Women’s Health and Preventive Care
The term “women’s health” can encompass a lot of different things, from conditions that occur naturally with age to reproductive health and overall wellness. In reality, there are several different health conditions that can affect women, no matter what their age. To maximize life quality and support your body’s natural systems, it is essential to follow a recommended preventive health schedule and seek professional help early if you notice symptoms.
Women are, in general, better at keeping to a preventive health schedule compared to their male counterparts. At the same time, busy schedules and obligations from work and home can make it difficult to keep track of overall health. Health care should never go on the back burner, which is why organizations like the American Academy of Family Practice, the US Preventive Service Task Force, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices work together to create guidelines and recommendations for women to keep their health on track. Your primary care provider will work to create a unique preventive maintenance schedule based on your risk factors and health history, but in general:
- Women in between the ages of 18-40 should have a comprehensive physical exam once a year, though the exact frequency will vary depending on your unique health history. At this point in life, a physical exam will include a review of risk factors for disease (diet, physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol and illicit drug use, stress), screening tests (blood tests, blood pressure, cholesterol, STI tests, and additional screening as needed). Women should also receive a Tdap booster every 10 years and an annual flu vaccine. Starting at 18 (or before, if an individual is sexually active), an annual pap smear and review of sexual health is recommended.
- Women between the ages of 40 and 50 should undergo the same screenings and health schedule as listed above but may also require screening for heart disease and diabetes depending on health history. Some women with risk factors for breast cancer may start receiving mammograms, and a risk assessment for the BRCA mutation is recommended.
- Starting at age 50, women with no significant risk factors for breast cancer will begin receiving mammograms. A colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years beginning at age 50 to screen for colon cancer. A Tdap booster every ten years and an annual flu shot are recommended.
- Once a woman reaches the age of 65, she will have to receive bone density screenings in addition to the other health schedules listed above. She should also receive additional vaccinations such as those for pneumonia and shingles (herpes zoster). Sometime between the ages of 55 and 65, a health care provider may recommend a daily baby aspirin supplement to reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
The Top Threats to Women’s Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps track of the leading causes of death by both sex and age group to inform public policy. In 2017, the leading causes of death for women were:
- Heart Disease (21.8%)
- Cancer (20.7%)
- Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases (6.2%)
- Stroke (6.2%)
- Alzheimer’s Disease (6.1%)
- Unintentional Injury (4.4%)
- Diabetes (2.7%)
- Influenza and Pneumonia (2.1%)
- Kidney Disease (1.8%)
- Septicemia (1.6%)
Fortunately, many of these leading causes of death are preventable. For example, regular screening and assessment of lifestyle risk factors can effectively mitigate the risk of heart disease, cancer, COPD, stroke, diabetes, and more. The CDC also reports that nearly 40% of U.S. adults are obese and 27.7% of women over the age of 20 had hypertension in 2015. Obesity is one of the single most important risk factors that is both controllable and related to some of the most common causes of death, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
To mitigate your own health risks and enhance your overall functioning:
- Avoid using any tobacco, including e-cigarette products and vaping pens. If you do use tobacco, ask your primary care provider for help quitting. Keep your home smoke-free and take steps to limit your exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Eat mindfully consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods high in fiber. Choose plant-based or lean sources of protein such as fish, beans, and other legumes. Women who are of child-bearing age should consume foods high in folate, and post-menopausal women should make sure they are getting enough calcium to support bone health. Limit consumption of food high in saturated fats, highly refined sugars, and sodium.
- Maintain a healthy weight. All women have an optimal weight range based on their body type and level of physical activity. Talk to your doctor about what your healthy weight and resolve to maintain it.
- Get physical activity. Exercise can help you manage stress, optimize your cholesterol ratios, control weight, get better sleep, give you more energy, and more. Resolve to get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (a brisk walking pace, easy jog, or similar) most days of the week.
- Avoid consuming too much alcohol. For women, “moderate” drinking is considered no more than one drink per day. More than this can increase your risk of certain cancers or liver damage.
- Control your life stressors. Stress can depress your immune system and even lead to other mental health conditions like depression. Carve out time for relaxation and doing things you enjoy. Meditation, physical activity, and other pleasurable activities can help you relax.
Women’s Sexual Health
A woman’s reproductive cycle can affect her health at all stages of her life. For example, estrogen levels lead to many of the physical changes that a woman experiences during adolescence, adulthood and childbearing, and after menopause.
Fertility in Women
Women become fertile once they begin their menstrual cycle. When she becomes sexually active, it is essential to consider birth control options. Women have several different birth control methods available to them, including but not limited to:
- Birth control pills. These may contain estrogen or only progesterone (progesterone only pills, or PoPs). Different birth control pills can have variable mechanisms of action, but they are around 93% effective at preventing pregnancy with typical use.
- Intrauterine device (IUD). These small devices are inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy for 3-10 years, depending on the device. They are considered 99.3% effective.
- An implant, or rod, that goes into the arm and releases hormones effectively prevents pregnancy, with a failure rate of only 0.01%.
As a more permanent solution, women also have the option of tubal ligation, or “tying tubes.” This involves closing the fallopian tubes so that the sperm and eggs never meet for fertilization. This procedure requires surgery and a few days recovery time. It is considered 99.5% effective.
Life After Menopause
For most women, menopause begins in their late 40s and early 50s, and is characterized by a full year without menstruation. At this time, the hormone levels of progesterone and estrogen fluctuate, leading to symptoms like fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia, and mood swings. These changes can be a risk factor for depression and physical fatigue, so caring for yourself mentally and physically is essential.
Tips for Women to Protect Your Health
Thankfully, women can take several simple steps to both protect and enhance their health. In general, all women should:
- Exercise moderation in the consumption of unhealthy food and alcohol.
- Participate in regular physical activity of moderate intensity. It is especially important for women to participate in weight-bearing exercise as they age to mitigate the risk of osteoporosis.
- Be proactive; always wear a seatbelt in cars and a helmet when riding a bike.
- Keep to the recommended vaccination schedule, which changes with age.
- Stick to your recommended preventive healthcare and maintenance schedule, especially with regard to mammograms and risk assessment for BRCA mutation.
- Always wear sunscreen to protect against skin cancer.
- Limit exposure to environmental pollutants.
- Talk to your doctor about any symptoms of depression you may experience.
Common Women’s Health Issues and Treatments
Women experience many of the same health conditions as men, but they can affect them differently. At the same time, there are also many diseases that are more likely to affect women.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most common medical conditions for both men and women and can lead to myriad health problems. Women generally have a lower risk of hypertension than men before the age of 45, but those risks get higher than men after menopause. This is why Lisinopril is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States.
Autoimmune conditions are also slightly more likely to affect women. Research from IMS Health shows that drugs treating autoimmune conditions such as Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and Lupus are among the highest grossing in the United States (Humira, or adalimumab, takes the number one spot).
Hydrocodone used to be the number one most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. However, in recent years and thanks to an increasing awareness regarding the opioid crisis, it has fallen out of the top 10 altogether. Consistently, the #1 medication prescribed in the United States is Synthroid, a medication used to treat hypothyroidism.
Finally, women are more likely than men to suffer from urinary tract infections (UTI), especially as they age. In severe cases, UTIs can spread to the kidneys and lead to sepsis, an infection that reaches the bloodstream.
Compounding Services for Women’s Health Conditions
For women, living as healthfully as possible involves attention to physical, social, emotional, environmental, and interpersonal factors. Each woman will have a unique constellation of risk factors for disease. As such, each person’s ideal solution to a health problem must be uniquely tailored to them. Some of the most commonly compounded medications for women include:
- Urology medications and those supporting urinary tract health
- Estrogen therapy or Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT)
- Medications to address hormone imbalances (i.e. thyroid medications)
- Medications for pain management, particularly pain and skin conditions arising from diabetes and autoimmune disorders.
Conventionally available medications for common women’s health conditions can be ineffective or even dangerous, especially when used over long periods of use. For example:
- Long term use of over the counter pain medications can lead to organ toxicity. Acetaminophen can lead to liver damage, and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can increase the risk of stroke or stomach bleeding.
- Over the counter and conventionally prescribed medications are tailored to work for the general population – i.e., the masses. This means that they will not be effective for everyone. Some people may require a compounded medication to find the right dose or even the right delivery system (i.e., topical instead or oral). Compounded medications can even remove allergens (i.e. egg, gluten) to make them safe to consume.
- Hormone replacement therapy often uses synthetic hormones that add unnecessary compounds for the sake of patenting. It does not increase effectiveness, and BHRT can use the body’s natural pathways to increase efficiency without increasing costs.
Women must be just as diligent in finding the right health care treatment solution as they are following a preventive maintenance schedule. Even when living as healthfully as possible, medical conditions are bound to arise, especially as we age. Talk to your doctor about compounding prescriptions and see if they may be right for you.
Compounding Medications for Women’s Health
If you find yourself in need of a medication to treat pain, improve sexual health, alleviate symptoms of menopause, or improve your quality of life, consider the benefits of compounding medication. Compounding Pharmacy of America can create custom doses, delivery systems, and formulations that help maximize your health or minimize side effects. Our pharmacists work directly with your prescribing physician to find the best solution for you. To learn more about our services, please contact us.
Talk to your doctor about your health concerns and reach out to us if we can help by fulfilling and delivering your custom medications, right to your house.