and a reduction in bone strength. This increases the risk of fractures.
It has been shown that women are more prone to this condition and here are some reasons why.
- Women have a lower peak bone mass (i.e. maximum size and density of bones)
- The reduction in oestrogen, a hormone that prevents bone loss
- Following the fall in oestrogen levels, women may lose up to 3% of their bone mass yearly in the first 5 to 7 years after menopause
- Bone loss may be reduced during pregnancy or breast-feeding
- Women are generally less active physically
- Physical activities are important for the building and maintenance of strong bones
How to reduce the risk of osteoporosis
Asian women are generally more susceptible to osteoporosis than women from other parts of the world. Besides having a lower bone mass density, Asian women tend to consume less milk products due to lactose intolerance.
Discover how you can do your best to stay away from osteoporosis.
Get your daily dose of calcium
Milk products are high in calcium, which is essential for healthy bones.
A good way to start reducing the risk of osteoporosis is by building up your calcium stores as early as during your adolescent years!
If you are lactose intolerant, you can find your daily dose of calcium (1000mg) in food sources like sesame seeds, almonds, soy beans and green leafy vegetables.
D for durable bones
Vitamin D is an important nutrient which helps the body absorb calcium. Bask in the sun and you’ll get free vitamin D – your body produces this vitamin when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
You can also find vitamin D in fatty fish, eggs, dairy products and cod liver oil.
Work up a sweat
Weight-bearing exercises as simple as brisk walking, jogging and dancing are essential for the maintenance of bone health. If you haven’t already started exercising, now’s the time to work out!
Though exercising regularly promotes healthy bones, you should consult a healthcare professional before engaging in any new physical activities, or if you have weak joints.
Throw that cigarette away
Smoking has shown to speed up the rate of bone loss, and will ultimately increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Trade your martini for something bone-friendly
Heavy alcohol intake interferes with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D, and bone growth and tissue remodelling. This will eventually lead to a loss in bone density.
Moderate alcohol intake in women means it should not exceed 2 standard drinks daily. A standard drink is a 220ml can of beer, a glass of wine not exceeding 100ml, or a shot of spirit no more than 30ml.
Heart disease in women
Everyone, man or woman, will definitely pay more attention to matters of the heart. Every year, there are more women than men who die of heart disease.
This could be due to risk factors such as depression, stress, smoking, and the drop in oestrogen levels after menopause. Although heart disease in women is more apparent during menopausal age, the risk of heart disease rises steadily throughout their lifetime.
Symptoms of heart disease in women
Different from those in men, the presenting symptoms in women are:
- Discomfort around the neck, shoulder, upper back or abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained sweating and dizziness
You should consult a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
Tips for a healthy heart in women
A healthy diet is the way to start if you wish to care for your heart. It should include the essential nutrients and minerals, and have more fibre and less salt, sugar, fats or cholesterol.
You should also complement the diet with a good physical workout of at least 30 minutes for most days, or a total of 150 minutes per week. An easy and convenient idea will be taking the stairs instead of the lift, or alighting one bus stop early and walking to the next.
Drinking sufficient water throughout the day and getting enough rest are important for the heart as well.