Putting Women’s Wellness and Common Health Concerns into Focus

Appeared in:
Smart Business Orange County

As the primary caregivers for their spouses, as well as their children and parents, women often neglect their own health needs while tending to the priorities of others. But there is research that demonstrates that when women take care of themselves, the health of their families improves.

To learn more, Smart Business turned to Karen Don, M.D., internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, and Ann Marie Raffo, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.

How do symptoms differ among women and men?

Heart disease is a good example. While the leading cause of death for females and males, underdiagnosis and subtle, often silent, symptoms result in more women than men dying from the disease. Women might experience dizziness or nausea; uncomfortable pressure or tightness; squeezing, fullness or heaviness in the chest that doesn’t go away in a few minutes; pain radiating up the shoulders and neck or down the arms or back; cold sweats or pounding heart; difficulty breathing; and/or shortness of breath. Men may experience crushing chest pain, like an elephant sitting on their chest. Regular, moderate exercise, a healthy diet and avoiding smoking can all help reduce the risk of heart disease.

What is the most common cancer?

Lung cancer is the most prevalent and common cause of cancer-related deaths in women. About 90 percent of lung cancers result from use of tobacco, which contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, many of them cancer-causing. Nonsmokers living with a smoker have about a 25 percent higher risk for developing lung cancer than nonsmokers who don’t reside with a smoker. The incidence of lung cancer in the U.S. is decreasing, thanks to early education about the many dangers of smoking and effective smoking cessation programs.

Have we seen much progress in treating breast cancer?

Education and awareness, coupled with early detection and better treatment, have improved breast cancer survival rates 2 percent annually during the last decade. Like other chronic diseases, it’s important to add prevention to your daily routine by exercising, controlling your weight and limiting alcohol intake. Annual mammograms and clinical breast exams, as well as telling your doctor about any family history of breast cancer, are critical for early detection. Regular self-exams can also help with early detection.

Our MemorialCare Breast Centers are nationally recognized for their comprehensive approach to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Each center utilizes the latest technology and techniques to help in early detection and offer the most advanced and coordinated treatment options.

Can you describe female cancers?

Women are at risk for gynecological cancers that attack the tissues and organs of the reproductive system, and include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers. While the symptoms do vary by the type of cancer, they may include pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent abdominal swelling or bloating, ongoing bowel changes, like constipation and diarrhea, and unintended weight loss or gain. Reduce risks by getting regular pap smears, avoiding smoking and limiting exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV), the common sexually transmitted virus that in some cases, when left undetected or untreated, may progress into cervical cancer.

Are there other diseases impacting women?

Of those diseases primarily affecting women, osteoporosis, endometriosis and urinary tract infections are most common. One in five American women over 50 has osteoporosis, and about half will have a fracture of the hip, vertebra or wrist. To combat and lessen its effects, ensure adequate consumption of vitamin D and calcium, keep your bones strong with weight-bearing physical activities, avoid fractures, maintain active lifestyles, and discuss with your doctor possible risks and prevention.

Endometriosis, a reproductive condition that affects about 5 million American women — including teenaged girls — can result in pelvic pain, heavy periods and an irregular menstrual cycle. Without treatment, symptoms may worsen and can cause infertility. Urinary tract infections are more common in women, with one in five developing them during their lifetime. Those occurring during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery.

What steps can employers take?

Ask local hospitals to offer wellness activities, education and screenings for your employees and their families. Our MemorialCare Health System provides specialized diagnostic and treatment programs just for women as well as online risk assessments, tools and health information through our memorialcare.org website. Remind employees that taking care of themselves and their families is essential to living healthier, happier and longer lives. When people partner with doctors and hospitals and educate themselves about medical issues, learn about their family medical history, pay attention to changes in their bodies and take even simple steps to improve their health, everyone benefits and the results can be significant.

Karen Don, M.D., is an internist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. Ann Marie Raffo, M.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.