Women’s Health for Women’s Month

August 24, 2022

Women’s health is an important topic that society should be focusing on and talking about. Women’s Health is constantly evolving with more information becoming available empowering women to improve their health and wellness. Mental and physical health and wellness are largely influenced by lifestyle choices which, with the right education, are things that we have control over.

Women have such an important role to play in society and a woman’s health status has an impact not only on herself and her life, but also on the lives of all those around her. It must be an issue that we all care about.

Important Mental and Physical Health Conditions Affecting Women

Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease can be broken down into three main categories: Ischemic Heart Disease (which means there is a blockage in your arteries), Hypertensive Heart Disease (where high blood pressure puts pressure on your heart vessels and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke) and Coronary Artery Disease (when plaque
build-up inside your coronary arteries causes them to narrow or become blocked).

Heart disease and stroke are South Africa’s biggest killers, second only to HIV/AIDS. South Africa’s high levels of overweight and obesity, including smoking, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and high blood pressure contribute to these high numbers. Women with heart disease develop different symptoms than men. These symptoms are often more subtle, creating a challenge when diagnosing heart disease in women.

Women get common symptoms such as chest pain, as well as less common symptoms such as indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain.

Depression

With the huge stigma still surrounding depression and mental health, most cases go undiagnosed and untreated which is a major issue. Depression is a condition that can affect anyone and must be taken seriously. Treatment must become available and acceptable to reduce the significant treatment gap in South Africa.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, according to the World Health Organisation, South Africans experienced a more than 36.4% increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders and a 38.7% increase in the prevalence of major depressive disorders. More than twice as many women as men have been diagnosed with anxiety and women are almost twice as likely as men to experience depression.

Key factors to take into account that have an impact on mental health include excessive or insufficient work, lack of control and ability to participate at work, conflict, lack of recognition, conflict, inequity, poor interpersonal relationships, poor working conditions, poor communication and conflicting home and work demands.

Breast Cancer

Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. In South Africa, one in 26 women is at risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer is deadly with 16 percent of cancer-related deaths being attributed to breast cancer. According to The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), breast cancer is the most invasive cancer reported in South Africa.

Early detection and treatment are essential, as this is when it normally is easiest to treat and cure before it spreads (metastasis). Common warning signs of breast cancer need to be noted and, if present, a Doctors appointment needs to be made as soon as possible to identify the cause of these signs. Warning signs include the following:

  •  A lump in your breast or underarm
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
    Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk
  • Pain in any area of the breast

Because women over the age of fifty are the most likely age group to develop breast cancer, they should have a breast cancer screen (mammogram) every year even if they do not present with any symptoms.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones lose density and become weak and brittle as they lose calcium content. While the body normally absorbs and replaces bone tissue, when you have osteoporosis new bone creation does not keep up with the removal of the old bone resulting in a weakness of the bones.

Unfortunately, most people have no symptoms until they have a bone fracture and then osteoporosis is diagnosed. People with osteoporosis have an increased risk of fracture particularly of
the spine, wrist, hip, pelvis, and upper arms. In South Africa,
1 in 3 women is likely to develop this disease in their lifetime.

Staying Healthy and Looking after Yourself

Most premature deaths (before 60 years) can be prevented with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking. Staying healthy during your lifetime will not only lower your risk of developing most diseases but also improves your chance of a positive prognosis.

Healthy Diet

  • Enjoy a variety of foods
    Choose whole wheat starches (pasta, rice, bread) instead of low fiber, refined starches
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day
  • Eat beans, split peas, lentils, and soya regularly
  • Have milk, mass, or yoghurt every day
  • Drink lots of clean, safe water
  • Use fats sparingly, choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats
  • Use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly
  • Use salt and food high in salt, such as processed foods and takeaways, sparingly

Keeping Fit and being physically active

  • Regular physical activity can help lower your risk for many diseases that affect women including heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers
  • Exercise can help relieve symptoms of conditions such as depression, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Exercise can help to improve sleep and reduce stress levels
  • Exercise lowers your risk of dying early
  • Including weight-bearing exercises will help to prevent bone loss as well as help strengthen already weak bones.

Physical Activity Goals

Get started! Every little bit helps! It’s important to start slow and build up your endurance. Set realistic goals for yourself. A brisk, 30-minute walk five times a week will ensure you achieve the prescribed amount of exercise for general health.

  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol excessively
  • Pay attention to your mental health
  • Take time for yourself doing activities you enjoy like dancing, reading, or spending time with friends and family
  • Activities such as yoga can lower stress while helping with anxiety, depression, and insomnia
  • Reach out and connect with friends and family
  • Take medication as prescribed, including supplements, for example, calcium supplements for osteoporosis
  • Keep track of your symptoms and health status. Report any changes or new symptoms to a health care professional.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Focus on weight loss if you are overweight.

It is important to remember that not all women will experience the same conditions or symptoms. It is important to talk to a health professional about any concerns or symptoms you may have.

Do not be afraid to ask about what support systems are in your local area/online as these can provide advice and support. The good news is that many health conditions can be successfully managed through lifestyle changes and, when required, the correct medications.

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