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5 main health issues affecting women

It's women's health month here at Medichecks. We take a look at 5 health issues that can commonly affect women.

March is women’s health month. To give women’s health a boost, we draw attention to five health issues that women are more likely to experience in their lifetime.

Not only this, but we provide information and resources to support you to take control of your health and wellbeing. 

Here are five health conditions that affect women: 

1.    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Studies estimate that a whopping 1 in 5 women will have PCOS, but approximately 70% of women go undiagnosed [1].
 
Polycystic ovary syndrome develops when egg follicles within the ovaries develop tiny cysts. Although these cysts are not dangerous themselves, women can experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms that can interfere with their daily lives. Because PCOS affects the ovaries and developing eggs, it can also cause fertility problems. 
 
Symptoms of PCOS include:
•    Irregular or absent periods
•    Overweight or difficulty losing weight.
•    Fatigue
•    Acne or oily skin
•    Mood changes
•    Excess hair growth on the body
 
Higher than expected levels of androgens (male sex hormones), such as testosterone, can occur in women with PCOS. A Female Hormone Blood Test can reveal whether your testosterone levels are higher than they should be. If you are experiencing symptoms, this blood test can help you on your journey towards getting a PCOS diagnosis.  
 

2.    Autoimmune diseases

It is not only women who get autoimmune diseases - but women are disproportionally affected; 80% of those who live with an autoimmune disease are female [2].
 
There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, and these diseases can affect any part of our body. These diseases occur when the body mistakes its own cells as harmful and directs an immune response to attack.
 
Autoimmune diseases include thyroid diseases (such as hypothyroidism) and diseases that affect the gut, such as coeliac disease. An autoimmune reaction causes type 1 diabetes because the body mistakenly attacks the pancreas, which means it can no longer produce insulin to control blood sugar.
 
But what has gender got to do with autoimmune disease? Experts believe that female genes or female hormones make women more susceptible [2].
 
Medichecks offer several different tests for autoimmune diseases, such as an all-in-one solution to investigate coeliac disease: Complete Coeliac Blood Test. Medichecks also offer a first-stage Thyroid Function with Antibodies Blood Test to measure how well your thyroid is working.
 

3.    Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. This means that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime [3].
 
Some women can be at greater risk of developing breast cancer than others. For example, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Having a family history of breast cancer can also increase your risk if the type of breast cancer has a genetic cause. Lifestyle factors such as being overweight and drinking alcohol may also increase your risk. You can read more about risk here.
 
Symptoms of breast cancer include: 
•    A new lump or area of thickened breast tissue
•    A change in the size or shape of your breasts
•    Discharge or fluid from the nipple
•    Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
•    A change in the appearance of your nipple
 
It is essential to check your breasts regularly. For younger pre-menopausal women, the appearance and feel of breasts can change over a month due to hormonal changes. The most important thing is to know what is normal for you to identify unusual changes when they occur. 
 
Women aged between 50 and 70 will receive an invitation to attend breast screening every three years. Women aged over 70 years will also be entitled to screening and can arrange an appointment through their GP. 
 
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, you should see your GP. In many cases, these changes are not cancerous, but it is always best to get checked.
 
It is essential to discuss that breast cancer is not only a woman’s disease. Men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer, despite not having a large amount of breast tissue. The symptoms of breast cancer in men are very similar to those in women. You can read more about breast cancer in men here

 
4.    Endometriosis

Endometriosis can affect women of any age. It is thought 1 in 10 women may suffer from endometriosis in their lifetime [8].
 
Put simply; endometriosis is a condition in which tissue similar to the womb lining begins to grow in other areas of the body. This tissue can cause inflammation and pain, which can change throughout a monthly cycle. It could lead to fertility problems because tissue can grow near your fallopian tubes or ovaries, affecting ovulation [4].
 
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
•    Pain in lower tummy which can worsen during your period
•    Pain in other areas of the body such as back and legs which can worsen during your period
•    Pain during or after sex
•    Pain when peeing or pooing
•    Feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea
•    Bleeding in between periods or when you pee
•    Difficulty getting pregnant

Women living with endometriosis may also have heavy periods which are difficult to control with pads and tampons.
If you are experiencing endometriosis symptoms, you should visit your GP, especially if it significantly impacts your life. Endometriosis UK offers a pain and symptom diary that can help you track your symptoms and help your GP assess your symptoms. Although there is no direct cure for endometriosis, there are many treatments available to improve your quality of life.

 
 5.    Cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are a group of health conditions that include heart disease and stroke. Experts believe a build-up of fatty plaques inside the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots leading to CVD [5]. Raised cholesterol levels play a role in the development of fatty plaques [7]. 
 
There are certain stages in a woman’s life where she can be at higher risk of developing CVD. These life stages include the menopause and post-menopause life stages. This is because the fall in oestrogen levels can lead to an increase in abdominal body fat, which is a risk factor for CVD.
 
Shockingly, women are twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease than men [6]. This highlights a gender gap in the awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks. You can read more about this on the British Heart Foundation website here

It is reassuring to know that leading a healthy lifestyle, such as keeping active, cutting down on smoking and alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy weight, can prevent your risk of CVD. Experts also link saturated fat to raised bad cholesterol levels, so try to limit the amount in your diet. 
 
Medichecks offer a Heart Disease Risk Blood Test, which can assess your risk factors for developing heart diseases, such as cholesterol levels and inflammation. Our expert doctors will report on your results and suggest appropriate lifestyle changes or next steps to improve your risk. 
 


References

[1] https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dep399
[2] https://www.health.com/condition/psoriasis/autoimmune-disease-women-genes
[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/
[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/endometriosis/complications/
[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cardiovascular-disease/
[6] https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2019/september/heart-attack-gender-gap-is-costing-womens-lives
[7] https://www.heartuk.org.uk/cholesterol/what-is-high-cholesterol
[8] https://endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures