Womens Health: An Overview of Managing Your Health Through Different Stages
Women’s health demands special care. Healthy aging involves good habits like eating healthy, avoiding common medication mistakes, managing health conditions, getting recommended screenings, and being active. Women have unique health issues. And some of the health issues that affect both men and women can affect women differently.
Women may have different signs or symptoms at menopause. That’s because estrogen is used by many parts of your body. As you have less estrogen, you could have various symptoms. Many women experience very mild symptoms that are easily treated by lifestyle changes, like avoiding caffeine or carrying a portable fan to use when a hot flash strikes. Some women don’t require any treatment at all. Other symptoms can be more problematic.Illustration of a woman in a boat
Here are the most common changes you might notice at midlife. Some may be part of aging rather than directly related to menopause.
Change in your period. This might be what you notice first. Your periods may no longer be regular. They may be shorter or last longer. You might bleed more or less than usual. These are all normal changes, but to make sure there isn’t a problem, see your doctor if:
- Your periods come very close together
- You have heavy bleeding
- You have spotting
- Your periods last more than a week
- Your periods resume after no bleeding for more than a year
Hot flashes. Many women have hot flashes, which can last a few years after menopause. They may be related to changing estrogen levels. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Your face and neck become flushed. Red blotches may appear on your chest, back, and arms. Heavy sweating and cold shivering can follow. Hot flashes can be very mild or strong enough to wake you up (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. They can happen several times an hour, a few times a day, or just once or twice a week.
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Cancer in Older Women
Breast cancer is the most common cancer that women may face in their lifetime (except for skin cancer). It can occur at any age, but the risk goes up as you get older. Because of certain factors, some women may have a greater chance of having breast cancer than others. But every woman should know about breast cancer and what can be done about it.
What you can do
The best defense is to find breast cancer early – when it’s small, has not spread, and is easier to treat. Finding breast cancer early is called “early detection.” The American Cancer Society recommends the following for breast cancer early detection:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
- Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.
- All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.
- Women should also be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel and report any changes to a health care provider right away.
Some women at high risk for breast cancer – because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other factors – should be screened with MRIs along with mammograms. (The number of women who fall into this category is very small.) Talk with a health care provider about your risk for breast cancer and the best screening plan for you.
Colon cancers are commonly called cancers of the colon and rectum. People with a personal or family history of this cancer, or who have polyps in their colon or rectum, or those with inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to have colon cancer. Also, being overweight, eating a diet mostly of high-fat foods (especially from animal sources), smoking, and being inactive can make a person more likely to have this cancer.
What you can do
Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp – a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. Testing can save lives by finding polyps before they become cancer. If pre-cancerous polyps are removed, colon cancer can be prevented.
For people at average risk of colon and rectal cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends starting regular screening at age 45. People older than 75 should talk with their health care provider about whether continuing screening is right for them.
Screening can be done either with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool (a stool-based test), or with an exam that looks at the colon and rectum (a visual exam).
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