Understanding Women’s Health

Malaysian News Agency

By Soraya Jamal
June 23, 2009
PETALING JAYA, June 23 (Bernama) — Women are very concerned when comes to the health of their spouse, children and loved ones but end up neglecting their own health.

A women’s healthcare encapsulates the entire spectrum of her life, and is not merely limited to pregnancy and childbirth. Though men and women share many of the same medical conditions, women are affected differently with some conditions being more evident in them while others altogether unique to them.

Consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist, Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar explains that women are confronted by various health issues at different stages in their life.

As for Dr Nora Ashikin, understanding these issues and conditions is crucial in facilitating preventive measures and coping with physiological changes.

FOUR CRUCIAL STAGES

The women’s health problems can be divided into four stages – 18-30 years, 30-50 years, 50-70 years and 70 year and above – said Dr Nora Ashikin during a media workshop on women’s health by organised Weber Shandwick and Novartis.

The key health issues affecting women in the 18-30 age group are acne, contraception, diet, cervical health, menstrual problems, pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome.

Women in the 30-50 age group, on the other hand, are confronted with depression, endometriosis, fertility, parenting, sexual health and weight problems.

As for women in the 50-70 age group, key health issues affecting them are heart disease, macular degeneration, menopause, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis while women in the 70 and above age group face arthritis, memory problems, nutrition, sexual health and sleep disorders.

Dr Nora Ashikin notes that coming to grips with all of these health issues at one go can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, information about these diseases and conditions are readily available, enabling women of all ages to recognise the imminent changes that they have to go through and thus they are better prepared on what to expect.

Simple steps like healthy eating, regular exercise and regular medical checkups can go a long way in reducing risk factors and preventing disease.

BREAST CANCER

Breast cancer is still regarded as the most common type of cancer in women worldwide. In Malaysia, it is estimated that one in 19 women are at risk of developing the disease.

The exact cause of breast cancer is still unknown but Dr Nora Ashikin points out that women with a family history of the condition face higher risk.

Other risk factors include exposure to radiation, a history of benign breast lumps, obesity, a high fat diet, early onset of menstruation and late menopause.

Studies have shown that screening may decrease breast cancer mortality. Women in their 40s and older should undergo a mammogram every 1 to 2 years as the risk increases with age.

Nonetheless, women with a family history of breast cancer are advised to go for screening at an earlier age.

In addition, women are highly encouraged to perform monthly breast self-examinations to check for changes in their breasts.

CERVICAL CANCER

According to the National Cancer Registry report in 2003, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Malaysian women, constituting 12.9 percent of cancers in women with an incidence of 19.7 cases per 100,000 populations.

The risk of cervical cancer increases with age, with the peak between the ages of 60 to 69.

Dr Nora Ashikin says cervical cancer takes place when normal cells in the cervix turn cancerous. Most cases are caused by the humanpapilloma virus (HPV) and is spread through sexual contact with an infected person.

Bleeding after sexual intercourse and in between periods are symptoms of cervical cancer. At times, bleeding may be so severe that it could lead to anaemia.

Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing when exercising, increased tiredness and occasionally, a foul smelling vaginal discharge. If the disease progresses, it may infiltrate the bladder and cause blood in the urine. It may also spread to the rectum, causing rectal bleeding and pain when passing motion.

She advises women, especially those who are sexually active, to go for regular Pap Smear tests to detect abnormalities in the cells that might be precursors to cervical cancer.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

Meanwhile, reproductive health is another concern for women. The female reproductive system plays an integral role in pregnancy and is one of the most fragile systems of the body.

Problems with this system can affect fertility and the ability to conceive. Reproductive health problems can also harm overall health and impair a woman’s ability to enjoy a sexual relationship.

Ideally, says Dr Nora Ashikin, women should start bringing their daughters to visit gynaecologist three years after their first menstruation. Regular check ups can detect any irregularities.

Menopause is another natural part of every woman’s life. Most women experience menopause symptoms as early as 40 years of age.

As women near menopause, they may experience symptoms resulting from the hormonal changes in their body. These can last a few months or up to 10 years.

Most women going through menopause will experience hot flashes. Other common symptoms of menopause include irregular periods, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, depression, irritability, racing heart, headaches, joint and muscle aches and pains, changes in sex drive, vaginal dryness and bladder control problems. However, not all women experience the entire range of menopause symptoms.

It is not uncommon though for health problems to appear more evident due to the loss of estrogen. As such, postmenopausal women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, heart disease, poor bladder and bowel function, poor skin elasticity, poor muscle and tone as well as some deterioration in vision.

Dr Nor Ashikin says above all it is crucial that women learn to recognise the health problems that they may encounter and take proactive measures to prevent them.

— BERNAMA

PG

Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.