Women's Health

Women have many unique health concerns — menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control, menopause — and that's just the beginning. A number of health issues affect only women and others are more common in women. What's more, men and women may have the same condition, but different symptoms. Many diseases affect women differently and may even require distinct treatment.

We tend to think of breast cancer and osteoporosis as women's health diseases, but they also occur in men. Heart disease in a serious concern to both men and women, but risk factors and approaches to prevention are different. Women may also have specific concerns about aging, caregiving, emotional health issues, and skin care.

Women's Health Articles

Depression at perimenopause

New research has confirmed a link between depression and the menopausal transition, or perimenopause — that time of erratic periods, chaotic hormone fluctuations, disturbed sleep, and, for some, uncomfortable hot flashes. Among the findings: little or no correlation between hormone levels and depression during perimenopause. However, a host of other factors have been implicated. In 2006, the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles reported that one in six participants with no history of depression developed depressive symptoms during perimenopause. In addition to hormone fluctuations, researchers have explored the possible influence of psychosocial factors, hot flashes and their impact on sleep, and genetic vulnerabilities. In 2006, the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation identified several genetic mutations that increase the likelihood of perimenopausal depressive symptoms. In the March/April 2008 issue of the journal Menopause, scientists published data from the Seattle Midlife Women's Health Study. Most of the 302 participating women were in their late 30s or early 40s in the early 1990s, when the 15-year study began. More »

Nighttime awakenings in menopause may be caused by sleep disorders, not hot flashes

Hot flashes aren't anybody's friend, but they may be getting an unfair rap for disrupting women's sleep at midlife. Studies have often reported that sleep problems increase during the menopausal transition, reinforcing the idea that hot flashes (also called vasomotor symptoms) are to blame. But even under controlled conditions in sleep laboratories, the connection between hot flashes and sleep disruption remains unclear. Moreover, in certain circumstances, vasomotor symptoms may be the result — not the cause — of nighttime awakenings. Now, a study concludes that some of the sleep problems that women typically attribute to hot flashes may instead be caused by primary sleep disorders such as apnea. The findings suggest that women may not be receiving appropriate treatment for their sleep difficulties. To determine the cause of poor sleep in peri- and postmenopausal women, researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit assessed the sleep of 102 women, ages 44 to 56, who reported having trouble sleeping. The researchers found that 31 women had periodic limb movements (PLM), 23 had sleep apnea, and six had both. In other words, 53% had a primary sleep disorder. Among the entire group, 56% had measurable hot flashes. A separate analysis of the data showed that while apnea, PLM, and brief awakenings were the best predictors of poor sleep in the laboratory, on the questionnaires completed beforehand, poor sleep was more likely to be associated with anxiety and hot flashes during the first half of the night. The Wayne State investigation is the first to examine menopausal sleep complaints using both objective and subjective measures. The study was small and may not be representative of all menopausal women with sleep complaints. But the finding that half the women in this sample had primary sleep disorders, not just hot flashes, bears further investigation. Sleep problems are often assumed to result from hot flashes, but treating hot flashes isn't likely to resolve a serious underlying sleep disorder. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Birth of the Placenta

The placenta, which has provided the fetus with nourishment, is attached to the umbilical cord and is delivered about 20 minutes after the baby. Do not pull on the cord; delivery of the placenta occurs on its own. You can help by gently massaging the woman’s lower abdomen. The uterus will feel like a hard round mass. Massaging the abdomen helps the uterus contract, which also helps stop bleeding. After the placenta is delivered, place it in a plastic bag to take with the woman and baby to the hospital. It is normal for more bleeding to occur after delivery of the placenta. Continue gently massaging the woman’s lower abdomen. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Choking

A person who is choking will instinctively grab at the throat. The person also may panic, gasp for breath, turn blue, or be unconscious. If the person can cough or speak, he or she is getting air. Nothing should be done. Immediate careIf the person cannot cough or speak, begin the Heimlich maneuver immediately to dislodge the object blocking the windpipe. The Heimlich maneuver creates an artificial cough by forcing the diaphragm up toward the lungs. If you are choking and alone, you can perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself by giving yourself abdominal thrusts. Or position yourself over the back of a chair or against a railing or counter and press forcefully enough into it so that the thrust dislodges the object. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Direct Pressure to Stop Bleeding

A wound that is deep, bleeding heavily, or has blood spurting from it (caused by bleeding from an artery), may not clot and may not stop bleeding. Immediate careCall out for someone to get help, or call 911 yourself. Elevate the wound and apply direct pressure. If severe bleeding does not stop with direct pressure and elevation, apply direct pressure to an artery. Use direct pressure on an artery along with elevation and direct pressure on the wound. There are specific major arteries in the body where pressure should be placed (see illustration below). More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Emergency Phone Numbers

Write down important telephone numbers and post them where you can refer to them easily, such as near your telephone or on your refrigerator. List the serious medical conditions (such as asthma or diabetes) of each family member on the back of the list. Teach your children how to call 911 and tell them to show the list to emergency medical personnel. The list should include the phone numbers of the police, the nearest fire department, ambulance services, a poison control center, and your doctors and the contact numbers for work, other locations, and a nearby relative or friend. You may also wish to include the phone numbers of the gas and electric companies, your children’s schools, the local pharmacy, or home health aides. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Medical Identification Tags

A person with a serious medical condition such as diabetes, a drug allergy, or a heart condition should carry information about the condition on a necklace or bracelet, or on a card that can be carried in a pocket or wallet, so that proper care can be given in an emergency. Be sure to check for a medallion or card if you find yourself in the role of rescuer. If you or a member of your family has a life-threatening medical condition, obtain a medical identification tag or medallion from your local pharmacy and wear it at all times. More »

Emergencies and First Aid - Removing a Stuck Ring

1 Pass an end of fine string or dental floss under the ring. With the other end, begin tightly wrapping the string around the finger. Ensure that the string is wrapped evenly and smoothly past the lower knuckle. 2 With the end that was passed under the ring, begin unwrapping the string in the same direction. The ring should move over the string as the string is unwrapped. If the ring cannot be removed, unwrap the string and immediately seek urgent care.     More »

Oral contraceptives and breast cancer risk

Researchers continue to unravel the web concerning the use of oral contraceptives and the risk of breast cancer. A study published in June 2002 indicated that birth control pills don't increase the risk of breast cancer for women in the general population (see August update). But a new study published in the December 4, 2002, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows oral contraceptives can increase the risk of breast cancer in women with a particular genetic mutation. The study examined whether the use of oral contraceptives increased the risk of breast cancer in women with a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Women who have such a mutation are already known to have a high risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. A person inherits these types of gene mutations. The study involved 1,311 pairs of women who have the BRCA1 mutation, BRCA2 mutation, or both. Each pair of women shared certain characteristics, including mutation type, age, country, and history of ovarian cancer. Each pair included one woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and one who had not. Participants completed a questionnaire regarding their use of oral contraceptives based on their memory. More »