The Doctor Will See You Now – A Holistic Look at Women’s Health

By Annette Maxedon – Certified Nurse Practitioner, Optum New Mexico

National Women’s Health Awareness Month, honored annually in May, is the perfect time to think more broadly about what women’s health really means. Much of what is known about medicine is based on research and clinical studies that don’t include women. Thankfully, research is catching up, and efforts have been underway for decades to correct the gap.

While there is always more to be learned, understanding women’s health goes beyond reproductive matters. Women’s health includes conditions and diseases to which women are more prone as well as those that tend to affect women differently than they do men.

Examples beyond reproductive health

Women have more chronic health conditions than men. Many pain-related illnesses like endometriosis are specific to women. Women are more likely to suffer from depression. Almost 80 percent of those with autoimmune diseases are women. Women make up more than half of those with Alzheimer’s disease. While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, women are more likely to experience different symptoms in addition to chest pain, than men during a heart attack: Chest pain may be accompanied by shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, upset stomach, anxiety or shoulder pain, for example.

Women’s health at all ages

In addition to a more holistic view of women’s health, it’s important to keep in mind how women’s health needs change over time. For example, a woman in her 70s may want to include discussions with her doctor about exercise that helps with balance, muscle strength, and conditions that could impact her physical activity, while a woman in her 40s may want to gain an understanding of perimenopause and begin conversations about breast health screenings. About half of U.S. women over age 40 have dense breasts, which pose a higher risk of getting breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Resources help you take charge of your health

Research shows that patients who are more engaged in their care get better health results. Part of being engaged means learning what you can do about health needs appropriate for your age, including recommended health screenings.

Here are some resources for information that can help women live their healthiest lives at every age:

  • Albuquerque area women now have more options for breast health care. Optum New Mexico recently opened a radiology department that offers 3D mammography in its Rio Rancho clinic, 1721 Rio Rancho Blvd. The new mammography technology is Optum NM’s latest addition to its growing emphasis on women’s health awareness and accessibility. Optum NM also recently launched a Dense Breast Program at its Journal Center site, 5150 Journal Center Blvd. NE. The program not only encourages women to have timely mammograms but also provides for additional testing, such as ultrasounds, that may be advised for those who are found to have dense breasts.
  • org has valuable information as well as screening checklists for women by age provided by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  • gov, a site recommended by the CDC, has a broad range of information on everything from diet and exercise to mental health, and topics you may want to discuss with your doctor.
  • gov/myhealthfinder provides information for women and families about various health conditions, doctor visits, healthy living and more, including a tool for recommended health screenings based on age from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Be a member of your own health care team

Always talk with your primary care doctor before making any changes to your health and wellness routines. Be open and honest about any symptoms or concerns you may have. Good communication with your physician will help you feel comfortable and confident about decisions you make together.

 

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