Even though Bangalore homemaker Radhika Patel* was diagnosed with breast cancer, she insisted on postponing treatment until summer holidays had started for her two school-going children.
This mindset—putting the family’s wellbeing much before their own health—is typical of many women and, doctors opine, is one of the biggest health mistakes women make. It’s not always easy to shift the focus from work and family to oneself, but the likely payoff—a longer, healthier life—is worth the trouble.
1. UNDERESTIMATING HEART DISEASE
You may have heard that women don’t have to worry so much about heart disease—it’s a man’s problem. False! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among Indian women too, accounting for 17 percent of female mortality.
Some doctors are slow to recognize heart disease in women. According to studies, women wait longer than men to go to hospital when having a heart attack, and physicians are slower to recognize the presence of heart attacks in women because “characteristic” patterns of chest pain and ECG changes are less frequently present.
Also, India has the highest number of diabetics in the world. According to Dr Anil Mishra, medical director and senior consultant cardiologist at Kolkata’s B.M. Birla Heart Research Centre, men who have diabetes have double the chances of developing heart disease. But, he points out, the risk becomes four-fold in the case of women. “Stress at work, a very competitive lifestyle, eating out and fast food, smoking and alcohol intake are increasing in women especially in the 20 to 50 age group,” adds Dr Ashok Seth, chairman and chief cardiologist at New Delhi’s Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre. “All these significantly increase their chances of developing heart disease at a younger age. Oestrogen, the female hormone, is known to protect women from heart disease until they reach menopause. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that recent lifestyle changes are neutralizing this protective role.”
“Women suffering from coronary heart disease often present atypical chest pain and shortness of breath,” Dr Mishra explains, “not the classic symptoms seen in men, such as crushing chest pain or pain down the left arm. Women suffer silent ischaemia more often than men, which means they may experience no pain at all.” So, many women mistakenly identify their heart-related symptoms as gas-related, and take antacids. By not understanding, or downplaying, the condition, women often delay seeking essential medical attention.
Women over 30 should take a lipid profile test to know their “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Women with high total cholesterol due to high “good” (HDL should be above 50) cholesterol may not have an increased risk of heart disease. On the other hand, some women with only slightly elevated cholesterol levels may have high “bad” cholesterol, low “good” cholesterol and high triglyceride levels, and therefore be at increased risk.
2. PUTTING OFF PAP SMEARS
The Pap smear test is a simple examination of cervical cells for malignancies. It’s a shame there’s no national cervical cancer-screening program. Even worse, most Indian women are dismally unaware of the need to undergo regular screening.
Dr Suneeta Mittal, professor and head, department of obstetrics and gynaecology at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, recommends that a woman should have her first Pap test three years after commencing sexual activity.
Post A Comment