Celebrate International Women's Day with UK HealthCare's health tips.

Women, take charge of your health

In our society, women often care for everyone else – parents, spouses, children – first and neglect themselves. Looking after yourself isn’t selfish – it’s the best way to keep on doing what you do for those around you.

In honor of International Women’s Day today, check out our list of tips that will help you be your healthiest:

  • Understand recommended cancer screenings for your age. Breast, skin, lung and gynecologic cancers are some of most common types affecting women, and regular screening can help catch the disease when it’s most treatable. Check out the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for early cancer screening.
  • Get the HPV vaccine. If you’re 26 or younger, ask your doctor about getting an HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of human papilloma virus that most typically cause cervical cancer.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for cancer and heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women in America.
  • Listen to your heart. Women’s hearts are different from men’s in certain ways, which can affect the way women develop heart disease and experience heart attacks. Check out the top 10 things to know about women’s heart health from Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the UK Gill Heart Institute Women’s Heart Health Program.
  • Protect your skin by using sunscreen and avoiding indoor tanning. Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning beds can cause melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
  • Stay active. Regular exercise, along with a healthy diet, can lower your risk for several types of cancer and reduce your risk for heart disease. Being overweight can increase your risk of a heart attack and other heart complications.
  • Think about your mental health, too. Some mental illnesses are more common in women or affect women in different ways than men. Conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders and postpartum depression can significantly impact your life. The National Institute of Mental Health has more information specifically for women, but simple things like staying in touch with family and friends, exercising, and getting good sleep can boost your mental health. If you’re unable to shake your symptoms or they keep coming back, talk with your doctor.
  • Be a role model for health. Make sure you’re setting good examples for the girls and young women in your life. Practice healthy eating habits at home and encourage exercise. Encourage the teenage girls in your life to get the HPV vaccination. And for teenage girls especially, emotional support is important. Be available to talk with young women in your life who may be experiencing increased anxiety or depression as they undergo a time of physical and personal growth.

Next steps:

What you need to know about Zika virus

What you need to know about Zika virus

Chances are you’ve heard about the Zika virus outbreak and its potential to cause birth defects and other pregnancy issues. Should you be concerned about the risk of infection for you and your loved ones? Unless you’ve recently traveled to an area where the virus has spread, the answer is no.

While it is unlikely to become infected unless you’ve traveled to an area where Zika has been reported, here’s what you should know about Zika virus.

What is Zika virus?

Zika is a disease caused by Zika virus, which is spread to people when they are bitten by an infected mosquito. The current outbreak of Zika virus has spread through the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Mexico, Samoa and Cape Verde. The illness is usually mild, so people may not realize they have the disease. If infected, symptoms will normally last several days to a week. Human-to-human transmission is rare but sexual transmission has been reported.

Symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Women and Zika virus

Women who are pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant should take special precautions. Zika virus has reportedly been linked in Brazil to microcephaly, a condition that causes a baby’s head to be much smaller at birth and can also lead to intellectual disability.

If you’re pregnant, it is recommended that you not travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. If travel is unavoidable, speak with your health care provider about your travel plans and discuss mosquito bite prevention methods.

What can I do to protect myself?

When traveling to countries where Zika virus has been found, practice mosquito bite prevention. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents is recommended. You should also stay in places that use air conditioners or window and door screens that keep out bugs.

Sexual transmission of Zika virus is of particular concern during pregnancy. Men who have traveled to an area of active Zika virus transmission who also have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms during sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

If you have recently visited an area currently affected by the outbreak and have developed symptoms of Zika, please call UK HealthCare at 859-257-1000 or (toll-free) 800-333-8874.

For more information about Zika virus, watch a video featuring UK HealthCare experts.


Next steps:

Dr. Gretchen Wells talks about why awareness is so important to women’s heart health

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Are you ready to support women’s heart health? The truth is that heart disease is a major killer of women, and some of the reason for that is women’s symptoms are different from men’s — and often go unrecognized until it’s too late, which is why raising awareness is so critical.

Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program, took time to answer some of our questions on women’s heart health.

Why is it important to raise awareness about women’s heart health?

People assume all heart attacks feel like a crushing in the chest, but often, and for women in particular, the symptoms of a heart attack can be quite different. More women are aware of this now than they were 20 years ago, but that’s still not good enough. So it’s important we take the opportunity to teach women what to look for and how to take the best care of your heart.

Why is it important for a place like Gill to have a specialized heart health program for women?

We’re the leaders in up-to-date diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. Each year, we have new technologies that expand our abilities to prevent and treat heart disease. We also offer leading-edge research and patients can participate in trials. All of us here come to work in the morning asking “How can I push the envelope and do better?”

What are the most common concerns you hear from patients in your program?

I just had this insight this week. Many women bring their daughters to clinic. I always thought that it was for the patient to have a support person, a ride, or maybe someone to take notes. But just yesterday, I had a patient with her daughter. After the visit, as we were closing, the patient said “I don’t want my daughter to have the heart problems that I did. I want her to know her risks and get treated early. All of this is preventable.” What great insight – and a sign of motherly love.

What led you to specialize in women’s heart health?

I didn’t start out doing this, but women gravitated towards me. Several trials evaluating women’s heart disease symptoms and prevention came out, and they raised some thought-provoking questions in my mind as to how to treat women. More importantly, I saw how these women presented differently from men. My first reaction was “we need to study this.” And then family members started having cardiac events, so it became personal.


Next steps:

What women need to know about stroke

Commonly thought of as a problem primarily affecting older men, stroke is a woman’s disease. Approximately 60 percent of deaths related to stroke in the United States occur in women, and the lifetime risk of stroke is higher in women (about one in five) compared to men (about one in six) for those aged 55 to 75 years.

The good news is that stroke can often be prevented.

Although men and women have several modifiable stroke risk factors in common such as high blood pressure (normal less than 120/80 mmHg), diabetes, cigarette smoking, overweight-obesity, atrial fibrillation (an irregular beating of the upper chambers of the heart), excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet or lack of regular exercise,  several risk factors are unique to women.

Stroke risk can be increased during pregnancy, in part leading to a higher stroke risk among women of childbearing age compared to similarly aged men. Migraine with aura (neurologic symptoms such as seeing sparkling or zigzag lights) is also associated with a higher stroke risk, particularly among women who smoke or use oral contraceptives. Women who have had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia associated with pregnancy (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and in the case of eclampsia, seizures) are at increased risk of stroke up to 30 years later.

What can women do to reduce their stroke risk?

  • Follow a healthy diet such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet.
  • Get regular exercise such as walking at a brisk but comfortable pace for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
  • No more than one alcoholic drink per day (no alcohol during pregnancy)
  • Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly

In addition, talk to your health care provider about reducing your stroke risk if you:

  • Have migraine, particularly migraine with aura
  • Have ever had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia

Memorize some common stroke symptoms using the FAST acronym:

  • Facial droop
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech slurring
  • Time call 911 – Stroke is frequently preventable and treatable, but you need to get help quickly

Larry B. Goldstein, MD

 

Larry B. Goldstein, MD, FAAN, FANA, FAHA, is the Ruth L Works Professor and Chairman of the UK Department of Neurology and Co-Director, Kentucky Neuroscience Institute.

 

 

This column appeared in the Dec. 6, 2015 edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader.