Women spend a lifetime looking after others and often ignore their own wellbeing. Below we look at women’s health issues after 55 and how to prevent them.
The silver years are getting better and better, thanks to advances in nutrition and medicine. Add to this a growing awareness to stay healthy and intentional lifestyles, and you have higher life expectancies and more full lives. But this doesn’t mean that the usual senior health issues are disappearing into thin air. In fact, it’s just as important today, for silvers of all ages to stay on top of their heath.
We speak to experts on women’s health issues after 55 and how to prevent them.
“It’s important for women to take care of themselves. A lifetime of looking after their families, often means that they’ve neglected themselves, which leads to health issues as they grow older,” says, Dr. Sangeeta Gupta, a Chandigarh-based physician, who works extensively with women of all ages.
“Some of the common health issues that women above the age of 55 years suffer from include the flu, osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.” “Ability of the body to bounce back to normal after an illness or a stressor is homeostasis, and this ability decreases as one ages due to decreased reserve and hence older women are more prone to diseases and complications of these diseases.”
So if you are looking for better ways to nourish yourself and prevent those age-related diseases, here’s how you can do so.
The flu is a highly-infectious health issue, brought on by sudden symptoms like sore throat, body ache, fever, cough, stuffy nose and fatigue. While anyone can get the flu, the elderly are more susceptible to it because the immune system does become weaker with the passing years. It also means that the flu can lead to pneumonia, if not treated on time. Free influenza vaccine is available under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for people over 65.
If you feel that you’ve got the flu, visit a doctor right away. Wash your hands frequently and if possible, avoid people who have the flu. Get the flu and pneumococcal vaccines annually. Fortify your immune system with fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals. Take a multi-vitamin.
There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer, so all women need to be aware of the symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms for ovarian cancer are:
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
- Feeling full after eating a small amount
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Lower back pain
- Indigestion or nausea
- Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
- Pain during sex or bleeding after
It is important to remember all the symptoms mentioned can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are persistent and troublesome, you should see your doctor. They will be able to examine you and if necessary, do further tests to find the cause of your problems. If you are not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or you are still concerned about unexplained persistent symptoms, you should seek a second opinion. If your cancer is found at an early stage, treatment may be more successful with better results. You know your body better than anyone else, so always listen to what your body is saying and trust your instincts.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years but is increasingly occurring in younger age groups including children, adolescents and young adults.
Evidence, including large-scale randomised control trials, shows type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in up to 58 per cent of cases by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and following a healthy eating plan.
People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent the condition by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regular physical activity
- Making healthy food choices
- Managing blood pressure
- Managing cholesterol levels
- Not smoking.
- Is the single biggest killer of Australian Women
- 3 times more women die of heart disease than breast cancer in Australia.
- 50 Australian women have a heart attack every day.
- 24 women die every day of heart disease in Australia.
Unfortunately, many women aren’t aware of these statistics and heart disease is too often perceived as a common illness among middle-aged men. In fact, the risk of heart problems increases significantly once women reach menopause.
There tends to be a common misconception when it comes to the symptoms associated with heart disease in women. These symptoms can vary to those in men, so it’s important that women take the steps to understand the symptoms unique to them. Only one in three women will experience ‘typical’ heart attack symptoms such as chest pain. Instead, many women suffer from less common warning signs such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one of both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Light-headedness or dizziness
- Unusual feelings of fatigue
- Heart palpitations
While these symptoms can be more subtle than the associated crushing chest pain, it’s important to take them seriously. Another difference to be aware of is the type of chest pain women may experience, as it tends to be described as pressure or tightness.
Women’s heart attack symptoms may actually occur more often when they are asleep or resting and can even be triggered by stress. If you experience any of these symptoms or think you are having a heart attack, immediately call an ambulance.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Stress and depression
- Pregnancy complications
A heart health check can be done as part of a normal check up with your doctor or health practitioner. This will involve:
- Talking about your family history of heart disease
- Taking your blood pressure
- Taking a blood sample to check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Checking your weight
- Talking about your lifestyle – what you eat, how active you are, alcohol and tobacco use and your overall mental health and wellbeing.
Women over the age of 50 are more likely to have urinary incontinence. This is because the pelvic muscles lose strength and aren’t able to control the bladder as well as they did before. Some of the other reasons for incontinence after menopause include less elasticity in the vaginal tissue and thinning of the lining of the urethra.
This leads to a few types of incontinence: stress incontinence, which means that you leak out some urine when you laugh, sneeze or cough; urge incontinence, when the need to urinate comes very suddenly; nocturia, where some women feel the need to use the bathroom several times at night; and, painful urination, which may happen because urinary tract infections that some may get more frequently after menopause.
Plenty can be done to improve or in some cases cure incontinence. Changes such as adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle, incorporating regular exercise and practices good toilet habits can all lead to improvements and of course tightening your pelvic floor by doing exercises.
Is a common disease affecting over 1 million Australians. This disease makes bones become brittle leading to a higher risk of breaks than in normal bone. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them, causing a loss of bone thickness (bone density or mass).
Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because of the rapid decline in oestrogen levels during menopause. When oestrogen levels decrease, bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate. As a result a bone loss of approximately 2% per year occurs for several years after menopause.
People should discuss risk factors with their doctor, and anyone over 50 with risk factors may require a bone density scan.
The risk of future fractures rises with each new fracture – this is known as the ‘cascade effect’. For example: women who have suffered a fracture in their spine are over 4 times more likely to have another fracture within the next year. It is essential that osteoporosis is diagnosed and treated to prevent further fractures.
You can take action to maintain and improve your bone health at every stage of life. Adequate calcium intake, proper vitamin D levels (to help absorb calcium) and specific exercises are all important for healthy bones. For people with low bone density or osteoporosis these 3 factors are very important.
One in five women are at risk of stroke:
- 29 percent of women have high blood pressure
- 58 percent of women are physically inactive
- 94 percent of women do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
Using the F.A.S.T. test involves asking these simple questions:
Face Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms Can they lift both arms?
Speech Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time Is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.
Some stroke risk factors can’t be controlled. These include gender, age and family history. However, many stroke risk factors are lifestyle related and can be reduced by making a few simple lifestyle changes:
- high blood pressure
- cigarette smoking
- high blood cholesterol levels
- heavy drinking
- a diet high in fat (particularly saturated) and salt, but low in fibre, fruit and vegetables
- lack of regular exercise
Another important risk factor, particularly as you get older, includes atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).
Women are known for putting others first. But when it comes to your health it is important to prioritise your own needs and speak up when you need support.
In fact, around 1 in 6 women in Australia will experience depression and 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime. Post-menopausal women are more prone to suffering from depression because when there is a dip in the level of oestrogen in the body, mood-regulating brain chemicals like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin also get disrupted, which can lead to depression. Also, women who’ve had hormone-related mood issues like severe PMS or postpartum depression, are at a higher risk of getting depression.
Staying well is about finding a balance that works for you, but there are some general principles that most people find useful. These include reducing and managing your stress levels, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, cutting back on alcohol and drugs, and taking action early if you start experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. It’s also important to deal with any setbacks and keep trying.
Family and friends can play an important role by providing practical and emotional support, or just being there to listen.
Take some time out everyday to nourish yourself. This could be as simple as 15 minutes to read a good book or listen to music. Spending some exclusive ‘me time’ can help you rediscover yourself. Take up a new hobby to ward off depression and feel good about learning a new skill.
Take up a social cause. “Helping others who are in worse situations than us can often help one get a better perspective of one’s problems,” explains Mita Banerjee, who founded a social organization called Team Miracle in her fifties. “The feel-good factor of this kind of work also helps work through one’s own anxieties.”
So whether you are in your late 50s, mid 60s or early 70s, do pay some attention to your health. Arm yourself with information, re-create your lifestyle to stay more active, mentally and physically, nourish yourself with nutrient-rich foods, and nurture yourself by doing more of what you love. Stay healthy, stay happy in your silver years.
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