Women's health: Prevent the top threats

Many of the leading threats to women's health can be prevented — if you know how. The top causes of death among adult women in the U.S. include heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and unintentional injuries, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Take control by talking with your doctor about your risk factors for these conditions. Then get serious about reducing your risk.

Manage chronic conditions and get recommended screenings

If you have health problems — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes — that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, follow your doctor's treatment recommendations. Also, consult your doctor about when you should have mammograms and other cancer screenings.

Adopt a healthier lifestyle

While you can't eliminate risk factors such as family history, you can control other risk factors for heart disease, stroke and cancer. For example:

  • Don't smoke. If you do smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated and trans fats, and foods with added sugar and sodium.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess pounds — and keeping them off — can lower your risk of heart disease as well as various types of cancer.
  • Get moving. Exercise can help you control your weight and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. It might also lower your risk of certain types of cancer. Choose activities you enjoy, from brisk walking to ballroom dancing. All forms of exercise will lower your risk.
  • Limit alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. For women, that means no more than one drink a day. A drink is 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters) of standard 80-proof liquor, 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters) of beer or 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters) of wine. The risk of various types of cancer — including breast and liver cancer — appears to increase with the amount of alcohol you drink and the length of time you've been drinking regularly. Too much alcohol can also raise your blood pressure, and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Manage stress. If you feel constantly on edge or under assault, your lifestyle habits might suffer — and so might your immune system. Take steps to reduce stress — or learn to deal with stress in healthy ways.

A healthy lifestyle might also play a role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.

Other preventive steps

Women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from inhaled smoke and pollutants. This puts women at increased risk of illness and even death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — which includes bronchitis and emphysema.

You can protect your respiratory health by not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke, chemicals and other air pollutants. Also, to prevent respiratory infections, wash your hands often and get a yearly flu vaccine. Ask your doctor whether you need an immunization to prevent pneumonia as well.

Another common cause of death among women is motor vehicle accidents. To stay safe on the road, wear your seat belt. Follow the speed limit. Never drive under the influence of alcohol or any other substances, and don't drive distracted or while sleepy.

Don't feel overwhelmed by women's health risks. Instead, do whatever you can to lead a healthy lifestyle. Simple preventive measures can go a long way toward reducing your risks.

Last Updated Jan 22, 2020

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