When we think of women’s health issues, we are really only scratching the surface. If you ask someone the simple question of “What health issues affect women?”, there’s a good chance that your main answers will be one of three to four things: osteoporosis, breast (or cervical) cancer, and pregnancy. Unfortunately, there’s a much wider variety of health issues that women face and are not talked about. Issues as general as heart disease to afflictions as specific as endometriosis affect women daily. With that in mind, we have compiled a (short) list of women’s health issues that we should talk about more.
1. Heart Disease
Perhaps it’s because one of the most common misconceptions of heart disease is that it affects primarily men, but the fact is that heart disease is also the number one killer of women. This misconception can be deadly, especially when you consider that the common symptoms of a heart attack that the public is usually taught—crushing pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat—are more in line with the male set of symptoms for a heart attack. Women are more likely to experience fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety and lightheadedness leading up to their heart attack. For more information and to begin the conversation on heart disease and women, a visit to Go Red for Women—a site associated with the American Heart Association—is a great place to start.
2. Autoimmune Diseases
There’s more than 100 chronic illnesses grouped together under the category of autoimmune diseases, and of the people affected by these diseases, more than seventy-five percent are women, as noted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. In part, the lack of conversation about autoimmune diseases stems from the general lack of understanding of autoimmunity. It’s not universally recognized, and so diagnosing sufferers are extremely difficult. Most women find that, on average, it takes almost five years and going to about five doctors before they receive a diagnosis. In that time, about forty-five percent of them are labelled “chronic complainers.”
3. Maternal Health Issues
In 2015, the World Health Organization reported that for every 100,000 live births, about 18.5 women died. It’s not so much that pregnancy itself goes uncovered when we talk about women’s health. Rather, the unspoken issue in this case is what goes into a healthy pregnancy, such as prenatal care and postpartum care, and is subsequently forgotten about. To add insult onto injury, there have been multiple studies showing that maternal deaths would decrease if postpartum care was provided more extensively. While there should of course be attention on the infant, it seems that the mothers are often forgotten in this equation, and no one is talking about it enough.
4. Sexual Health Issues
It’s no surprise that there is not enough discussion about women’s sexual health—however, there are consequences to this lack of discussion. For instance, in the past ten years, there has been a raised awareness on the topic of endometriosis, a condition that affects one in ten women, and yet it is still a chronic illness that takes up to eight years to be diagnosed. Then there are such conditions as vulvodynia, which is chronic pain around the opening of the vagina, and painful intercourse (including vaginismus) that are not talked about due to the stigma around sex as well as general embarrassment.
5. Mental Health Concerns
Oftentimes, perhaps due to the general stigma surrounding mental illness, we forget that mental health is still an issue that affects everyone, especially women. While women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, it may go unnoticed due to the women being perceived as more emotional and hormonal, thus discrediting any concerns sufferers may have. There are also some mental health concerns linked to changes in hormones for women, including issues like perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression.
Though there are so many discussions not started and so many women untreated for various health issues, there is a simple solution that you can begin to use now: speak up. Advocating for yourself or women is a great first step, as if just talking about it outside of the doctor’s office to raise awareness. While some issues lack research still, simply starting the discussion can spark change in how we approach women’s health.