Admit it: You constantly lecture your family and friends about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, yet you're the first one to inhale takeout so you can get back to work, or skip the gym to finish your errands. (You should see the dirty look my doctor gives me during my visits... you know, since they happen once every decade.) Regardless of your good intentions, it's time to draw the line and make your health your ultimate priority.
Since I'm more of a scare-myself-into-submission kind of gal, here are just some of the reasons why:
"Heart disease ranks above cancer as the leading cause of death in women," says Dr. Christine O’Connor, FACOG, director of Adolescent Gynecology and Well Woman Care at Mercy Medical Center. Even scarier, adds Dr. Dana Simpler, primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center, for some women, the first sign of heart disease is sudden death. Risk factors that could lead to heart disease include excess body fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure/blood sugar, mental stress/depression and high cholesterol.
This condition that causes body-wide pain is most common among women 20 to 50 years old, but the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. To be diagnosed, you have to have at least three months of widespread pain and tenderness in 11 of 18 areas, such as your elbows, chest, knees, lower back, neck, shoulders and thighs. It’s also common for women with fibromyalgia to suffer from fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression and anxiety.
"You don’t hear much about [this disease], but it’s very difficult to deal with," says Dr. Carmella Sebastian, MD, MS, author of Sex and Spaghetti Sauce: My Italian Mother’s Recipe for Getting Healthy and Getting Busy in Your 50s and Beyond. "It’s a rare inflammatory disease of the muscles that leads to muscle weakness, swelling, tenderness and tissue damage." And, like most inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, polymyositis is more common in women than men.
Lupus affects approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S., and 90 percent are women. The cause of lupus is unknown and symptoms vary from person to person. What's worse, the symptoms also tend to come and go. Common symptoms include muscle aches, pain or weakness, feelings of extreme fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, sensitivity to sun or light, hair loss and fever.
PID affects a woman’s uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries and cervix, and can develop because of sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia. What’s most alarming about this disease is much of the time it doesn’t produce any symptoms, but if you go untested long enough it can cause complications such as infertility. Catch it early and you can take oral antibiotics. Catch it late and surgery might be involved.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth-most common cancer among women. Symptoms include bloating, stomach pain, irregular menstrual cycles, severe indigestion, nausea and vomiting. "Ovarian tumors are hard to diagnose," says Sebastian, who also suggests women look out for uterine cancer. "You don’t hear much about it and I’m not sure why," she notes. Symptoms of uterine cancer include abnormal bleeding or discharge, pain when urinating or having sex, and pelvic pains.
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