March 8th is International Women’s Day. The intention of this day is both to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, and to be call to action for increasing gender equality.
On this wonderful day of “girl power”, the StoneTree team wanted to empower our patients around two important health care issues that affect women.
1. Heart Disease
Some 27% of female deaths in North American are a result of heart disease. This is far more then breast cancer. Add another 8% due to stroke, and another 3% related to diabetes, both of which are related to the same lifestyle issues as heart disease, and this should really get our attention.
Women do not experience symptoms of heart attack quite the same as men, so they tend to get care later then men. Also, when they do get care, they tend to be treated less aggressively than men. The result is a women is twice as likely to die within a month of having a heart attack compared to a man.
What to do? First, you can begin by assessing your risk here. Next, you can focus on preventing the heart disease in the first place with the following five things:
- Quit smoking. No explanation needed here. If you still smoke, please get help and stop.
- Exercise daily (Yes, daily.). Try this for a little motivation.
- Eat a Mediterranean diet. Lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, anti-oxidants and good fats.
- Get enough sleep. It matters.
- Keep on-top of your blood work. Not only is it important to know what your cholesterol is doing, but what about your blood sugar? Your inflammatory markers like hs-CRP? Knowing what these numbers are and acting before they become a problem is the best way to prevent the outcomes of heart disease.
2. Women’s Reproductive Health
The screening recommendations for women’s health in Canada have changed in recent years. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive health care looked at the evidence and made recommendations around screening tests and exams and this what they came up with:
In asymptomatic, non-pregnant women with low risk:
- No pelvic exams
- No clinical breast exams
- No teaching of self-breast exams
- Mammography only after age 50 – every 2-3 years
- Pap smear only after age 25 – every 3 years
If you’re like many of our patients, you read this and gasp. It is quite a departure from what we grew up with–a full physical exam including PAP every year.
You may also be wondering why. The logic behind the recommendations are two-fold:
- One of the outcomes of “preventative screening” is that you find things. And sometimes, you find things that would never have turned into a scary disease at all. For example, breasts can be normally lumpy and bumpy. Doing a self exam or clinical exam would find lumps that then need to be tested to make sure they are not cancerous and most of them won’t be. So the screening leads to tests and interventions that cause undue stress and harm to the patient receiving them.
- All of this testing costs money. In a publicly funded system, we need to make sure that the money we are spending is positively effecting the most people and is not wasteful. Spending money on tests that are mostly benign can be seen as wasteful of a public resource. Another way of looking at this is that when the recommendations change to do a PAP on asymptomatic women from every year to every three years, we know we will miss some cervical cancer (in fact, 3 in 100,000). It’s just that it is less expensive to deal with those three women with disease then it is to screen all women every year to catch those three.
This isn’t necessarily the logic that helps people sleep at night, but it’s the reality of health care in a system with limited resources.
International Women’s Day is about women empowering themselves. If you’re concerned about these recommendations, or would like more frequent screening, talk to your health care professional. Naturopaths are trained and licensed to perform regular Pap smears, and pelvic and breast exams. Our unique Well Woman Visit offers a warm, caring environment for reproductive health screening at the frequency you decide with your doctor.