Any young woman who's encountered a serious health issue can tell you how common it is to have doctors not take your symptoms seriously, thanks to medical bias and general lack of understanding about women's health. Unfortunately, there are a vast number of health conditions that commonly affect young women, whether because of sex-specific factors like having uterine tissue, global trends that make us a high-risk population, or other facts. And the less these issues are talked about, the fewer people will know about them — leading to delays in diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
This isn't to say that older women or younger men don't have serious health issues that disproportionately affect them, or even that they aren't affected by some of the health issues on this list. But there are certain common conditions that seriously affect women in their teens, twenties, and thirties that we don't know as much about — and that people in other demographics won't have to worry as much about. From mental health to autoimmune disorders, here are seven conditions that affect young women in distinct, unexpected, and seldom talked about ways. If you're past puberty, it's worth getting educated about how these illnesses work.
1Mental Health Issues
Increasingly, young women are the most vulnerable group for mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, according to research in 2017. Rates of diagnosis of depression in young women have risen from 18 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2015, and girls between the ages of 14 and 18 have a higher rate of depression than boys of the same age, according to the organization Mental Health America. There's also been an increase of over 60 percent in the number of teen girls admitted to hospital for self-harming behavior in the last ten years. Part of this rise can be explained by societal taboos and more awareness of mental illness, but mental health issues do disproportionately affect young women.
Endometriosis, a very painful condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, is experienced by a surprisingly large number of people with uteruses, and it's more of a young woman's disease than was previously thought. It's thought to affect about 10 percent of all women of reproductive age, and the Center for Young Women's Health explains that, despite medical opinion insisting up until the 1980s that it was chiefly found in women in their 30s and older, it can actually begin showing symptoms in girls in their teens and 20s.
The Center for Endometriosis Care notes that endometriosis is a potential diagnosis at any point after a girl experiences her first period, and that while it can show up later in life, it's more common among young women than previous generations believed. But it's often difficult enough for people with endometriosis to be diagnosed because doctors are often less likely to believe in women's pain, according to The Washington Post.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that's common in young adults, particularly girls; 90 percent of all people with Lupus are women who were diagnosed between 15 and 34, according to the S.L.E. SLupus Foundation. The illness affects up to 5 million people worldwide, but it's not known why young women are the most vulnerable group for it. It's been suggested that estrogen might have a role, and stress triggers like illness or psychological pressure can set off symptoms, but a lot more work needs to be done.
4Type 2 Diabetes
Rates of Type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder that creates high blood sugar, are increasing among young women. 8.5 percent of people worldwide have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization, and research in 2016 found that young, apparently healthy women are among a group increasingly being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a trend that was first noticed in 2011. And it shows up differently in separate sexes; women have unique diabetes symptoms, including higher rates of yeast infections and thrush, vaginal dryness, and UTIs.
Myasthenia gravis typically affects muscles, particularly the muscles in the face; problems with chewing or swallowing and drooping eyelids are considered to be typical symptoms. This auto-immune condition is most commonly experienced by Caucasian women, and often develops in adolescence (in which case it's called juvenile myasthenia gravis). Science isn't entirely sure why that is as of now, but research is ongoing. However, the good news is that while the condition is serious, modern treatment is pretty excellent: medications can stimulate communication between nerves and muscle, and your thymus gland (which is often at the root of the trouble) can be treated.
Dysmenorrhea is the medical term for unusually painful periods, and the condition can be caused by multiple factors, including disorders like endometriosis. However, in many girls the cause remains unidentified. Defining the amount of young women who have dysmenorrhea is difficult because quantifying pain levels can be tricky, but one 2012 study found that up to 25 percent of young women experience "distressing" period pain that requires medication and prompts them to excuse themselves from social activities and study. Treatment includes hormonal contraceptives and painkillers, but if you're experiencing frequent serious pain during periods, experts recommend that you get it checked out to see if a specific underlying cause can be identified.
7Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS, as polycystic ovary syndrome is called, is an endocrine disorder that affects up to 7 percent of all women, and means that ovaries are covered in cysts and swollen, affecting their function. The Center for Young Women's Health estimates that it occurs in between 5 and 10 percent of teens and young women, and is restricted to people born with ovaries. Because it's related to reproductive hormones and ovarian function, it often shows up when girls first start menstruating, but can also only begin to produce symptoms in women in their 20s. We're not sure why that happens, but it's definitely an illness that's centered on young women — though it's often tough to get a diagnosis, because it's difficult to test for and symptoms can vary a lot.
Just because these health conditions can seriously affect young women, though, doesn't make us delicate flowers or in need of protection. The medical establishment needs to take conditions that predominantly affect women seriously.