We’d hate to sound melodramatic, but if you’re female this list could save your life.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer — and symptoms may not be what you expect
It’s a common misconception that heart disease is a “man’s disease,”but in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more troubling is the fact that symptoms don’t always present the same in women. While the most common sign of a heart attack for both genders will always be chest pain, there are other, more subtle symptoms women should be mindful of, says Jennifer Haythe, MD, co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. “Women, besides chest pain, are more likely to experience things like shortness of breath, nausea or sensitive digestion, dizziness or lightheadedness, extreme fatigue. Sometimes they feel like there’s something wrong and they’re not quite sure what it is.” Bottom line: If you don’t feel right, see your doctor — it could save your life.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease
About 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis — a disease in which the body loses too much bone — and 80 percent of those people are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Why are women disproportionately affected? You can thank our typically thinner bones, plus estrogen loss during menopause. Prevention is key, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, women’s health expert and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “Bone health really begins in your teens. By 30, our bones are complete — they’re done. When you hit menopause, that’s when bone loss starts to happen fast and furious,” says Ross. “What I would recommend is make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet and doing weight-bearing exercises.” Because osteoporosis doesn’t have obvious symptoms, Ross also recommends getting a bone-density test as early as age 50, depending on your medical history. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for all women age 65 and older.
Depression isn’t just “feeling sad”
Women are twice as likely as men to develop major depression, and its symptoms can often be misunderstood. “It’s not always emotional,” says Ross. “Low energy, fatigue, or feeling like you have to sleep all the time, or having trouble sleeping — these are all common signs of depression. Appetite, weight changes, not being able to concentrate.” If you are experiencing these symptoms, Ross recommends making an appointment with your general physician. “I think that’s where the conversation begins. We want to rule out something medical — thyroid is another example that can cause depression.” If depression is diagnosed, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist, or a prescribe an antidepressant.
Stress effects can be full-body
Another mental-health concern predominant in women is stress — and its far-reaching effects on the body, says Ross. “It’s startling the number of doctors’ visits that are for symptoms caused by or exacerbated by stress,” she says. “Stress could cause a lot of physical symptoms, whether it’s insomnia or high blood pressure, or even heart disease.” While stress is inevitable — those work deadlines aren’t going away — Haythe recommends identifying what your biggest stressors are and dealing with them individually. “If it’s work, it’s not like you can necessarily go to yoga when the stressor is there.” But eating well, fitting in exercise when you’re off the clock and practicing mindfulness techniques may help your body better manage a stressful situation when you’re in the thick of it, Haythe says.
Irregular periods could be a secret signal
Sometimes a skipped period can feel like a blessing — no cramps this month! — but if you miss three or more periods in a row, Ross says it may not be cause for celebration. In fact, it could be signs of bigger concerns like a thyroid disorder or even polycystic ovarian syndrome. And missed periods can also increase your likelihood of osteoporosis down the line (remember, reduced estrogen contributes to bone loss). So if you’ve skipped a few periods, book an appointment with your OB/GYN or primary care doctor stat.
You may need to think about fertility earlier than you thought
The average age of first-time mothers continues to rise, from 24.9 in 2000 to 26.3 in 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In addition, the number of women over 35 giving birth also continues to grow. Yet, with all those statistics, women as young as their early 30s, who think they might want to have children someday, need to be mindful that fertility declines with age. “Even if they’re not ready to get pregnant, I think it’s important for women in their early 30s to think about egg freezing,” says Ross. It can take longer than you expect to conceive, and either partner (or both) can have issues that contribute to infertility. There are several options to overcome infertility, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), a surrogate, and adoption. A frozen egg might give you a chance to conceive through IVF later than you otherwise could.
A properly fitting bra can be life changing
An astounding 80 percent of women wear the wrong size bra, and ill-fitting bras can cause a number of maladies, from skin irritation and chafing to shoulder pain, says Ross. To ensure you’re wearing the right size—especially after weight loss or gain, or pregnancy or breastfeeding, all of which can change your size — she recommends getting fitted by a specialist. Many department stores and lingerie shops offer the service free of charge — because no one should go through life with the wrong kind of support.