Whether you’re a female college student, wife, mother, full-time worker, all or none of the above, your health should be of utmost importance. But with the overloaded schedules women inevitably have, health and wellness sometimes falls down the priorities list. Do you know when you should be getting potentially life-saving screenings and tests? Do you know how to properly manage your stress levels? Find expert answers to these questions and more here at UAB News.
The end of the year is fast approaching and you know what that means: As soon as the calendar turns to 2013, you will be vowing to get physically active. But experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say with all the benefits you can glean, why wait until you make those New Year’s resolutions to get active, especially if you are a woman?
Men are more likely than women to meet the federal guidelines for adults of at least 2.5 hours of physical activity per week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Inactive adults have a higher risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers. For women, increasing research is showing exercise may help reduce breast cancer risk, says Marcas Bamman, Ph.D., director of the UAB Center for Exercise Medicine.
“Exercise as a means of preventing or reducing the risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer, is important for two reasons: both the direct physical effects and the indirect effect, which is preventing or contributing to mechanisms that help prevent weight gain,” Bamman says. He adds that when people gain weight, their cancer risk rises, too.
A reduction in breast cancer risk is not the only benefit associated with getting active, especially for post-menopausal women.
There are a couple of old adages that ring true in memory loss: use it or lose it; eat right and exercise; fish is brain food. Here’s another that isn’t so accurate: Women are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease than men. Not true, says David Geldmacher, M.D., a neurologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham — at least, not anymore.
It turns out that 30 or 40 years ago, when that theory was proposed, men were likely to die of stroke or heart attack before Alzheimer’s disease could take root. Nowadays, better cardiovascular care has just about evened the stroke risk between men and women, and as men live longer, their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is now about equal that of women.
There hasn’t been a lot of encouraging news surrounding Alzheimer’s disease treatment in recent years. Science has made tremendous progress in understanding the disease, and there are promising therapies under investigation, but it remains a heartbreaking diagnosis.
Some memory loss as we age is inevitable, says Geldmacher. It’s a normal part of the aging process. But what is normal, and what is a sign of something more serious?
Any time life hands us a stressful situation, we have a decision to make: will we handle it with grace, or let it pile up on everything else? For women, stress sometimes feels like a never-ending occurrence, and University of Alabama at Birmingham experts say that, left unmanaged, stress can lead to health problems. But it can easily be curtailed.
Stress is a feeling you get when faced with a challenge, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. While everyone responds to stress differently, common signs include changes in eating habits, feeling like you have no control, forgetfulness, headaches, lack of energy and focus, short temper, trouble sleeping, upset stomach and aches and pains. Studies show that women experience more physical symptoms of stress than men.
“Women experiencing stress differently from men often has to do with the roles they impose on themselves,” explains Susanne Fogger, D.N.P., assistant professor in the UAB School of Nursing and a long-time psychiatric nurse practitioner. “Ask a woman what her roles are and she may reply: wife, mother, sister, friend, caregiver, cook, cleaner, worker, and so on. Ask a man what his role is and he may mention worker, husband, father — but he may not incorporate as many roles as women often do.”
For nearly a decade, Angela Barnhart knew she had a hysterectomy in her future. Like thousands of women, Barnhart had developed extremely large fibroids — benign tumors that develop in the uterus — that would eventually require surgery.
Uterine fibroids are the most common non-cancerous tumors in women and are most commonly found during the middle and later reproductive years. While small fibroids don’t cause symptoms in most women, they can grow to cause heavy and painful menstruation, make sexual intercourse painful and cause frequent or urgent urination.
In the past, treatment would have required an invasive and painful open procedure. But with today’s surgical advances, women like Barnhart who were not candidates for traditional laparoscopic or vaginal hysterectomies — due to the size of either their fibroids or the uterus itself — now have a minimally invasive option in robot-assisted hysterectomy.
“We are able to perform more advanced minimally invasive surgery with the robot that, in the past, would have resulted in an open procedure,” says University of Alabama at Birmingham OB/GYN Heather Greer, M.D. “The 540-degree wristed articulation of the robot instruments coupled with the superior magnification of the robotic camera allows us to perform more challenging procedures, specifically in those patients with complex pelvic anatomy such as large fibroids or excessive scar tissue resulting from multiple C-sections or previous abdominal surgery.”
Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death in women of all ages in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To get ahead of these chronic health issues and possibly prevent them from worsening, experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham urge women to get tested for key measures throughout their lives.
In addition to going in for regular medical check-ups, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also encourages women to follow their screening guidelines. These guidelines recommend that women begin being screened for blood pressure, cervical cancer, cholesterol, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases starting around age 20, or as otherwise advised by their doctors. Breast cancer and colorectal cancer screenings are suggested starting around age 50 and a bone mineral density test around 65 years of age.