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Women's aches may signal serious health conditions

Too many women don't get treated for common conditions because they don't recognize the symptoms.

Tired, forgetful, sensitive to cold? That could mean an underactive thyroid. Have a pain under the right breast along with nausea? That could indicate gallstones.

And potentially fatal heart attacks and strokes are often overlooked and left untreated by women because the symptoms are different from men's.

Here's a look at some of the issues doctors would like women to know more about:

THYROID: Millions of Americans have thyroid diseases, and most of them are women, according to Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in the neck that helps set the metabolism — the rate at which your body gets energy from the foods you eat.

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is the most common thyroid disease in women. The symptoms are mild weight gain, fatigue, poor memory, constipation, dry skin, abnormal menstrual cycles and sensitivity to cold. An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, makes you lose weight, speeds up your heart rate and leaves you sensitive to heat.

What to do: Request a blood test for thyroid disease as part of your annual physical. If you do have thyroid disease, your doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone replacement in the form of a daily pill.

HEART ATTACKS AND STROKES

More than one in three women has some form of cardiovascular disease. It's the No. 1 health threat to women, causing more deaths nationally than all types of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association.

Stroke warning signs in women:

Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

For heart attack:

Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back, that feels like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; nausea, lightheadedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.

The heart association says up to 80 percent of cardiac events in women could be prevented by healthy diet; keeping weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control; not smoking; exercising at least 30 minutes a day and getting regular medical checkups.

ACL INJURIES: Women are more than twice as likely as men to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in their knees, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Although the reason for that has not been established, a recent study of soccer players, published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, suggests that this may result from men and women using different leg and hip muscles.

GALLSTONES: Women between the ages of 20 and 60 are three times likelier to develop gallstones than men, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ under your liver that stores bile, a fluid that digests fat. Gallstones form in the gallbladder when substances in bile, usually cholesterol, harden and block the flow of bile.

Obesity and rapid weight loss are factors in the formation of gallstones.

Symptoms include a constant pain lasting for hours under the right breast. The pain can also radiate to the abdomen, back or right shoulder and can include nausea and vomiting.

What to do: Options can range from removing the gallstones to removing the gallbladder.

Women's aches may signal serious health conditions 11/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 3:30am]

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