An overview of Women’s Health Issues in easy language

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woman’s life expectancy has increased from 48.3 years in 1900 to 79.4 years in 1997. Today, our challenge is to make those extra years of life healthy and productive . Women represent 51 percent of the total U.S. population ; 59 percent of the over-65 population ; and 71 percent of Americans older than age 85, the fastest growing segment of the population . Women also constitute 46 percent of the nation’s workforce. They make up 52 percent of the voting-age population, and they are more likely to vote in national elections than are men. In 1996, 55.5 percent of women voted in contrast to 52.8 percent of men.

Women’s health issues encompass a wide range of physical, mental, and social well-being concerns that specifically affect women. These issues can vary across different stages of a woman’s life, from adolescence to pregnancy, menopause, and beyond. Here’s an overview of some key women’s health issues:

HIV/AIDS

Long considered a man’s disease, HIV/AIDS is a public health problem among women. It is the fifth leading cause of death among women ages 25 to 44 and the third leading cause of death among African American women in this age group. Between July 1998 and June 1999, 1o,841 new AIDS cases among adult and adolescent women were reported . From 1985 to 1999, the proportion of AIDS cases reported among women increased from ,7 percent to 23 percent. Among 13- to 19-year-olds, girls constituted 50 percent of all AIDS cases reported in 1998.

By June of 1999, a total of 114,621 women were reported to have AIDS, and 77 percent of women diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans and Latinas . Fortunately, increased screening for HIV among reproductive-age women and more effective therapies to reduce perinatal transmission of HIV have been quite effective. They have contributed to the 75 percent decline in the proportion of infants diagnosed with perinatally acquired AIDS since 1993.

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The most common mode of HIV infection among adult and adolescent women is through heterosexual
contact, followed by intravenous drug use. Significant gender differences are manifest throughout the
course of the illness as well as in the mode of infection. These differences indicate the need for gender-
sensitive treatment and prevention strategies to stem the spread of AIDS.

Reproductive Health

Reproductive health plays a central role in women’s health issues, encompassing a range of concerns related to the female reproductive system and its well-being. Women’s reproductive capacity plays an important role in shaping their lives and health experiences. Over 8o percent of all American women have had a child by the age of 45, and the average woman has 2.2 children.

While motherhood is a defining feature of adult life for many women, most spend the greater part of their reproductive years trying to avoid pregnancy. Sixty-four percent of women ages 15 to 44 use some form of contraception, up from 56 percent in 1982 and bo percent in 1988. Women’s use of contraception at first intercourse has risen from 64 percent in the late 1980s to 76 percent in 1995.

Here are key aspects of reproductive health specific to women:

  1. Menstrual Health:
    • Regular and healthy menstruation is an important indicator of reproductive health.
    • Menstrual disorders, such as irregular periods, heavy bleeding, or painful cramps, may indicate underlying issues.
  2. Contraception:
    • Access to a variety of contraceptive methods is crucial for women to make informed choices about family planning.
    • Birth control pills, patches, injections, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and barrier methods are among the options available.
  3. Preconception Health:
    • Ensuring women are in good health before conception contributes to a healthy pregnancy.
    • Managing chronic conditions, addressing nutritional needs, and avoiding harmful substances are key aspects of preconception care.
  4. Pregnancy and Maternal Health:
    • Adequate prenatal care is essential for monitoring the health of both the mother and the developing fetus.
    • Addressing complications, managing maternal nutrition, and preparing for childbirth are critical components of maternal health.
  5. Postpartum Health:
    • Recovery after childbirth involves addressing physical and emotional changes.
    • Postpartum depression, breastfeeding challenges, and pelvic floor health are common postpartum concerns.
  6. Gynecological Health:
    • Regular gynecological examinations are important for early detection of issues such as cervical abnormalities, ovarian cysts, and uterine fibroids.
    • Pap smears, mammograms, and pelvic exams are part of routine screenings.
  7. Sexual Health:
    • Education about sexual health, including safe practices, STI prevention, and communication with partners, is crucial.
    • Addressing sexual dysfunction or concerns related to libido and intimacy.
  8. Menopause:
    • Managing symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and changes in bone density.
    • Hormone replacement therapy and lifestyle adjustments may be considered during this life stage.
  9. Reproductive Cancers:
    • Regular screenings for breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers are essential for early detection and treatment.
    • Understanding risk factors and adopting preventive measures are crucial.
  10. Fertility Issues:
    • Addressing fertility concerns, including infertility, and seeking appropriate medical interventions.
    • Support for those undergoing fertility treatments and exploring options for assisted reproductive technologies.
  11. Safe Abortion Services:
    • Access to safe and legal abortion services is a critical component of reproductive health care.
    • Ensuring women have the right to make decisions about their reproductive choices.
  12. Sexual and Reproductive Rights:
    • Advocating for women’s rights to make decisions about their bodies, including the right to access reproductive health information and services.

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH

Environmental factors contribute substantially to the cause of many diseases in women. Adverse environmental conditions range from water, air, and soil pollution to contamination through the workplace . Occupational hazards include exposure to lead, chemicals, pesticides, tobacco smoke, and continuous noise. Home and community environmental factors-from radon, lead-based paints, electromagnetic fields, food, and cosmetics to heatstroke, hypothermia, and violence-affect women’s health. The ways in which environmental factors may disrupt women’s endocrine, reproductive, central nervous, and immune systems and cause specific diseases such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, endometriosis, and osteoporosis are only beginning to be understood.

Melanoma

The most serious form of skin cancer, It is the most frequent cancer in women 25 to 29 years of age and the second most frequent (after breast cancer) in women ages 30 to 34. While men as a group are more likely to develop skin cancer than are women, women under the age of 40 comprise the fastest growing group of skin cancer patients . Furthermore, the rate of new melanoma cases is increasing . Since 1973, it has doubled from 6 cases per 100,000 persons to 13 cases per 100,000 person in 1995.

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES

Autoimmune diseases arise when, for unknown reasons, a person’s body declares war on itself, producing antibodies that attack healthy tissue . About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, diabetes Type I, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune thyroid disease. When considered as individual conditions, autoimmune diseases are not very common. However, taken together as a group, they represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States. These diseases remain misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

FERTILITYAND INFERTILITY

In 1997, there were 3,880,894 live births in the United States. From 1950 to 1997, the birth rate
dropped from 24 live births per 1,000 population to 14.5 per 1,000. Most American women who bear
children are between the ages of 20 and 29. However, the proportion of women in their thirties and
forties who are having babies has increased throughout this decade. There were 483,220 births to
teenage girls in 1997-representing a 16 percent drop since 1991.

Infertility affected 6.1 million women in 1997, up from 4.6 million in 1988-an increase due in part to delayed childbearing and the aging of the baby boom generation . The causes of infertility are equally distributed among conditions affecting the male partner, the female partner, and both partners. Approximately one in four infertile couples are unable to conceive as a result of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The infant mortality rate reached a new low in 1997 of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Approximately one-third of that reduction is associated with an estimated 15 percent decline in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) between 1995 and 1996 . In spite of these improvements, the infant mortality rate in the United States remains one of the highest in the industrialized world.

The maternal mortality rate has decreased more than tenfold since 1950. In 1997, there were 7.6 maternal deaths per mo,ooo live births . However, new, improved data collection techniques suggest that the rate of maternal mortality associated with heart ailments, embolism, hemorrhage, high blood pressure, domestic violence, and infection may be higher than current measures indicate.

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