Self-care is all the rage, but true self-care for women is more than taking time to yourself. It’s taking time to know your body and how to properly care for it. You can start by understanding the truth from myth about many common women’s health issues.
Myth 1: Heart disease primarily affects men.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women globally, and in the U.S., more women will die from heart disease than men! (Seriously, somebody’s got some mansplaining to do.)
Certain groups are more at risk: women (and men) with Type II diabetes hypertension (high blood pressure) and increase the likelihood of developing heart disease.
There are many positive steps you can take to decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Don’t smoke (this includes vaping and juuling). Maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet and try to exercise at least 30 minutes daily. And maintain regular appointments with your physician—even if you don’t’ get sick—so that you can track your blood pressure rates and blood glucose levels.
Myth 2. Your sex life peaks at 35, and gets progressively worse as you age.
A prevalent myth is that women have a supposed sexual peak at 35. Luckily, there is no truth to this, although sorry about the picture of Grandma that’s now in your head. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some women experience changes in sex drive after menopause, but many don’t, and some even have an increase in sex drive post-menopause.
There’s more great news: According to psychologist David Schnarch in a story with the Huffington Post, you have two peaks as a female. The first is when you’re young and your hormones are raging, and the other is when you’re mature, have sexual experience and are comfortable with who you are and your sexuality. This second prime can hit women in their 40s, 50s or 60s.
Myth 3: All women experience periods in the same way.
There are two types of period pain or dysmenorrhea. The first type is based on muscle contractions in your uterus as it sheds its lining each cycle. Every woman who’s having periods will have those contractions, but some won’t feel it (lucky gals).
Others might feel the pain in their abdomen, legs, back and experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea along with it.
But it’s also important to know about the other type of period pain, secondary dysmenorrhea. Benign growths like fibroids and polyps can cause this pain, as can endometriosis (what happens when the tissue lining your uterus grows elsewhere in your abdominal region). Sometimes IUDs (intrauterine devices) used for birth control can be the culprit as well.
The verdict? If your periods are painful, tell your doctor. Maybe it’s nothing, and they’ll send you on your way with a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough and some Naproxen, but maybe you have an underlying health issue that could be addressed to avoid future pain or even infertility.
Myth 4: If your eyesight is fine, there’s no need for an eye exam in adulthood.
Many Americans over age 18 have never had an eye exam. That’s right. Twenty-three million adults in total haven’t done it because they don’t think they have an eye problem.
The truth is that vision is only one piece of eye health. Reading the letters at the DMV can not help detect eye diseases that don’t show symptoms until they are already a problem. By 2030, more than 16 million Americans will have diseases like macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Women are more at risk for eye disease and dry eye (3 million compared to 1.5 million in men) due to hormonal changes in their bodies over time through pregnancy and menopause.
Eye exams not only detect eye disease early, but they also can detect vision problems early. Worried about wearing glasses suddenly as an adult? Don’t be. There are options like LASIK, an affordable type of laser eye surgery to correct vision.
Myth 6: If breast cancer doesn’t run in the family, there’s no need to have a mammogram.
The truth is that most women (90 percent) who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease, and it remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Experts recommend women 40 and older should have mammograms every 1 or 2 years. Before age 40, expect your OBGYN to perform clinical breast exams checking for lumps in your breast tissue and to ask you about risk factors in your family that might necessitate earlier mammograms or tests for the breast cancer gene.
The good news is that you can help prevent breast cancer with a healthy lifestyle and that early detection leads to better prognoses for women with breast cancer.
Myth 7: Bladder leakage is for old ladies.
You might wish that one were true, but the reality is that stress incontinence (peeing a little when you laugh, exercise, sneeze or cough) happens to some young women and affects nearly half of women who gave birth by the age of 40.
So keep up the kegels, and if it’s a real problem, there are medical options like a suburethral sling that can be surgically inserted beneath your bladder to help relieve incontinence.
Myth 8: Weight gain is inevitable when you go through menopause.
Like periods, women experience menopause differently. Some women experience changes in their body shapes and body weights, but many don’t.
If you do experience changes in your body shape and an increase in weight, a combination of aerobic and weight-bearing exercises (yes, lifting weights but also Barre and yoga) will help burn calories, keep your bones and heart strong and keep those changes in check. If you’re already doing that, yay for you, increase it a little. And everyone should be paying attention to portion sizes as your caloric needs reduce as you age and so your caloric intake should match it.
Carolina O. Polo writes about women’s health, eye health and technology for a variety of publications and blogs. She is a regular contributor to The Surgeon Blog for LasikPlus Baltimore.