Women’s health, there’s so much to cover, seriously where do we begin? I've learned common women's health issues aren't so common. Going through life as a woman, from being a daughter to being a mum, it’s easy to notice how often women’s health gets put on the back burner. We don't mean to not prioritise our health but it's easy to get distracted with our other priorities. Women are often relied upon to be the support with the family dynamic. This can mean we put our own health behind that of those around us, and that can mean not only are we neglecting our own health but we are perhaps not as informed on many common women’s health issues as we would like.
I've co-founded a Woman-led business and we employ many women too. This gives us a heightened sense of raising awareness for women’s health. Making information readily available for women and the people around us is an important core value for Live Well Health Essentials. Considering this, I've made it my mission to share more about women's health issues and find ways to support others who are dedicated to raising awareness of women's health issues.
Below I've compiled an overview of some common women’s health concerns, that I wish were talked about more.
Roughly 1 in 9 women around the world live with the condition endometriosis. Considering how common this condition is, relatively little is known about the root cause of endometriosis. What we do know is that this refers to a disease where tissue like that which grows on the inside the lining of your womb grows outside of it in other parts of the body, like the fallopian tubes, ovaries and pelvic area. Symptoms vary for people living with endometriosis, but common manifestation of the disease is intense and often incapacitating pain around the time of menstruation. A friend of mine when I was in my teenage years had to miss two days of school every month because she was bed ridden for the first two days of her period due to endometriosis. Symptoms can be less extreme for some or manifest in other areas like infertility, but because of the inconsistency in symptoms and low awareness of endometriosis in medical fields, an endometriosis diagnosis in Australia takes an average of 6.5 years.
As of yet there is no cure for endometriosis. There are ways to treat it however, mostly via a healthcare professional who may suggest medical treatments via hormone supplementation or surgery depending on what stage your endometriosis is at. Complementary treatments to help ease symptoms include various types of physiotherapy like pelvic yoga and holistic medicines. Awareness of this disease is thankfully starting to grow, and with that more research is being conducted to help treat it. Want to stay updated and informed? Follow Endometriosis Australia for research updates and in depth information.
An autoimmune disease is when the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells. Women are double as likely to have an autoimmune disorder, and can be triggered by periods of great stress or significant hormonal changes like pregnancy or menopause. They can also be genetic, sometimes lasting only for sporadic periods or sometimes being a lifelong affliction.
A common autoimmune disease that affects women is lupus (9 out of 10 people with lupus are female) and can affect the kidneys, lungs, skin, joints and eyes among other things. People with lupus can experience symptoms of this disorder in varying degrees, such as chronic pain, photosensitivity and seizures.
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a common health condition affecting women of reproductive age. My mother has it, and I got myself checked for it when I was 21 to stay on top of my health. PCOS is a disease where the body overproduces male hormones like testosterone that interfere with regular functions of the body, and cysts can form on the ovaries interfering with egg formation. PCOS affects between 8-13 % of women, and can manifest in symptoms like irregular periods, acne, issues with fertility, depression, hair loss and insulin resistance.
Most of what we know about the cause of PCOS is that family genetics play a big role, and environmental factors from the time inside the womb to early life. To check whether you have PCOS a pelvic ultrasound is needed to get a good look at your ovaries, and diagnosis is done by a gynaecological or medical expert. PCOS can be managed with making sure to eat a nutritional diet, and keeping an active lifestyle and sometimes supplements - if you are unsure about whether you have PCOS or are struggling to treat it, always consult your primary care physician!
Heart disease causes the highest amount of fatalities each year in Australian women. Heart disease obviously affects men as well as women, but studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer heart attacks or disease during their life. We see lots of women’s health not getting as much awareness, so the symptoms of heart disease tend to get brushed off until they cause serious damage like a heart attack. Genetics play a part in heart disease, but there are lots of complementary ways to be proactive about heart health on top of getting regular check ups, like cutting out hazards including smoking, eating a nutritious diet without too many saturated fats, and making time for exercise. Because of my family history with heart disease, it’s a priority for me to stay on top of my heart health so being informed and aware gives me peace of mind - for my family as well.
Cancer is a disease where cells in the body grow out of control and destroy tissue around the body - there are many kinds of cancer, treatable and not that are common among women of all ages. 4 of the most common in women are ovarian and cervical cancer, as well as breast cancer.
Cancer in the breast starts at the ducts of the breast, and can spread to other tissues becoming what's called an invasive cancer. Accounting for 1 in 3 cancer diagnosis in women, breast cancer is very common - there is a 1 in 8 chance a woman will develop breast cancer at some stage in her life, in mild cases to more severe cases. Breast cancer is treated by medical professionals, and can be supported by living a healthy lifestyle.
Ovarian and Cervical Cancer
A large percentage of cervical cancers are directly resulting from contracting the HPV virus which is very easily transmittable. Around 85% of people will experience HPV and have no negative outcomes, but cancer in the cervix can occur. Unusual bleeding, pain in the pelvic area and during sex can be indicators of cervical cancer.
Ovarian cancer has a wide array of symptoms to look out for, including feeling persistently bloated, losing your appetite and feeling full after small amounts of food, and needing to relieve your bladder unusually often are among them.
When bones become thinner, weaker, more brittle and prone to breaking easily this is known as osteoporosis. While this is a condition associated with ageing, women are more susceptible to experiencing osteoporosis after going through menopause - in fact wome are estimated to lose about 10% of their bone mass in the five years after menopause. Drops in oestrogen can cause this change in the bones, and making sure to eat a calcium rich diet and doing regular weight bearing exercises from a young age can help prevent severe osteoporosis as you age. Treatment is possible as directed by medical professionals, like taking bisphosphonates and certain supplements.
Pregnancy Related Issues
Possibly a more accurate heading would be ‘what pregnancy related issues CAN’T I experience’? Osteoporosis, autoimmune disease and heart disease are all conditions that can be brought on by pregnancy. Some women can experience medical conditions that never impacted them much prior to pregnancy, and then become pregnant and have these conditions’ symptoms exacerbated.
Swelling in the joints and carpal tunnel are common for women to experience during pregnancy, which can affect mobility and comfort. This usually passes after birth, along with women who experience pregnancy related anaemia which passes in most cases after birth also.
Gestational diabetes is the fastest growing form of diabetes in Australia. You can be more likely to experience gestational diabetes if you have certain prior conditions like PCOS, have high blood glucose levels, are taking certain types of steroids or antipsychotic medications or are above the age of 40. While this type of diabetes usually passes after birth, sometimes it can linger - a good friend of mine had a baby over two years ago and is still diabetic!
Raising awareness for mental health conditions is every bit as important to us - another very common pregnancy health issue being postnatal depression (PND). Affecting around 1 in 7 Australian women after birth, PND can range in severity from mild to overwhelming depression, and can pass over time but should be treated like a physical illness and can be treated through psychological means.
I’m seeing more and more awareness on women’s health issues as time goes on (finally!) and contributing to this discourse is something the team at Live Well Health Essentials is passionate about, and plan to keep on doing.