National Women’s Health Week very appropriately begins on Mother’s Day each year — a full seven days set aside to remind women to take care of themselves and make their health a priority.
“It is important,” said Dr. Stephanie Buckley, who practices at Carroll Health Group Primary Care in Mount Airy. “Women are so busy taking care of households, kids, parents and others around them. This is a good time to remind them to think of [themselves], to schedule routine care and heart health, to be preventative and on track so you can stay out of the hospital. It’s a good week to focus on yourself, schedule appointments and check all the boxes.”
From May 9 to May 15 this year women’s health is on the calendar. Because knowledge is power and the more people learn about women’s health issues the better equipped they are to protect themselves, health care providers are speaking out about what women should be most concerned about.
“One of the top concerns are the female cancers — breast, ovarian and cervical cancers,” Buckley said. “We have screenings for two of those — mammograms for breast cancer and Pap smears for cervical cancer.
“Then there’s heart disease. A lot of women forget about this being a killer of women, and one of the top reasons for death in women.”
Once thought of as a disease reserved for men, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, responsible for one in every five deaths of women of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Factors include being overweight, having diabetes, unhealthy food choices, drinking excessive alcohol, and a lack of physical activity.
Certified nurse practitioner Eleni Goshu spoke about heart disease. She sees patients with Michael Eyer, D.O. at Carroll Health Group Primary Care in Hampstead.
“Heart disease is the top concern because women don’t present with typical symptoms like males do,” she explained. “Heart disease can be misdiagnosed or missed. Women often present with nausea and abdominal pain, middle chest pain or other nonspecific symptoms, unlike men, who often have crushing chest and arm pain.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus pandemic caused disruptions in routine and nonemergency medical care. Many women postponed important annual check-ups, crucial to maintaining health and early detection of many diseases. Pap smears, mammograms, annual blood work, and STD checks are essential for screening, early detection and intervention of illnesses.
Both Buckley and Goshu spoke of the importance of preventative care. Buckley said now is the time for women to schedule the screenings they often let go, because they do make a difference.
“We’ve gotten better with screenings over the years, so we are able to address things sooner rather than later,” she said. “We have better technologies today and we are encouraging people to become more proactive, to get their Pap screenings, their mammograms, colonoscopies, and bone density scans for osteoporosis.”
Goshu said she has seen what can happen when a woman ignores regular checkups.
“I have a patient who is in her late 50s who presented with minor numbness and tingling of the extremities,” she said. “She thought maybe she slept wrong, but after a few days she had a full blown stroke. She had a blockage in her carotid artery. Now she has weakness on the right side of her body but is doing better. All these things could have been caught early.”
When asked about the most important steps women should take to stay healthy, Goshu was quick to answer.
“Regular activity, a close relationship with your primary care provider for routine care — so things can be caught early in the early stages — and healthy eating habits are important,” she said. “Women in general have unique health care needs with birth control, prenatal care, and gyn care. Sometimes they have undiagnosed anemia. There are many things that are specific and unique in a women’s health care.”
Buckley also touched on Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease. It is the third leading cause of death in women. The broad category includes COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as asthma, pulmonary hypertension, and occupational lung diseases with smoking the leading cause.
“Take a walk,” Buckley said. “It’s something you don’t have to pay for or take a pill for. Just take a walk. Taking a walk is free and it is good for medical health and mental health, especially with this past year of being cooped up with limited resources. People underestimate how good exercise is for your general health.”
The CDC (cdc.gov/women/nwh) offers steps women can take to improve their physical and mental health, including: scheduling a well-woman checkup and preventive screenings with a doctor or nurse; getting active; eating healthy; paying attention to mental health — including getting enough sleep, managing stress and learning about depression among women; and avoiding unhealthy behaviors — such as smoking, texting while driving, and not wearing a seatbelt or bicycle helmet.
Find even more tips on the Women’s Health Week website at womenshealth.gov/nwhw.