Assistant Professor of Nursing • Tennessee Technological University School of Nursing • Cookeville, Tenn.
Recognition of women's health issues as distinct and different than men's health is crucial. Strides are being made in the advancement of diagnosis and treatment unique to women. Attention to health policy as it relates to women's health in the allocation of research and healthcare dollars is paramount.
Issues in women's health cover a broad spectrum spanning the lifetime of a woman and include health promotion, disease prevention, reproductive health, health maintenance, and disease management. Health promotion and disease prevention impact all age groups and include vaccinations, healthy diet and exercise habits, calcium intake, sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, and prevention of intimate partner violence.
Teenage pregnancy prevention and consideration of adolescent vaccination against human papillomavirus infection have the potential to impact the future health of women. Likewise, addressing behaviors of healthy diet, exercise, and alcohol and drug use beginning in adolescence impacts the risk of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and addiction, later in a woman's life. Health screening includes Pap smear by age 21 or earlier if sexually active, STI screening, body mass index (BMI) assessment, and vision and hearing screening.
During childbearing years, attention to reproductive health in choice of contraception, pregnancy, and childrearing impacts both physical and mental health. Polycystic ovarian syndrome affects 1 in 15 women, increasing their risk of infertility and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition to Pap smear, BMI assessment, and STI and vision and hearing screening, health screening in this population of women includes cholesterol and lipid chemistries.
Women in their 30s and 40s are at greater risk than men for being diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid disease. Women in midlife have an increased risk of breast cancer, necessitating routine clinical breast exams and yearly mammograms for early detection. Midlife also brings the onset of pre-, peri-, and postmenopause with its physical and emotional symptoms. Management of menopausal symptoms is individual and consultation with a healthcare provider is advised.
Postmenopausal women have an increased risk of heart disease; osteoporosis; and breast, endometrial, ovarian, and colon cancers. Prevention and health promotion include calcium and vitamin D supplementation, healthy diet, and physical activity. Routine diagnostic screening includes cholesterol and lipid chemistries, bone density, colonoscopy, mammogram, Pap smear, and pelvic exams.
Mental health is an issue to be addressed at every stage of a woman's life and can be impacted by genetics, hormones, and life situations. Regular screening for depression and other mental illness is essential in the care of women, and prompt treatment is warranted.
Remember that addressing the issue of inability to access regular, acceptable healthcare is vital. Lack of healthcare access contributes to increased complications at all ages, later diagnosis of disease, and increased morbidity and mortality. For an in-depth look at women's health, see this issue's feature on page 20.
did you know?
National Women's Health Week is May 13 to 19. Visit http://www.womenshealth.gov/whw/ for more information.