Your health is the most important thing you have, so protecting it should be a top priority. Besides making healthy lifestyle choices, visiting your health care provider regularly can make a big difference. You should also have any recommended screenings—they can detect diseases even before you have symptoms.
It’s also a good idea to be aware of some of the top threats to women’s health. Watch for their signs, discuss them with your provider, and be proactive about preventing them. Here are a few you should know.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. One in eight women will develop the disease in her lifetime. While there are some risk factors for breast cancer you can’t control, you may be able to lower your risk if you:
Maintain a healthy weight
Limit your alcohol intake
Get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women receive mammograms to screen for breast cancer every two years starting at age 50. Other expert recommendations differ. Depending on your unique risk factors, your provider may suggest starting sooner or screening more often.
About one in five American women will die from heart disease. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Heart disease occurs when a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside your arteries and limits blood flow to your heart.
Some risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, are the same for women and men. Women also have some additional risk factors. For example, taking birth control pills raises your risk for heart disease. The drop in estrogen that occurs with menopause increases your risk for heart disease, too. However, taking hormones after menopause can increase the risk of a heart attack for older women.
Discuss your risk factors with your provider as well as the changes you can make to reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
For both men and women, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death. If you smoke, your risk for lung cancer is 13 times greater compared with a woman who has never smoked.
Lung cancer is a very deadly disease. Fortunately, a screening test called low-dose computed tomography can help detect it in its early stages, when it’s most treatable. If you’re ages 55 to 80 and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, ask your provider whether you’re a candidate for this screening.
Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men. Certain factors may increase your risk for depression, such as:
Genetics. You’re more likely to develop depression if you have a family history of the condition.
Having a baby. Hormonal changes that occur after giving birth can contribute to postpartum depression.
Menopause. The shift in hormones can affect your brain and lead to depression.
Stress. Experiencing a stressful event such as the loss of a loved one can trigger depression.
Symptoms of depression may include:
Feeling sad, hopeless, irritable, or anxious
Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
Changes in memory
Insomnia or sleeping too much
Changes in weight or appetite
If you think you may be depressed, seek treatment. Medications and counseling can help.