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Women only

Whether you’re 20 or 45, you need a health plan to avoid a lifetime of worries, writes Sai Raje.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 23, 2009 21:10 IST
sai.raje@hindustantimes.com

It’s easy to lose track of your own health when you are too busy stressing over your day-to-day life. Who has the time to think healthy when you have to hand in four assignments in college tomorrow or work overtime at the office or help your kid with his science project? But time ticks on and the going is unlikely to be good if you ignore all the warning signals that your body is giving you now.

The incidences of some conditions that only affect women, like cervical cancer or breast cancer, are on the rise. Moreover, a woman is at a greater risk of developing conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis after she attains menopause.
If you know what conditions you are at risk of, well in advance, and take preventive steps to minimise the risk, you will avoid a lot of worry, heartburn and potentially, fat hospital bills.

So know more about your health. Talk to your doctor about preventive health checkups. Know what conditions you are at the risk of developing at different times in your life. Nip that problem in the bud and get on with your life.

It’s best to know your health risks from early on. Most health conditions that women are diagnosed with tend to have some link, though not always direct, to a woman’s reproductive system and her body’s hormonal balance. So it’s important to understand these processes.

The teenage years: 13-20
Some problems may surface as early as in a girl’s adolescence. “Some common complaints in the few years that follow a girl’s first period are irregular periods and heavy bleeding,” says Dr Kiran Coelho, head of the gynaecology department at Lilavati Hospital. “These may be because her body still has not established the right hormonal balance. Usually, such problems correct themselves with time and we avoid giving the girl any medication at this stage.” However, if a problem like heavy, painful bleeding persists continuously for 10 days or more, says Dr Coelho, it requires medical attention.

“Girls who have heavy bleeding in their adolescence are also prone to an iron deficiency or anaemia, which could make them less energetic and listless. Such girls need to be tested for anaemia,” says Dr Nisha Ahmed, chief of lab services, Metropolis Health Services.

Another big problem that commonly affects young girls in urban centres now is Poly Cystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), attributed to stress, bad eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Symptoms of the condition include an abnormal rise in male hormones in the body, irregular or no periods, and easy weight gain. If the symptoms aren’t corrected, it can even lead to infertility in later years. “One in every three girls in the city suffers from PCOD,” says Dr Coelho. “So if a girl has irregular periods, it’s best to get her hormonal profile checked with a blood test along with a pelvic ultrasound test to rule out PCOD.”

The reproductive years: 20-40
Two things take centrestage here. One, get to know your family history of certain conditions through your mother’s blood line and two, find out what health risks you should protect yourself from if you are sexually active. “If you have a family history of breast, cervical, uterine or ovarian cancer on your mother’s side, get an annual gynaecologist’s check up done,” says Dr Coelho. It also helps if you ask your doctor about breast self-examinations that you can easily do at home every month.

“If you do not have a family history of cancer, getting an ultrasound test and a gynaecological breast examination every three years after you are 30 and every five years after you are 35, is enough,” says Dr Anand Bhave, general physician. Also, getting your blood sugar levels and lipid profile tested every five years after you turn 35, he feels, is a worthwhile investment.

Cervical cancer, adds Dr Coelho, is caused by the human papilloma virus that is sexually transmitted. “If you are sexually active, a basic PAP smear test every year is a must. It can tell you if you are at the risk of the cancer or not, even 10 years before it develops. You can treat it easily if it’s detected early enough.”

Calcium deficiency is also something you need to watch out for, especially if you have just given birth or are a lactating mother. “Women lose a lot of calcium when they are breast feeding. If calcium supplements are taken during this time, it minimises the risk of osteoporosis after menopause,” says Dr Shalini Suralkar, consultant physician, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital.

During and after menopause: 40-60
This is the phase during which you have to be even more careful because of the changes your body is going through during menopause. “Heart disease is virtually unheard of in younger women because the oestrogen hormone protects women against it but once the level of oestrogen dips post-menopause, heart disease can set in very rapidly,” says Dr Ganesh Kumar, chief interventional cardiologist, Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital. “So heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels must be checked around menopause.”

“Most women don’t need a mammography before age 40, but it’s advisable to undergo one once in three years after you turn 40 and once a year after you are 50 to rule out breast cancer,” says Dr Coelho.

Osteoporosis or brittle bone disease also sets in after menopause because of the lack of calcium in the body. Calcium supplements taken when you are much younger will minimise its risk. But don’t fret if you haven’t taken any and are going through menopause. “A bone density test when you are 50 lets you know in advance the condition of your bones. This helps you start on the right treatment early before the condition sets in,” says Dr Coelho.
If all this is a tad confusing, just check the accompanying chart for quick reference.