Another Women’s Day came and went but women’s risk of troubling, and potentially fatal, diseases will remain the same unless they proactively put themselves and their health at par with their family and friends.
Heart disease kills more women than all the cancers put together, yet few are aware of the risk they run of collapsing from a heart attack or a stroke. True, the female hormone oestrogen protects young women from heart disease, but smoking, diabetes and abnormal blood lipids neurtalise this protection, as does menopause. Women who smoke, for example, risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than those who don’t.
Heart attacks in women are also more often misdiagnosed or missed in women as compared to men because many don’t experience the textbook symptom of chest pain.Instead, they may just experience extreme weakness that feels like the flu, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back, arm or jaw pain. This results in fewer receiving life-saving beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and aspirin after a heart attack that increase survival. As many as 38% women die within a year of their first heart attack compared to 25% men.
Breast and cervical cancers
Breast and cervical cancers are the top two causes of cancers deaths among women in India, with breast cancer doubling between 1990 and 2013, shows data from The Global Burden of Cancer 2013. While getting vaccinated against cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) protects against cervical cancer — Delhi government has announced it will vaccinate all 9-13 year old girls free against HPV — breast cancer detection is trickier.
Every women has a 12% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, all women must do the mandatory breast self-exam for lumps every day and go for mammograms after age 45 (age 35 if your mum, aunt or sister has breast cancer). Early diagnosis improves treatment outcomes, but self exam has its challenges. The breast tissue of women under 40 is generally denser than in older women, so they may not feel a lump till the cancer is advanced. Though breast cancer is among the most treatable cancers, most women in India get diagnosed in late stages 3 and 4, which results in thousands of avoidable deaths.
One in three women in India is underweight and 12.8% are stunted, standing less than 145 cm and more than half (55%) have anaemia, shows data from India’s National Family Health Survey 3 (2005-06). Anaemia causes one in five pregnancy-related deaths, triples the risk of premature delivery and low birthweight babies, and raises chances of stillbirths ninefold. Mother’s anaemia may cause irreversible brain damage and lower development of the baby n the womb.
If the deficiency is not acute, an iron-rich diet can push haemoglobin levels over the recommended 13 gm/dl. irton is found in meats, legumes, leafy vegetables, dried peas, beans, dried apricots and raisins. Cooking in an iron pot pushed up iron content in the cooked food while adding vitamin C with meals – fresh lemon or citrus fruit juice, for example – enhances its absorption.
More than half of women pre- and post-menopausal women in India have low bone mass. Globally, four in five people with osteoporosis are women, who start losing bone mass when oestrogen levels start falling when they hit menopause. Yet few realise they have a higher risk of serious bone injury from falls. Data from a global study of more than 60,000 postmenopausal women aged ≥55 years showed that more than half did not consider themselves at risk of spine, hip, leg and wrist fractures even when they had brittle and weak bones. Even women with neurological diseases that affect movement did not worry about hurting themselves, found a study of women with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and heart disease.
Women in India are more depressed than men yet the condition is under- or misdiagnosed because of their disadvantaged social position, stigma and domestic violence. Social subjugation of girls and women plays a role in the neglect of their mental health, with young women feeling helpless and frustrated at being thwarted at every step. Unlike the rest of the world where young men are three times more likely to kill themselves, more young women kill themselves than men in India.
Stress from gender biases is a global phenomenon. Women who make less money than men were 2.5 times more likely to be depressed and four times more likely to have an anxiety disorder, found a study of more than 22,000 women and men with matching education and work experience. When women’s income was greater than their male counterparts, however, women’s odds of being depressed or anxious were nearly the same as, found the study published this week in the journal Social Science & Medicine.