The 5 Health Issues Every Woman Should Know About

by Gina M. Florio

It pays to pay for women's healthcare — we've always believed it, but now economists have proven it. David E. Bloom of Harvard University, Michael Kuhn of the Vienna Institute of Demography, and Klaus Prettner of Vienna's Institute of Statistics and Mathematical Methods in Economics have all found that focusing on men's healthcare helps in the short-term, but putting time and money into women's wellbeing is what boosts long-term national growth. When women receive the health care we deserve, the benefits don't just stop with us — they trickle down to the upcoming generations.

For example, women who have better access to birth control are more likely to go to college and find good employment, and their daughters, in turn, are more likely to hold a steady job when they reach adulthood. Unfortunately, women around the world still receive inferior healthcare compared to their male counterparts.

Just because we have a higher life expectancy than men doesn't mean we are better off physically and mentally than they are — and it doesn't even mean we're cared for equally. While there's definitely been some great progress made recently, we still have a long, long way to go if we want to see the next few generations come out strong and successful.

As we work towards that end, education is a key part of that fight — and it starts with you. Here are five important women's health issues you should know about.

1. Heart Disease

Don't fool yourself into thinking that only senior citizens have to be concerned about heart attacks. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, not only in the United States, but across the planet. It's responsible for more deaths than all cancers combined, and many women don't even know how to identify the symptoms, even though 80 percent of cases are preventable. Women under 55 years of age who are hospitalized for heart disease are twice as likely to die as men in the same demographic. So. Not. OK.

So, what's going on here? The way we hear about heart disease is all wrong, for starters. We're trained to think of it as a men's problem, when, in reality, the symptoms between the two genders are often different. In popular media, we're taught that a heart attack manifests mainly through chest pain and uncomfortable pressure in the arm. But get this: 40 percent of women having a heart attack don't experience any pressure in the chest at all. Instead, we should keep an eye out for extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.

According to a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, women are still harboring too much fear to report dangerous symptoms. We don't want to appear to be hypochondriacs, and surveys show that women who report these symptoms to male doctors often get quickly dismissed; they are told that it's all probably just acid reflux or gas. Ugh.

We must know the real facts about heart disease — our lives literally depend on it.

2. Alzheimer's Disease

Two-thirds of individuals suffering from Alzheimer's Disease are women, and it's not just because we tend to live longer than men. In fact, women are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's than breast cancer.

Scientists are finding that the Alzheimer's gene simply has a more significant impact on women than on men, and some brain scans show that, once it hits us, it worsens more quickly. Women over 65 have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer's, yet men only face a one in 11 chance.

Stanford University conducted a study on both men and women who carried the ApoE-4 gene; compared to females who don't possess this gene, men's risk only slightly increased while women's rose twofold. Doctors can't figure out exactly why this is the case, although they hypothesize that it's because of how the gene interacts with estrogen. Once we hit menopause, we're automatically at a much higher risk.

There are also a disproportionate number of women who are caring for those with Alzheimer's — more than twice as many women than men are giving up their jobs, sacrificing money, and devoting immense amounts of time to look after individuals who suffer from this debilitating disease.

3. Mental Illness

There's no denying that women are at a higher risk of suffering from diseases like clinical depression, acute anxiety, and eating disorders than men are. Women are 40 percent more likely to develop mental health conditions of any kind, according to a 2013 study by Oxford University. Professor Daniel Freeman, who conducted this research, told the Guardian that our gender is 75 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 60 percent more likely to report an anxiety condition. Nearly a quarter of all women in the world will wrestle with a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Although we're quicker to open up the conversation about our mental health with doctors and we're generally the more "ruminative" sex, these numbers are frighteningly high, making us wonder what else is going on that puts us in this position. One reason is that stress hormones have a lasting effect on our brains, more so than men, who seem to have a stronger resilience to them. (Dudes possess a specific "molecular dance," in which hormone receptors retreat into the cell at a faster rate.) Factors like societal pressures and high rates of female abuse and assault definitely play their parts as well, so we should never be ashamed to get help.

4. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There's so much more to know about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than Dr. Carr's mini-lecture in Mean Girls. According a study done by Planned Parenthood and Women's Health magazine, 58 percent of women say they never use condoms, 31 percent have never been tested for STDs, and 91 percent never reach for a condom before oral sex. Yet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says women are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections because the vaginal lining is thinner and more delicate than a penis, and the environment of vaginas make it easier for bacteria to settle in.

Furthermore, we often times forget that STDs likes gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes aren't always given away by weird sores or burning sensations. This is especially true for women, as we see less symptoms than men do, and when we do notice them, we tend to mistake them for something much less ominous, like a yeast infection. We could walk around with an STD, maybe even transmitting it to our partner, and not even know it.

At least 24,000 women each year suffer infertility because of STDs, and up to 40 percent of pregnant women with undiagnosed syphilis face infant death. Yep, this is a serious public health issue.

Although investing in a box of condoms is a good place to start, know that you are still at risk for contracting herpes and HPV from skin-on-skin contact. Always ask your OGBYN for the HPV vaccine and an STD test, as they're not automatically included in a pap smear, and have the safe sex chat with your partner, no matter how uncomfortable it might be at first.

5. Pregnancy Complications

Women in the United States are more likely to die during childbirth than in China. As progressive as we like to think we are, we are one of only eight countries in the past decade to see a rise in maternal mortality rates. For every 100,000 births in 2013, 18.5 mothers passed away; this is double the rate of Canada and triple rate of the United Kingdom. Each year, 60,000 American women nearly die due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

We're simply not being cared for enough, especially considering the fact that 70 percent of these deaths take place after the baby is born. Dr. Priya Agrawal of Merck for Mothers put it simply in an interview with Bustle: we need to "recognize and value our women" if we have any chance at saving them.

Images: Bustle Stock Photo; Giphy (6)