Women's Health Awareness Tips

Women and Sleep
Studies show poor sleep habits may have more serious health consequences for women than for men. In addition, women are twice as likely as men to have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. However, women can stop this trend, say physicians at Houston Methodist, by paying more attention to their health.
Younger women are more prone to sleep deprivation, which can lead to weight gain, sleep-related eating disorders and sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Women in their menopausal years also have significant changes in their sleeping habits, which can lead to more cases of insomnia and apnea. If untreated, sleep deprivation from insomnia and sleep apnea can cause significant problems, like heart failure or increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Maintaining hormonal balance is very important, and screening for sleep apnea is highly recommended for anyone with symptoms.

To combat these issues, Houston Methodist physicians recommend good sleep hygiene, including sleeping in a quiet and dark environment; setting the thermostat at a slightly cooler temperature; no reading, eating or watching TV in bed; no clock watching; and avoiding over-the-counter sleep aids, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol close to bedtime.

Atypical Stroke Symptoms in Women
Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer. What is more, many women still think stroke is a man's disease. But more women than men will die from stroke each year, and women are less likely to report classic stroke symptoms than men. Jan Flewelling, Stroke Outreach Program Coordinator with the Houston Methodist, says it is vital that women be more vigilant about their health, and education and awareness are keys to helping reduce the incidence of stroke in women.
Atypical stroke symptoms in women include fainting, seizures, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations. While these atypical symptoms are well documented, most stroke patients of both sexes experience traditional symptoms, such as sudden weakness/numbness on one side of the body or slurred speech.
While women need to be aware of the common risk factors for stroke — high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — some sex-specific risks can also alter a woman’s chances of suffering a stroke. These include migraines with visual aura; brain aneurysms; autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and lupus; use of birth control pills, which are linked to increased risk of blood clots; and hormonal changes during menopause.

Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer in Women
After Pap smears, colonoscopies are the second most effective screen for common cancers among women. Physicians at Houston Methodist say colonoscopies should be viewed as a form of prevention, since approximately 15 to 20 percent of women who undergo colonoscopies for their initial screening examination will have precancerous polyps that can be removed before they become malignant.

Colon cancer kills more than 50,000 people a year, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death for both women and men. Although the disease is 90 percent preventable if detected early through a colonoscopy, just over 50 percent of people older than age 50 undergo the procedure. Symptoms of colon cancer include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain. Many patients do not have symptoms until the cancer is more advanced, so it is important to regularly undergo a screening colonoscopy, even if there are no symptoms.

Women’s Heart Health
Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer of women. But, the best-known heart attack symptoms — acute pain, tightness, burning and a dull ache in the chest — describe what men typically experience during an attack. For many women, the signs of a heart attack are completely different and are subtle enough to go unrecognized. With heightened attention to symptoms, much of this can be prevented.

Most people know to get to an emergency room immediately when they suspect a heart attack. However, research shows that women go to the hospital on average one full hour later than men do after experiencing symptoms. Most benefits of medical treatment occur in the first six hours after an attack, so delayed medical treatment reduces chances of full recovery.

Maintain low cholesterol levels, exercise and quit smoking. If you have diabetes, keep it under control. Monitor your blood pressure, and keep it in check. Know your family medical history. If there is a history of heart disease, start earlier and be even more diligent about prevention.

Avoiding Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are common problems for women, especially if they live in hot, humid climates, according to gynecologists at Houston Methodist. Several tips can help avoid or decrease their frequency: 

  • Wear loose cotton underwear and limit tight clothing such as jeans, active wear or pantyhose. 
  • Thoroughly dry the vaginal area after bathing or swimming. Also, do not stay in wet swimming suits for hours. 
  • Eat yogurt with active yeast cultures and/or take Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements, which replenish healthy bacteria. 
  • Avoid eating foods that are high in sugar or are refined, such as white flour, because they allow yeast to thrive. 
  • Switch from moisturizing soaps to antibacterial soaps. 
  • Stop using perfumed bath gels or soaps because these may trigger yeast and bacterial infections.