Women, while wearing many hats and juggling many roles and responsibilities, often forget to take care of their health. They are known for multitasking in plethora of areas, right from household management, office work, to social interactions. However, it is very common for them to ignore their health problems amidst all this. Women’s heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are on the rise, indicating that they are neglecting their health.
This year, International Women’s Day- with the theme ‘Gender Equality for a Sustainable Tomorrow’, comes as a reminder to women that they must put their health and well-being first.
Medically Speaking spoke to women doctors in different domains and asked them about several critical health issues that women ought to know of.
‘Unfortunately, women’s health is thought to be only reproductive health, and not other problems women face. Apart from joint pains or backache which are very common in women, they also suffer from musculoskeletal problems. We all know women end up ignoring themselves. If they have any underlying issue, they take medicine and get into work without consulting any doctor. They also don’t pay attention to the diet. Whether what they’re eating is increasing their weight or not, or they are getting a nutritious diet or not, they’re just not bothered about it. I also feel that their posture of sitting at home or office contributes tremendously to other aches and pains in life. Now that we are talking about it, let’s not forget emotional health. When one is very depressed or low, they become more prone to aches and pains’ said Dr. Uma Kumar, Head Of Department , Rheumatology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences , New Delhi.
She further talks about types of aches and complaints related to health that are common among women. She said, ‘We get issues in women across their ages like from I would say, teenager to elderly 90 years old and the most common problem they have is, aches, muscle pain, backache, headache, and pains everywhere. And in the majority of the cases, what we find is that it’s resulting from a poor lifestyle. Be it food, be it physical activity. They’re not getting appropriate proper sleep. They are stressed out. They have conflicts at home. Amongst other things we come across, AIIMS being a tertiary Care center, is autoimmune diseases in women. We all know autoimmune diseases are very common often because of their hormones and genetic makeup, but people are not aware about it and the problems they face because of all these issues, there’s difficulty in getting the girl married. If a lady is married, there’s difficulty in conceiving and even sometimes they come up and say that the lady is facing the divorce risk. So then that puts up lots of pressure on her mental health. Because health is not about having physical ailments. It’s about having a physical, mental, and social one, so, all three components come into the picture. Then third thing, I would say that, as you said, backache and having osteoarthritis, because of this one of the degenerative joint diseases where pain starts around the 40s, you know, and having cervical problems. They develop vertigo. So I would say it’s a long list of symptoms which they complain about when they come to us. And I would like to mention something here, something called FIBROMYALGIA, where a lady complains of lots of pains and aches here and there and she’s emotionally disturbed, but nobody is able to accept that because she does not have any objective sign of illness. Everybody says she is making excuses because she doesn’t want to work. So these are the kinds of issues we see in our day-to-day practice.’
Dr. Suman Lal, who is a senior gynecologist at Max, spoke on the importance of diet in a woman’s life. She said, ‘The important thing is that women have to start calcium in their diet from the very beginning because we know that, as the age advances, they will have vitamin D deficiency. And we are having lots of girls who are coming with vitamin D deficiency. For that they have to incorporate calcium and vitamin D. Rich food. Iron is very important in their diet.’
Speaking of supplementing in diets, Dr Manjatri Tripathi, Prof, Neurology at AIIMS, added, “It’s best to have a balanced meal and a balanced diet. One should have ingredients like chia seeds, spinach, bananas, and food items which are great in calcium, like sesame seeds- a little roasted with salt and chili in it or flax seeds to prune triglycerides, at all times at home. Make a plan and then carry it out vis-a-vis supplements. Now supplements are really something which is on the go. It’s quick. You can just pop it into your mouth and walk away. Nowadays, most of the calcium supplements have additional vitamins in it. So for us, we are working women and we take even an alternate day or maybe daily, sometimes calcium supplements and vitamins is perfectly normal. Particularly when you’re sacrificing that component of nutrients in your diet. However, overdosing is not recommended.’
She also spoke about mental health issues that women suffer from. ‘In today’s fast paced world, nobody has time to even give cognizance to the fact that the thought process, the mentation and the mentally, even a Neurosis actually has a mechanism to it. So people just think, it’s just gas, the person is just feigning or acting but just like somebody has an asthmatic attack, similarly, the same nature is that of an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Now, women at every stage of their life, whether it’s adolescence, whether when they’re just going to college or they’re working, whether it’s when they want to study and they want to go ahead, but the family wants them to get married. So there’s pressure to get married, but the girl who wants to go on and do something on two feet. So there’s a lot of anxiety and depression at that time.’ \
In our patriarchal society, women being the second priority, it isn’t just when one gets married, it’s also after childbirth. The focus shifts on the child and many times, women are left behind. There are a lot of issues with which women face post childbirth, even in the breastfeeding period. Dr. Suman Lal suggested that women should take care of themselves first. She further advised, “Women should be vocal about their problems. Because so many times, women are not really vocal about the sexual desire. That is an important thing. They are forced to not use contraception.They should go to the doctor and use contraception properly, so that they will not land up in an unwanted pregnancy. Women should be planning childbirth their own way. Families should not dictate women. They should go to the doctor. They should be able to discuss with them.For breastfeeding, lots of lactation counselors are available. They can discuss with them. Women have this fear that if they will breastfeed, they can develop breast cancer. It is not true. Rather, the chance of getting breast cancer is reduced.’
Owing to the large amount of calcium which one loses when breastfeeding, Dr Uma Kumar talks about the importance of nutrition for a woman at a time when she’s breastfeeding. She said, “What happens in households is that a lady takes dinner when everybody has finished, right? So whatever is left over, she consumes it. That could be less or that could be more. So, either way, that’s bad for our health. Regarding calcium and vitamin D, I would like to tell you that one can have options whether one is vegetarian or non Vegetarian. It’s not possible to have a liter of milk to fill that quota of calcium requirement, and then, sun exposure, which is also not that simple. Because we are living in a world where we have lots of pollution and even the sunshine which is reaching us is not what is desired. One cannot be in that state of 80% exposure and then be in the Sun for half an hour. We have lots of fortified Foods available, which when they consume, they get their quota of calcium and vitamin D. Even the young girls are to be told what they invest in their bones, in their health, they’re going to reap the rewards later. After 30 anyway, whatever you have consumed or whatever way you have prepared yourself is going to show up because after that there is a decline. Physical activity should be a very important part of anybody’s life because that also not only improves circulation, your mood, but also improves your general well-being. And even the bones and joints get healthier.”
Dr. Ruchi Malhotra, a senior gynecologist by profession, and an advocate of veganism suggested that a plant-based diet is something which everybody should adopt because that is what keeps your digestion good. She said, “it does have all the nutrients if it is taken properly. It is not like you really need to go and have eggs. You can, if you are taking sufficient quantities, you can fill in your requirements.”