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Spotlight on women’s health

If you’re a woman, taking charge of your health by recognising what’s normal for you and what’s not is vital. Leading a healthy lifestyle, looking after your physical and mental wellbeing, and being aware of changes in your body will put you in control of your health.

We’ve put the spotlight on three conditions that are more commonly, or solely, associated with women: cystitisosteoporosis and heavy periods (menorrhagia). Here, we take a look at why these conditions more commonly affect women, as well as how to manage or prevent them.

Details

  • Cystitis Cystitis

    Cystitis, also known as a lower urinary tract infection, is inflammation of your bladder. It’s usually caused by bacteria entering your bladder via your urethra – the tube that carries urine from your bladder out of your body.

    Cystitis is far more common in women because women have shorter urethras than men, so bacteria have less distance to travel to the bladder. In fact, it’s estimated that up to two out of every five women in the UK will get cystitis at some point in their life.

    There are several things you can do which may help keep cystitis at bay – these are even more important to try if you’re prone to recurring bouts.

    • Drink plenty of fluids to flush out bacteria from your bladder.
    • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet.
    • Urinate and wash the area after sexual intercourse.
    • Leave thongs, tight underwear or jeans in the drawer, and opt for looser, natural materials such as cotton or linen.

    There is some evidence that cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements may help prevent bouts of cystitis, especially for women who have recurrent cystitis. High-strength capsules (containing at least 200mg of cranberry extract) are generally recommended to be more effective than cranberry juice.

  • Osteoporosis Osteoporosis

    Osteoporosis is a condition that affects your bones. It causes them to become weak and fragile, and therefore more likely to break. Although osteoporosis can affect both men and women, it’s most common in older women, specifically after the menopause. In the UK, one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone mainly due to poor bone health.

    Low oestrogen levels are a main cause of osteoporosis in older women. After the menopause, which usually happens around the age of 50, your ovaries stop producing the hormone oestrogen, which has a protective effect on bones. The key to reducing your risk of osteoporosis is to keep your bones strong by leading a healthy lifestyle. And the earlier you start, the better.

    • Eat a diet rich in calcium. Make sure you include good sources of calcium in your diet, such as low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, and foods with added calcium.
    • Get your daily dose of vitamin D. You get most of the vitamin D you need from sunlight. But if you don’t get much sun exposure, and particularly during winter months, taking up to 25 micrograms of vitamin D a day will help ensure you get enough.
    • Do regular exercise. Exercise helps to keep your bones strong and healthy, especially doing high-impact, weight-bearing exercise. It can help to slow down bone loss in postmenopausal women.
    • Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake. Studies have shown a direct relationship between tobacco use and decreased bone density.
  • Heavy periods (menorrhagia) Heavy periods (menorrhagia)

    How long your period lasts and the amount of blood you lose varies from woman to woman. But for some, periods can be so heavy that they affect your quality of life. Menorrhagia is frequent, heavy, menstrual bleeding that has an impact on both your physical and emotional health. About one third of women describe their periods as heavy, and one in 20 women aged 30 to 49 see their GP each year due to heavy periods.

    Several conditions, such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, can be the cause, but for many women, no underlying reason is found. Heavy periods can limit your usual activities, and affect your social, work and sex life.

    But there’s no need to suffer in silence. There are treatment options available that your GP can discuss with you. You can also take several self-care steps when you have a heavy period.

    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Keep a journal of the number of tampons and pads you use – this will help your GP assess the amount of bleeding.
    • Stay away from aspirin, as it interferes with blood clotting. Instead, use another over-the-counter painkiller such as ibuprofen.
    • As you’re more likely to become anaemic, consider taking a folic acid supplement each day. Your GP may also prescribe you iron supplements.
  • Worried about breast lumps?

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  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Urinary tract infection (lower) – women. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published October 2009
    • Bladder infection (cystitis). The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, reviewed September 2007
    • Bacterial cystitis. The Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation. www.cobfoundation.org, accessed 17 January 2014
    • Jepson RG, Williams G, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Sao Paulo Med J 2013; 131(5):363. doi: 10.1590/1516-3180.20131315T1.
    • Osteoporosis – prevention of fragility fractures. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.nice.org.uk, published September 2013
    • What is osteoporosis? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. www.niams.nih.gov, published January 2011
    • Key facts & figures. National Osteoporosis Society. www.nos.org.uk, accessed 17 January
    • Consensus vitamin D position statement. British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Heart Forum, the National Osteoporosis Society and the Primary Care Dermatology Society, December 2010
    • Exercise for Strong Bones. National Osteoporosis Foundation. www.nof.org, accessed 17 January 2014
    • Howe TE, Shea B, Dawson LJ. Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000333.pub2.
    • Smoking and bone Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. www.niams.nih.gov, published January 2012
    • Menorrhagia. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published August 2012
    • Heavy bleeding. Women’s Health Foundation. www.womenshealthfoundation.org, accessed 17 January 2014
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