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Top 3 Women’s Health Concerns: Heart Disease, Breast Cancer & Mental Health

Top 3 Women’s Health Concerns: Heart Disease, Breast Cancer & Mental Health

While women tend to visit their GPs more frequently than men, when it comes to the most worrying of symptoms, women are just as tempted to ignore whatever is bothering them and hope it goes away. But that’s a mistake, especially in the face of the three most prevalent health conditions women face today—heart disease, breast cancer, and mental health. Catching these conditions early is key to recovery and to living a long and healthy life.

In this post:

  • Heart disease warning signs
  • How to reduce your risk of having a heart attack
  • Breast cancer warning signs
  • How to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer
  • Mental health warning signs
  • How to reduce your risk of developing mental health issues

Heart Disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a broad term that includes coronary artery disease, heart failure, valvular heart diseases, and various other conditions that impede the heart’s ability to function effectively. It leads to complications such as chest pain (angina), heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms.

Heart attack warning signs

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of women globally. In the UK, women are twice as likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. Despite its prevalence, women are still more likely than men to be misdiagnosed. This misdiagnosis can happen because many people are not aware that women and men can present different signs of a heart attack. For example, women are significantly less likely to report chest pain or discomfort compared with men. That’s why it is so important to make sure you know all the warning signs of a heart attack.

Women are significantly less likelyto report chest pain or discomfort compared with men

Main warning signs of a heart attack:

Less common symptoms are a persistent cough, wheezing, a bloated abdomen, loss of appetite, unexpected changes in weight, and confusion.

Of course, all these symptoms can arise for reasons other than heart disease, so if you are concerned, it is important to seek help immediately.

How to reduce your risk of a heart attack

Risk factors for heart disease in women include age, family history, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and an inactive lifestyle. To reduce your risk of heart attack, you should eat a balanced diet, stay physically active throughout your life, and maintain a healthy weight. Giving up smoking, reducing your alcohol consumption, and keeping your blood pressure under control, all go a long way to help you avoid having a heart attack and to maintaining a healthy heart.

DosDon’ts
Eat a balanced diet prioritising a colourful array of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteinsConsume a diet high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars
Stay physically activeBe sedentary
Maintain a healthy weightConsume excessive calories, saturated and trans fats
Reduce alcohol consumptionDrink too much alcohol
Keep your blood pressure under controlSkip regular check-ups
Give up SmokingSmoke

Breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer in the cells of the breast that can occur in both men and women, but it is far more common in women. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. It usually starts in the ducts or lobules of the breast and may invade surrounding tissues or spread to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide

Breast cancer warning signs

How to reduce your risk of breast cancer

Your risk of getting breast cancer risk depends on many factors. Some are related to your genes—having a family history, particularly having first-degree relatives with breast cancer, and inherited gene mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2. Age also plays a key role, as women, especially those over 50, are at a higher risk of breast cancer.

Reducing the risk of breast cancer involves taking a proactive approach to the things you can control, such as getting regular mammograms and clinical breast exams, and adopting a health-conscious lifestyle by maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity, and by limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco use. Breastfeeding, if possible, has also been shown to provide protective benefits.

Genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations to see if you have an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers is recommended if you have a strong family history of those conditions, but the results are not always clear, so be sure to talk with a genetic counsellor first.

DosDon’ts
Get regular mammograms and clinic breast examsAvoid or delay breast exams
Get regular physically activityBe sedentary
Maintain a healthy weightConsume excessive calories, saturated and trans fats
Reduce alcohol consumptionDrink too much alcohol
Avoid tobacco useSmoke
Consider genetic counsellingIgnore breast changes

Mental health

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. You can also think of it as your ability to handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health conditions disrupt those abilities and can have a substantial, detrimental, and sometimes even fatal impact on your life.

Some mental health conditions that affect women more than men, include: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Common mental health warning signs may include:

How to reduce your risk of mental illness

Several factors contribute to the risk of mental illness in women. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause have been linked to depression and anxiety in some women. Additionally, the stress women experience related to the demands of juggling work and family, societal expectations, gender-based discrimination, unequal opportunities, sexual assault or domestic violence, disproportionately affects women. For example, women have a 2-to-3 times higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to men.

Women have 2-to-3 times higher riskof developing post traumatic stress disorder

Fortunately, there is a lot women can do to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of mental illness, starting by prioritising their mental well-being and living a healthy lifestyle. Women should get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, build strong social connections, and develop effective stress management strategies—such as mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation techniques. Women should also set realistic goals for themselves, set boundaries, and practice self-compassion. If your family has history of mental illness, you should schedule regular mental health check-ups with professionals to discuss your concerns and any symptoms.

DosDon’ts
Prioritise your mental well-beingIgnore your symptoms
Eat a balanced dietEngage in substance abuse
Get regular exerciseNeglect your physical health
Stay socialIsolate yourself
Set boundariesOvercommit yourself
Practice self-compassionSuppress emotions

Main takeaways

  • Heart disease, breast cancer, and mental health issues are the most prevalent health conditions women face today.
  • Women and men can present different signs of a heart attack, for example women are less likely to report sharp chest pain.
  • Breast cancer is the most reported type of cancer among women worldwide.
  • Some mental health conditions affect women more than men, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD).
  • Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during menstruation, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause have been linked to depression and anxiety in some women.

References

Canto, J. et al. (2007), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Symptom Presentation of Women With Acute Coronary Syndromes — Myth vs. Reality

Wilkinson, l. et al. (2022), Br J Radiol. Understanding breast cancer as a global health concern

Olf, M. (2017). Eur J Psychotraumatol. Sex and gender differences in post-traumatic stress disorder: an update

PillSorted

PillSorted is a full service pharmacy that delivers trusted pharmacy products, over-the counter medications, and the prescriptions your doctor recommends, directly to your door. Your PillSorted pharmacist is happy to answer your questions about women’s health and potential treatment options at 0333 4050380 or help@pillsorted.com.

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