May 15, 2018

National Women’s Health Week: Women’s Health 101





By: Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, medical director and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan


The Institute for Women’s Policy Research grades the overall health of Michigan women as a “D+”. Though the below-average score may be surprising, it’s another important reason why females should schedule regular doctor visits and practice healthy habits every day. National Women’s Heath Week, which kicks off every Mother’s Day, empowers women and girls to make their health a priority through education, awareness and preventive care. Knowing health numbers (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and Body Mass Index (BMI) and making time for checkups/screenings is crucial to identifying the risk for illness. Some of the most prevalent health issues affecting women in the U.S. include:

Autoimmune Diseases: Of the 50 million Americans living with autoimmune disease, more than 75 percent are women. Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100 serious, chronic illnesses including: Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. These conditions develop when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks functions or parts of the body it’s meant to protect.
  • Symptoms vary based on the condition, but may include: achy muscles/joints, changes to bathroom patterns (frequent urination or constipation), fatigue, fever, painful rashes, swelling or vision loss.
Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, killing one out of every 38 females. Lung, ovarian, endometrial and colon cancer are unfortunately common as well. A woman whose immediate family has a history of breast cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease. Regular screenings with a primary care doctor are crucial to detect abnormalities early on. Maintaining a healthy weight and nutrient-dense diet, along with limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco products, are known to reduce the risk.
  • Symptoms may include, but are not limited to: chest discomfort, discharge, swelling or an unfamiliar lump/mass.  
Depression: About one in eight women experience symptoms of depression in their lifetime. This mental health condition is nearly twice as common in females and often results from loss, pregnancy, childbirth and/or chronic stress. Thankfully, research shows a healthy diet and regular exercise can lower the risk of depression and improve mental health overall.
  • Symptoms include, but are not limited to: changes to appetite and sleep patterns, fatigue, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, isolation, loss of interest or mood swings.
Heart Disease: As the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., heart disease is responsible for one out of every four female deaths. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are some of the key risk factors for the disease, which affects nearly half of Americans. Staying active, eating healthy and managing a healthy weight are important means of prevention (and treatment) of cardiovascular disease.
  • Symptoms include, but are not limited to: discomfort in the arms or neck, fatigue, leg or ankle swelling, loss of feeling/numbness in limbs, persistent congestion/coughing and pressure or pain in the chest.
Osteoporosis: Approximately one in two women over age 50 will injure or break a bone due to osteoporosis. Unfortunitely, just being a woman is a primary risk factor for the condition. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise and strength training can reduce the risk. It’s especially important for young girls and teens to build their bone strength, as puberty and adolescence are a crucial time for bone development and growth.
  • Symptoms include, but are not limited to: back pain, bone fractures, joint or muscle aches or stooped posture.

Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, is a medical director and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.

Metro Detroit Mommy Writer: