September 26, 2018 is National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, traditionally celebrated each year on the last Wednesday in September. This is the nation’s largest organized annual event designed to bring awareness to women’s health. The event consists of many local organizations coming together to provide information on women’s health issues, offer screening services, and raise awareness on exercise and preventative healthcare. Over 500 groups across the country have registered to host the event in 2018, and about 75,000 women are expected to participate this year.
The National Institutes of Health defines Women’s Health as having a focus on health care conditions that primarily affect women, or conditions that affect women in a different way than they affect men. Many diseases occur in both men and women, but affect women differently. For example, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in both men and women, but the clinical manifestations often present differently in women as opposed to men.
Studies have also shown that although heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, that misconceptions among the general public and health care providers, coupled with atypical manifestations has led to under-recognition of heart disease. Women most often present with chest pain, and are more likely to demonstrate atypical symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and back pain. Conversely, men typically present with a myocardial infarction as their first manifestation of cardiovascular disease. Women are also typically about 10-15 years older than men at the age of first myocardial infarction. Studies have shown that women are less likely to believe their symptoms are cardiac in nature and that health care providers are less likely to consider a cardiac cause as a differential diagnosis. Further, women are more likely to have more comorbid conditions at the time of diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease in women did not begin to decline until 2000, whereas they began to decline in men as early as 1980.
These factors alone highlight the importance of increased public awareness of cardiovascular disease screening and preventative measures for women. However, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer are also significant causes of morbidity and mortality for women. It is imperative that women undergo regular screenings to assess for cardiovascular disease, and include an evaluation for diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. Women should also undergo age appropriate cancer screenings and pelvic examinations according to guidelines. Guidelines differ based on if the patient has had an abnormal exam in the past, and may also differ based on risk factors, so frequency should be determined on an individual basis by an experienced health care provider. Women’s health is a broad topic that cannot be fully addressed in this post, and many gender disparities exist among disease. Please see the additional readings for further information.
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