The health problems that affect women are different from those that affect men. In some conditions, women have different symptomatic presentations when compared to men and this could lead to problems in diagnosis or ignoring of the symptoms altogether. Some diseases are more likely to happen in women than in men and some could lead to severe complications. Let’s take a look at why this happens.
Why do some diseases affect women more?
Women are anatomically different from men and this is the primary cause for women being more prone to certain diseases and vice-versa. For example, some conditions are based on the hormone levels in the body such as say testosterone or estrogen. In women, estrogen is naturally higher and this happens to ward off heart diseases for a longer period. When estrogen levels go down, the bone density suffers and bones weaken leading to osteoporosis. Testosterone, which is primarily a male hormone is the root cause behind dermatological problems such as hair loss and acne. Thus, these conditions occur when testosterone levels are high in women. Similarly, some infections like the urinary tract infections are more common in women as they have a shorter urethra when compared to men.
Apart from the hormonal differences, there are certain diseases that only women suffer from such as gynecological issues, certain types of cancer – ovarian, cervical, etc. and reproductive health issues related to ovulation, uterine abnormalities and so on. Also, women tend to ignore their health in lieu of work and familial commitments and hence suffer more because they don’t seek care early.
Conditions in which the symptoms are milder in women
There are certain conditions where women don’t experience severe symptoms and this could lead to misdiagnosis in many cases. Some of the conditions wherein women experience milder symptoms as compared to men are stroke and heart attack.
With a stroke, the typical risk factors are having a familial history of stroke, diabetes, high BP, smoking, and high salt and fat diet. However, certain factors predispose women to stroke such as being pregnant, using birth control pills, having a thick waistline (this happens with most women post-menopause), and migraine headaches. Not only that, women often have different symptoms during a stroke when compared to the typical symptoms that men report. These symptoms can include nausea or vomiting, seizures, hiccups, trouble breathing normally, fainting, loss of consciousness, and general weakness. Because these symptoms are unique to women, it may be difficult to connect them to stroke immediately and this can delay treatment, which may hinder recovery.
As with a stroke, the symptoms that manifest in women and men are different in a heart attack. The most common symptom of a heart attack is the feeling of heavy pressure on the chest (as if an elephant were sitting on it) and most women don’t experience it. Women typically experience shortness of breath, lightheadedness, pressure in the upper back, and pain anywhere between the upper abdomen and lower chest. These symptoms are often confused with those of flu or gastritis and thus help isn’t sought.
Conditions that affect women more severely than men
There are certain diseases that when present in women lead to complications such as osteoporosis, diabetes, auto-immune conditions and depression.
Diabetes tends to affect women more severely than men and, in many cases, contributes to poor kidney health and heart conditions. Research indicates that women with diabetes are six times more likely to suffer from heart-related problems than those who don’t. People with diabetes are likely to suffer from kidney problems however, women tend to get it more severely (even though men are more likely to suffer from kidney complications than women). High cholesterol levels associated with fat deposits that could lead to type 2 diabetes are often left untreated in women in the reproductive ages as it could affect their pregnancy outcome and their babies. Thus, by the time the care is given, the disease is usually far more advanced making it more difficult to treat. This is the primary reason why women have a greater risk of cardiovascular complications when they already have diabetes.
Estrogen, the hormone that is abundant in females is responsible for their endocrine balance and regulates their menstrual cycles. Also, it is responsible for bone density thus protecting them. Estrogen is also one of the reasons why women develop heart complications much later than men. However, with menopause, estrogen levels drop in their body thus making their bones weak. Bone loss begins to happen post menopause and if not cared for, could lead to osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition where the bones are weakened or fragile due to the breakdown in the cartilage. This predisposes women to more fractures, as their bones become brittle due to pores in them.
There are other conditions such as autoimmune disorders (systemic lupus, arthritis), thyroid, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome that affect women more than men. Some diseases are equal opportunity offenders but cause severe complications with women such as sexually transmitted diseases, psoriasis, and UTIs.
However, it isn’t all gloomy! There are some diseases that affect women less severely such as certain heart conditions owing to their estrogen levels. Similarly, women have smaller sebaceous glands and lower testosterone levels that make them less likely candidates for acne and early hair loss. Also, women tend to care more for dermatological issues and thus get preventive or early care.
Importance of Health Checkups
Given that there are several conditions wherein women have milder symptoms, it is important to get health checkups and screenings regularly. Apart from the pap smear, mammogram, and general tests, it is important to have thyroid levels, lipid profile and hormonal panels checked. At mfine, we have an exclusive health check profile designed for Women’s Health to screen against common conditions and take preventive measures on time!
Being Proactive about health
It is important to lead a healthy lifestyle and exercise for good health. While this might sound like run-of-the-mill advice, it does work. With hectic lifestyles and balancing work and family, women often neglect their health and seek care too late. It is important to be aware of how certain diseases might not have the same symptoms that are popular. Seeking medical care when in doubt and leading a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk for most diseases.