Health Issues for Women in Their 50s
The glass can be half full
For the fortunate few who always manage to see the glass half full, turning 50 may amount to little more than just another birthday. For everyone else, age 50 is a milestone that triggers certain realities. This is especially true for women. A woman’s 50th birthday brings with it the prospect of menopause, whether just beginning, about to begin, or well underway. And, with the onset of menopause come profound hormonal changes, namely a dramatic drop in the production of estrogen and progesterone. The drop in hormone levels, particularly estrogen, increases a woman’s vulnerability over time to heart disease and osteoporosis. And menopause itself is a kind of biological signpost that points to a whole new set of health issues just ahead.
Even if the march of time is inevitable, its effects don’t have to be. Facing the realities of turning 50 also can mean acknowledging the risks and taking control of them, and of life.
Vickie Long, MSN, CNM, with Annapolis OB-GYN Associates, P.A., has dedicated many years to helping women manage menopause and aging. Ms. Long is a strong proponent of taking action based on knowledge, information and careful consideration.“Not all women face the same issues at exactly the same time or in exactly the same way,” she said. “But there are certain things every woman should understand about her body and about the risks.” She cites what are known as the Healthy People 2000 guidelines as basic starting points: quantify your health status; eat a healthy diet; exercise; ensure you get adequate sleep; and quit smoking.
Women often assume the caregiver role—sometimes becoming so preoccupied with their family’s needs, they don’t focus on themselves. In some cases, disease symptoms may go unnoticed or unchecked. This means that women elevate their risk of having diseases diagnosed at a later, more dangerous and more difficult stage to treat.
The first of these, quantifying your health status, translates to an extensive check under the hood, so to speak. “By the time they are 50, all women should be having regular mammograms and annual pelvic exams. At this age they should also have a bone density test, a colonoscopy, an EKG and a full blood work-up,” said Ms. Long. Armed with this set of facts, women can consult with their primary care doctor or gynecologist as part of the process of harnessing knowledge to manage the issues of healthy aging.
Understanding the Issues and the Risks
During menopause and beyond, women face a set of risks and problems distinct from those faced by men. What follows are abridged descriptions of some of the more serious, troublesome, and unfortunately, common concerns.
More in-depth and detailed information can be found on most of these topics by visiting the Women’s Health Home Page on the AAMC web site at www.askAAMC.org/fhr/adult/women. The site has helpful information on an array of women’s health issues, as well as an online resources link to other web sites with more information on many of the same issues. For more information or for a referral to any of our Women’s Services, please call askAAMC at 443-481-4000.
From an awareness standpoint, breast cancer often takes center stage as a women’s health issue. But heart disease and stroke are much greater threats. According to the American Heart Association, each year heart disease takes twice as many women’s lives as breast cancer and all the other forms of cancers combined. And, the risk for heart disease and stroke increases as women age. The good news is that many of the same preventative measures recommended to reduce breast cancer risk also apply to heart disease: quit smoking, get regular exercise, eat a healthier diet, and reduce stress.