While there is a whole raft of things that everyone can do take care of their health generally, it’s no secret that there are a bunch of issues that are specific to women.
Women in Australia compare pretty favourable to our counterparts across the globe, but there are still some serious diseases that continue to burden our female population. In this special, we’ll take a quick snapshot of the things that are impacting Australian women today.
While we do have some unique requirements, you may be surprised to find that some of women’s most pressing issues are not reserved solely for the female gender.
This is obviously a uniquely female branch of medicine. It deals with disorders specifically related to pregnancy, childbirth and the female reproductive organs. Endometriosis, fibroids and menstrual disorders are all widely prevalent amongst Australian women, and sometimes have no known causes. Treatments vary dependent on individual cases.
Complications during pregnancy include pre-eclampsia, which can lead to serious issues for both mother and baby. There are sometimes no symptoms of pre-eclampsia and it is usually diagnosed during routine antenatal appointments. Birth complications including haemorrhage, and clots can also have serious consequences. Fortunately, pre-natal care in Australia is of a high standard, and issues are quickly identified. Our maternal mortality rates are amongst the lowest in the world.
We often think of cardiovascular disease as a men’s health issue, but the reality is that it’s the leading cause of death in both men and women in Australia and four times as many women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer. The term ‘cardiovascular disease’ refers to all conditions of the heart and blood vessels and includes things like stroke and chronic diseases of the blood vessels.
Women tend to develop signs and symptoms of heart disease at a much later stage of the illness than their male counterparts and their symptoms are often different and less specific when compared to men and therefore are more easily overlooked.
Women’s symptoms can include:
Older females are particularly susceptible to coronary heart disease, which is the most common cardiovascular condition, and is caused by the build-up of plaques in the blood vessels supplying the heart. Stroke is the next most common cause of death and is caused by an interruption to the blood supply to the brain as a result of a blocked or ruptured artery.
Key indicators for cardiovascular conditions include smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. The best way to maintain good cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease is to exercise regularly, eat healthy food, monitor your health statistics like blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, weight, and waist circumference.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic, mental health is: “a state of wellbeing in which individuals can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and are able to make a contribution to their community”. Conversely, mental illness is defined as: “a number of diagnosable disorders that can significantly interfere with a person's cognitive, emotional or social abilities”. This is an important distinction as the terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably.
We all experience things in life that can make us feel sad or stressed, and usually this passes over time. But sometimes the feelings last for a long periods of time or feel extremely intense – and sometimes this happens for no apparent reason. This is much more common than you may think.
Most people will struggle with mental ill health at some time in their life. In Australia, it is estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health problem. Statistics indicate that in a twelve-month period, around one million adults in Australia are living with depression and over two million are dealing with anxiety.
While men and women generally experience similar rates of mental illness overall, women are more likely to experience some mental health conditions than men. One in five Australian women are likely to experience depression and one in three will experience anxiety during their lifetime. Up to 90% of eating disorders diagnosed occur within women.
While the onset of these conditions can occur at any time, anxiety and depression are most likely to occur during pregnancy and the year following the birth of a baby. Mental disorder occurs more frequently among people who live alone and who are divorced or separated.
In some ways, taking care of your mental health is not a lot different to taking care of your physical health. Some simple actions you can take to help maintain or improve your mental well-being include:
Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period. It occurs when there has been a change in a woman's reproductive hormones and the ovaries no longer release any eggs. Perimenopause is the stage before natural menopause and is often the time when women begin to experience the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, mood swings, and other bodily changes Peri-menopause can last between four to six years.
It’s a time often referred to as hormonal pandemonium. Hormone levels can vary erratically as the ovaries begin to run out of eggs. Symptoms can include hot flushes, mood swings, increasing forgetfulness, increased aches and pains, and migraines.
If you find your symptoms are impacting significantly on your lifestyle, you may wish to discuss with your doctor potential treatment options including: combined oral contraceptive pill; hormone replacement therapy; and other natural therapies.
There are a number of different types of cancers that can affect females and nearly 25% of Australian women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer before they turn 75.
The types of cancers most frequently diagnosed in women are not necessarily exclusively female cancers and impact many men and women across Australia. They include: breast, colorectal (bowel), melanoma, and lung cancers. Combined, these cancers account for 60% of all cancers in women in Australia.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is the most common cause of cancer deaths. Risk of breast cancer increases with age, and with early detection, has a high rate of successful treatment. It’s important to perform regular self-examination so you’re familiar with what’s normal for you and so that it’s easier to detect any changes. If you’re over 50, regular breast screening also helps with early identification.
One in every 21 Australians are expected to develop bowel cancer in their lifetime. Common symptoms of bowel cancer include: bleeding from the bowels; changes in bowel habits; anaemia (excess fatigue or dizziness); abdominal pain; sudden weight loss. The Cancer Council recommends that anyone aged more than 50 without symptoms and without a strong family history of bowel cancer should have a screening test every two years. Screening tests are designed to detect cancer before it becomes large enough to cause any symptoms, allowing earlier treatment.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that forms in the cells responsible for pigmentation. It can occur in adults or children and typically appears in areas of the skin that have been overexposed to sunlight. It is estimated that two out of three Australians will develop a skin cancer before the age of 70. The main risk factor for developing all skin cancer – including melanoma – is unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Other factors that increase the risk of melanoma include:
The best prevention of melanoma is to protect yourself from exposure to the sun, especially in the middle of the day when UV levels are highest.
Similarly to bowel cancer and melanoma, lung cancer does not discriminate between men and women. One in 28 Australians will develop lung cancer in their lifetime. It is the most common cause of cancer death in the country. Cigarette smoking is the main cause of lung cancer but exposure to asbestos or radiation can also put you at an increased risk. The prognosis of lung cancer is dependent on at what stage the tumour has been diagnosed and whether it has metastasised (spread) to other areas of the body. The best prevention of lung cancer is to avoid smoking.