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This year-end health checklist for Indian women will remind you of the seven health problems of women that you must get tested for.
By Debjani Talapatra
The last month of the year is always time to marvel at how fast the year flew by and to reflect on it. As we sit down to mull over how the year has treated us, we tend to ignore how we’ve treated ourselves and more importantly – how we’ve treated our bodies. With the year-end festivities such as binging on Christmas treats and partying on New Year’s Eve looming on the horizon, why not take stock of your health?
These are the seven life-threatening illnesses that every woman must get tested for, and if you haven’t yet thought of a health screening, now is a good to begin!
Breast cancer accounts for 16% of all cancers affecting women and 7% of all cancer deaths. Despite all the awareness surrounding this disease, a lot of women do not get themselves screened for it. A self breast exam is a good starting point and every woman over the age of 25 must regularly self-examine. There is, however, a chance that self-exams may miss smaller lumps. A mammogram is the best way to screen for breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute (USA), women over the age of 35 should get yearly mammograms. However, if you have a close family relative such as your mother, aunt or cousin already diagnosed with breast cancer, then you should get the test earlier and get a mammogram every six months.
Cervical Cancer is the most common kind of cancer Indian women are diagnosed with and second only to breast cancer the world over. India ranks fourth in the world when it comes to mortality resulting from cervical cancer. With the incidence of cervical cancer on the rise, women have to get more involved in combating this silent killer. Dr. Snehalata Guha, Gynaecologist, says, “Every woman above the age of 21, especially those who’ve been sexually active must get a Pap Smear once in three years. It’s a simple test, which is relatively painless and non-intrusive and a life saving measure.”
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones where the bones become porous and this leads to an increased risk of fractures. There are two types of Osteoporosis – type 1 affects women over 50 and is called Post-menopausal Osteoporosis. Type 2 affects women over 75 and is called Senile Osteoporosis.
Worldwide, women are at risk for Osteoporosis starting at 50, but for Indian women the risk starts at 40 due to their low calcium levels as well as reduced physical activity (among affluent women). A diagnosis of Osteoporosis can be made by measuring the Bone Mineral Density and the way to do that is by getting a dual energy X-ray; a blood test can also be done to determine the underlying causes of reduced bone density. Screening for Osteoporosis is essential since once diagnosed it can be treated with medication and changes in diet and lifestyle.
Women are particularly susceptible to the ill-effects of STDs such as infertility, heart diseases, brain damage and increased risk to certain kinds of cancers. Women are also silent carriers for certain infections such as Chlamydia and might not know they are infected till their condition is very severe. They might in the interim expose others to the disease.
Screening for STDs such as Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, Hepatitis B and C, HPV and HIV/AIDS is critical given the times we live in. Contrary to popular belief, STDs are spread not only by sexual intercourse but also through any other sexual behaviour that involve contact with bodily fluids or by other means such as infected syringes. To be safe is the best bet and getting tested is an absolute necessity. For most STDs, a blood test suffices but for others, swaps of areas affected are done. Dr. Guha advises, “Don’t feel shy about asking your gynaecologist for an STD screening, as most gynaecs in India do not voluntarily offer these tests.”
India is the diabetes capital of the world, with 40.9 million diabetics. Women with diabetes are seven times more likely to develop heart disease. They are also at risk to have complications during pregnancy and have children born with birth defects. Some women get diabetes during pregnancy, this is called Gestational Diabetes and in most cases ceases to exist after child birth. The other types of Diabetes, Type 1 and 2 are long term and require extended medical care and attention. Screening for Diabetes is done via a blood test; a yearly test is advisable but those with a family history must get regular tests done.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide. The prognosis is considerably better if the condition is caught on earlier. Checking one’s blood pressure at regular intervals and a complete blood work- including a lipid profile checking for LDL and HDL levels are steps necessary to keep tabs on the condition of our hearts.
Anaemia is the reduction of the Red Blood Cells (RBC) in the blood that results in the depletion in the amount of Haemoglobin in the blood. India has the highest prevalence of Anaemia in the whole world. There are over 400 kinds of Anaemia, the most common is the one caused by iron deficiency (IDA) and is responsible for 70% of all cases. Almost 52% of Indian women suffer from IDA, out of which 15% suffer from mild forms of the disease and 2% suffer from severe Anaemia. The testing for Anemia is done with a Complete Blood Count (CBC) Test, once diagnosed it can be treated with medications and dietary changes.
Women are great caretakers but sometimes tend to put the need of their families and work pressures before their own needs. Most of us tend to go to the doctor only when things begin to feel bad. While that attitude serves us well enough most of the time, it’s not a wise way to live. Someone wise once said, ‘Precaution is better than Cure.’
The end of the year is a good time to get that motto into our heads!
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