At times, women are prone to ignoring possible health issues because they are busy juggling lots of responsibilities and looking after others needs. Here are some important health issues for women and things you can do to keep well.
Heart disease in women
Most women do not realise that heart disease is still the single biggest killer of women in New Zealand.
As women, we are often so busy caring for our families we don’t stop to look after ourselves and take as much care as we should.
Encourage your wife, partner, mother, sister or work colleagues to see their doctor/nurse for a heart check, also known as a cardiovascular risk assessment.
When to start having a heart check
- All women with known cardiovascular risk factors
- All Māori, Pacific and Indian subcontinent women aged 45–74
- All other ethnicities women aged 55–74
- Women with diabetes – once a year from time of diagnosis
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to be thinner and weaker than normal. This means, they can break easily, such as after a small bump or fall. Osteoporosis affects more than half of women and about one-third of men over 60 years, as well as a few younger people. There are good treatments that can slow the progression of osteoporosis and help to stop you getting broken bones. Osteoporosis can be prevented by strengthening your bones. This can be achieved by keeping physically active, getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet and not smoking.
What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?
- A fracture of the wrist, hips, spine or other bones that happens more easily than it should
- Loss of height – as the vertebrae of the spine weaken they compress and the spine curves.
- With more severe osteoporosis, fractures can occur doing routine things like bending, lifting or just getting up from a chair. This happens because brittle bones have trouble supporting body weight.
Menstruation, or a woman’s period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle.
Every month, a woman’s body prepares for pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus. It passes out of the body through the vagina.
As girls go through puberty, periods usually start between age 10 and 16 and continue until menopause.
As well as vaginal bleeding, you may also have one or more of the following:
- abdominal or pelvic cramping
- bloating and sore breasts
- lower back pain
- food cravings
- mood swings and irritability
- Headache and fatigue.
If you are having very heavy or painful periods see you doctor to discuss treatments.
Our registered nurses are qualified and experienced smear-takers. Patients can have a cervical smear with either their GP or a nurse.
Some patients are eligible for a FREE smear with a nurse, please ask the nursing staff if you are eligible for this.
Click here to read more.
Menopause simply means the end of a woman’s menstrual periods. It is a significant hormonal milestone that offers a good opportunity to assess your health and plan for the next phase of your life.
Menopause is a normal part of life; you are said to have reached menopause after 12 months in a row of no further periods. The average age in NZ for menopause to begin is 52 years.
About 70% of women have significant symptoms with menopause and 40% will see a doctor because of their symptoms.
Symptoms vary hugely in severity with some women having very little discomfort, while others are affected to the extent of being unable to carry out their normal everyday activities.
In the long term, after menopause you are more at risk of developing osteoporosis (thinning of bones) and heart disease, though lifestyle measures help to reduce this risk.
Discuss ongoing symptoms or particular concerns with your doctor.
- Hot flushes; these feel like someone has poured hot water into your veins.
- Sweats, which often go with flushes and are common at night.
- Loss of libido (sex drive).
- Dryness in your vagina and around your urethra
- Sleep problems.
- Palpitations – your pulse or heart may feel like they are racing, or you may feel faint or dizzy from time to time or get ringing in your ears.
- Mood changes – you may feel tired, irritable, depressed, tearful or angry
- Skin – your skin may look more tired and be less firm, and the hair on your head, armpits and legs may get thinner.
- Bones – you won’t feel it, but your bones may start getting thinner (osteoporosis). Much later you may break them more easily or start to get shorter (loose some of your height) or find it hard to straighten up.
Breast lumps & changes
Most breast lumps are not cancerous. However, as 1 in 9 New Zealand women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, it’s important to get any breast changes checked by your doctor.
What if I have breast changes?
If you feel or see something in one breast which seems different from usual, check your other breast. If there is something in the same place in both breasts, your breasts are probably quite normal.
If you do not think it is normal for you, it is important to see your doctor and have it checked.
Normal breast changes
Periods – your breasts may increase in size just before your period. Tender lumps may also appear and last until about a week after.
Pregnancy – during pregnancy your breasts get bigger, become firmer and more tender. The area around the nipple usually becomes darker and small bumps may appear.
Menopause – milk glands get smaller and breast tissue loses strength and stretchiness at menopause. This causes breasts to sag and become softer. Your skin may also wrinkle.
The pill – if you take a contraceptive pill you might notice changes, such as pain, or tenderness, lumps and thickenings.
Breast pain – causes of breast pain can include cysts, a blocked duct or infection during breast feeding, and tenderness due to your period.
Breast lumpiness – this is very common from the age of 35 to 50 years. The lumpiness or thickening can be in a part of one breast or throughout both breasts. Some lumpy areas come and go over the years. Others are present for days or weeks. The lumpiness is often more obvious before your period and tends to become less or disappear after menopause.
It is important to have regular mammograms or ultrasound. These are free between the ages 45 and 70 and also for some people who have increased risk of breast cancer.
BreastScreen Aotearoa is New Zealand’s free national breast screening programme for women aged between 45 and 69.
Sign up here.