Some diseases have a gender bias, affecting more women than men. If there are persistent symptoms that you have been ignoring, Women's Day is as good a time as any to give yourself some attention, get tested, and get back on the road to good health.POLY CYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROME (PCOS)
R Surve was diagnosed with poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) three years ago. She was only 16. Before her diagnosis, the teenager was heedless of her nutritional needs, got barely any exercise, and ignored fluctuations in her weight.
Since the diagnosis, the 19-year-old has had to overhaul her entire lifestyle. "The symptoms started showing up when I was 12," says Surve. "I was sleepy all the time. I would come back from school and sleep for hours, and still feel tired at night."
Surve, currently pursuing a Bachelors degree in fine art, used to experience menstrual pain and sleep apnea. "I went to a clinic for my hair fall, went to a nutritionist for the weight gain. But it became obvious that it was a hormonal issue," she says.
Two sonographies detected PCOS, a condition that affects hormone levels, menstruation and ovulation. "It was a big surprise. I didn't think I was that unhealthy," says Surve. "In retrospect, I see what the problem was. I ate starch and fats, no vegetables and very little fruit." Now her diet comprises greens, fruit, and chicken and fish. "My symptoms are now under control," she says. "It's amazing how much can be controlled through healthful living."
There has been a dramatic rise in the number of young women being diagnosed with PCOS over the past five years, says Mumbai-based gynaecologist Suman Bijlani.
"Ten years ago, there would be one case a week and those patients were above 25. Today, I see three cases a week, some patients are as young as 12," says Bijlani. "As a result of lifestyle changes and stressful work and school life, the average age of PCOS patients has fallen." More than half of her cases are now aged 15 to 25.
"Women and young girls need to focus on eating healthy, exercising, and keeping their stress levels low," she says. "Also, never ignore warnings like changes in your menstrual cycle, sleeplessness, exhaustion, skin problems and weight fluctuations."
TEST: Pelvic ultrasound
Calcium is an essential building block for bone health, and you can't build bone with milk alone. People need weight-bearing activity, sunlight for Vitamin D, and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
"Almost 80% of my patients are deficit in Vitamin D, and about half of those diagnosed with osteoporosis are in their 20s," says Dr SKS Marya, senior orthopaedic surgeon at Delhi's Max Hospital. Nutritionists says 1,000 mg of calcium daily is a must for those above 19.
Two glasses of milk, two small bowls of yoghurt and pulses, and three to four servings of leafy vegetables, sprouts or legumes a day can meet the daily calcium requirement of a vegetarian. Non-vegetarians can add an egg daily and 80 gm of meat thrice a week. "For bones to benefit, focus on weight-bearing exercises such as walking, running, jogging, skipping etc," says Dr Deepak Chaudhary, director of Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital's Sports Injury Centre.
TEST: Bone densitometry or DEXA scan
Family history, an age of more than 50, obesity and little or no exercise put a person at higher risk of developing cancer, experts warn. "Cancer is caused by mutations to the DNA within cells, and these are among the factors that contribute to the growth of these malignant cells," says Dr PK Julka, professor and head of the department of radiology at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
"Obesity leads to increase in insulin levels, which in itself is a known growth factor for cancer cells. There is no excuse for not eating healthy and not exercising as it is the least one can do," he adds. "Leading an unhealthy life contributes to developing cancer in nearly 10% cases."
Breast cancer is rising in India. It has surpassed cervix cancer as the number one cancer among women. In India, 33.2 women have breast cancer per 100,000 population compared with cervical cancer found in 15.4 women per 100,000 population.
Doctors in AIIMS receive more than 100 new cases of breast cancer in a month and nearly 70% of the women reach in advance stages of the condition. "Self-examination is the key. Majority of cases come to us having developed lumps in both the breasts without having realised it," says Dr Julka.
TEST: Ultrasound and mammography
Despite running for 45 minutes daily, Hema Bajaj, 33, started to gain weight. An active person, Bajaj realised something was wrong when she started getting breathless while climbing the stairs to her third-floor Delhi home. On a family trip to Uttarakhand, she could barely walk up a mountain.
"I got a thyroid test done as soon as I returned. As suspected, my levels were high. I then realised that there were symptoms - exhaustion, lethargy and swollen feet - which I had been ignoring," says Bajaj.
Hypothyroidism affects the body's metabolic rate. Swelling around the face, legs and other body parts is common. Hair loss, fatigue, unusual weight gain, constipation, depression or decreased concentration may occur. Symptoms, however, go away once treatment begins.
Hema Bajaj, 33, started to gain weight two years ago. After tests, she found out she had hypothyroidism. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT photo)
"An average weight gain due to hypothyroid is about two to three kgs only, and I have seen people use it as an excuse to not exercise," says Dr Sujeet Jha, director, institute of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Max Healthcare.
TEST: TSH, T3 and T4 levels in the blood
When the feelings of listlessness, guilt, low-self-worth, sleeplessness and appetite loss (or gain) persist, it's time to seek help.
"It is very important for women to have ways and means of extracting the most. Learning and utilising basic time management skills can help them manage their time effectively, enabling them to give their best to work, family and themselves," says Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural science, Fortis Hospital.
TEST: Psychiatric assessment