Hello March! This month we celebrate International Women’s Day, where we recognise the achievements of women, and highlight the challenges that women today face. What are the unique health issues that affect women? Here are the 5 common health conditions you should pay attention to in yourself and the women around you.
Eating disorders are mental conditions that are more likely to affect women (especially amongst young women) than men. They are not tied to a specific body type – sufferers may appear thin, healthy weighted, or overweight. While eating disorders revolves around food and body weight, they are often more about control and feelings of self-esteem than they are about food. The most common eating disorders are anorexia (starvation) and bulimia (bingeing and purging).
Symptoms: With anorexia, signs include avoiding eating even when one is hungry, liking the stomach to be empty, or focus eating only “diet foods”. With bulimia, one may use foods to cope with stress, anxiety, or boredom. Sufferers of bulimia may not want to eat in front of people or in public, or feel out of control when bingeing.
Preventive measure: If you are a parent and want to prevent your young child from developing an eating disorder, instil the idea that what our bodies do for us is more important than how it looks, and set a healthy example for them. If help is needed, counselling, nutritional education, medications, and therapy may aid in the recovery from eating disorders.
Urinary Tract Infection
Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common and painful nuisance. About 40% of women would develop UTI at some point in their life. Women are more susceptible to urinary tract infections as women have a shorter urethra than men, hence bacteria can reach the bladder more easily.
Symptoms: The most common symptoms of an infection include a burning sensation when you urinate, a frequent urge to urinate even though little comes out when you do, and cloudy, dark, or strange-smelly urine. Infection of the kidney may have symptoms of pain or discomfort in the back or lower abdomen, fever, nausea, or vomiting.
Preventive measure: Drink plenty of water daily. Do not hold urine in for long periods. After urination, make sure to wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra. Empty the bladder after sexual intercourse. Wear breathable underwear, preferably with a cotton crotch.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Women with this condition have a hormonal imbalance which prevents ovaries from releasing an egg every month and hence hinder the chances of becoming pregnant naturally.
Symptoms: As PCOS is a hormonal disorder, symptoms can include absent menses or irregular menstrual cycles, excessive facial and body hair growth, severe acne, and weight gain.
Preventive measure: The cause of PCOS is not known and is likely a genetic disorder. While its effects are not fully reversible, medication and lifestyle changes can improve the problems and symptoms experienced. Medication may help restore an irregular menstrual cycle or reduce excessive hair growth, while lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise can stem and even reverse the weight gain. Speak to a doctor for further guidance.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in Singapore today, with approximately 1 in 13 women getting breast cancer in their lifetime. Chances of developing the disease increase with age, or if there is a family history of breast cancer.
Symptoms: Early stage breast cancer does not have any symptoms. If symptoms do present themselves, it can be in the form of painless lumps in the breast, persistent rash around the nipple, bleeding or unusual discharge from the nipple, or retracted nipple.
Preventive measure: A breast self-examination should be done once a month, a week after menses, and a mammogram every 2 years. As with all cancers, early detection allows for early intervention and treatment to increase the chances of favourable outcomes.
Cervical cancer is one of the most prevalent form of cancers amongst women. It is however highly preventable and can be effectively treated if detected early. Caused by strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), it is most commonly transmitted through sexual contact.
Symptoms: Early stage cervical cancer do not have any symptoms. More advanced symptoms may include vaginal bleeding between periods, watery and bloody discharge, and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
Preventive measure: Women aged between 25 to 29 years are encouraged to go for a Pap smear test once every 3 years, and a HPV test if they are 30 years old and above. Females between 9 and 26 years old are also recommended to get the HPV vaccine – speak to the doctor to find out whether the vaccine is suitable for you.