what to watch out for at every stage of life

Women’s health: main problems and complications

There are more women than men in the Portuguese population and the average life expectancy of women is also higher than that of men. However, this longevity is not always synonymous with female health.

There are many biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors that can interfere with women’s health. It is therefore important to take into account the different characteristics of each stage of her life, in order to prevent certain problems and reduce the risk of certain complications.

The changes that the female body undergoes over the years require different types of health care, which we will discuss below.

Reproductive Health

Approximately ⅓ of women’s health problems occurring between the ages of 15 and 44 are related to sexual and reproductive problems.

Medical counseling, family planning consultations, and the adoption of appropriate contraceptive methods are fundamental steps in avoiding the risks inherent in unprotected sex, such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

There is not much objective data on sexually transmitted infections in Portugal. However, it is known that it is essential to focus on the screening, prevention and treatment of diseases such as hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, as well as HIV.

Worldwide, HIV infections mainly affect young women. Portugal has shown a decreasing trend in the emergence of new cases of infection. Yet, in 2016, 28.5% of new HIV diagnoses were in women, mainly between the ages of 30 and 39.

Maternal Health

Receiving health care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period can be a key determinant of women’s well-being and health, contributing to the reduction of maternal and infant mortality.

In this sense, it is important that all pregnancies are followed up either in primary or secondary care, depending on their level of risk.

Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression affects women more than men. Studies confirm this view, concluding that women tend to suffer more from anxiety or somatic disorders.

Portugal follows this same trend and, therefore, the preservation of women’s mental health is of utmost importance.

Non-communicable diseases

According to the WHO, in 2012, about 4.7 million women under 70 years of age died from non-communicable diseases, examples of which are hypertension, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, malignant diseases, among others.

The two most common cancers in women are breast cancer and cervical cancer. Although there is no scientific consensus on this aspect, some studies indicate that screening and early diagnosis of these diseases are essential measures to improve women’s health and avoid the mortality associated with these pathologies.

To prevent this outcome, it is also essential that women adopt healthy lifestyles throughout their lives, eating a balanced diet, exercising, monitoring their health, not smoking, among other measures beneficial to women’s health.


Women’s health: check-ups, examinations and essential vaccinations

Appointments

In addition to consultations in other specialties such as ophthalmology, dentistry, and otolaryngology that both women and men should have after a certain age or in the presence of certain symptoms or risk factors, there are consultations that are particularly important for women’s health, such as:

Family physician

Beginning at age 18, women should receive an annual checkup that includes: clinical observation, blood pressure measurement, and prescription of cholesterol, blood sugar, and urea tests, among others.

Gynecology

Every year, from the moment a woman begins her sexual life or from the age of 20/25, it is important that she goes to a gynecological consultation, where she must undergo a gynecological examination.

During these consultations, she can ask questions about her intimate health, sexuality, menstrual pain, infertility problems, menopause, among others.

Prenatal and pregnancy

This consultation is for women who are considering pregnancy. It should include: a gynecological examination, cytology, prescription of routine tests, with screening for HIV and hepatitis B, toxoplasmosis, rubella and cytomegalovirus.

After this consultation, and once the woman is already pregnant, it is fundamental that she continues to be accompanied throughout the gestation period, undergoing all the examinations and tests indicated by the doctor who follows her.

Examinations

After a certain age, there are mandatory examinations to monitor women’s health.

Here are the main ones:

Cytology

Cytology is an examination that detects changes in cervical cells, malignant cells or viral infections, among other women’s health problems. It should be done at least every 3 years, starting when women begin their sexual life or from the age of about 20.

Early diagnosis of uterine diseases contributes to more effective treatment of the lesions found.

Breast self-examination

Beginning around age 20, a woman should perform breast self-examination seven days after menstruation.

First, the woman should stand in front of the mirror and observe her breasts for signs such as: excessive asymmetry, orange skin, redness, or fluid in the nipple.

Next, you should palpate the breast. One way to do this is to stand with one hand on the back of your neck and the other moving clockwise around the breast from the outside to the inside, making sure to feel the nipple and armpit. If you feel anything strange or different, you should see a doctor.

Mammogram

After a certain age, breast self-examination is not sufficient and must be supplemented by a mammogram. Depending on the risk factors, i.e. whether there is a family history of breast cancer or not, this examination may be prescribed earlier or later.

However, in general, both mammography and breast ultrasound can be

recommended by physicians for women aged 40/50 years and older, and should usually be repeated every year or 2 years.

Bone densitometry

Bone disease primarily affects people over the age of 65, with a significant prevalence in women, especially after menopause. That’s why it can be important to have this test to determine your bone mineral density and diagnose health problems such as osteoporosis.

Vaccines

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

According to the National Immunization Plan, at age 10, girls should receive two doses of the vaccine against human papillomavirus genotype 9 (HPV9) infections.

Worldwide, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, especially among young people. It can be asymptomatic or cause benign lesions, but can also cause malignant lesions.

HPV includes more than 200 viruses, some low-risk and some high-risk, that can cause cancers, such as those of the cervix, vagina, anus, vulva, oropharynx and penis.

To prevent this disease, condoms should be used during sexual intercourse, as well as taking this vaccine.

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what to watch out for at every stage of life

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