Women's health is the effect of gender on disease and health that encompasses a broad range of biological and psychosocial issues.
Women's health is the concept that examines gender differences in health and disease states. The average life expectancy has almost doubled for women (79 years for women and 73 years for men), when compared with averages during the turn of the century. Because of the gender gap in lifespan, women comprise approximately two thirds of the population older than 65 and three fourths of the population aged 85 years and older. Currently the fastest growing group in the United States is persons aged 85 years and older. Because of gender life expectancy differences, it is estimated that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, women will outnumber men in the 85 years and older category by 3:1. The reasons for this variance are primarily due to physiological differences among men and women.
During different phases of a women's life cycle there are complex interactions that exist between sex hormones, physiological changes, and emotional issues. Physiological changes occur as early as embryonic development when hormones program structural differences between male and female brains. During reproductive years, sex hormones profoundly influence reproduction and development, which creates a spectrum of gender specific health issues. With advancing age and onset of menopause, women's risk factors for disease is comparably similar to men's. Although the same disease may affect women as men, it is thought that biological mechanisms and psychosocial differences influence the clinical course of the disease (natural history) differently in women. The number of women working has doubled within the past 50 years. The effect of work stress,new environmental exposures and multiple roles is expected to have health and social impact.
Heart Disease accounts for approximately a third of all deaths in women. About 250,000 women die annually of coronary heart disease or a one in three chance after age 40 years. The incidence of heart disease occurs about 10 years later in women than in men, since estrogens in premenopausal women has a protective effect. African American women are more prone to die from heart disease up to age 75. Beyond 75 years of age the propensity is reversed. Native American and Hispanic women have lower death rates from heart disease.
Malignant cancers are the most common cause of premature death among women. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women and the most commonly diagnosed cancer. Lung cancer, secondary to cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer death among women.
Cerebrovascular disease, or stroked related deaths account for approximately 6% of all deaths in women and it is the third leading cause of mortality. The least common form of stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage,is the more common cause in women.
The prevalence of cigarette smoking has increased greatly in women and this is correlated with pulmonary disease. Death rates for pulmonary disease including cancer and infectious causes of death are expected to rise for women.
Diabetes, a leading cause of death in women is more prevalent among Hispanic, African American, and Native American women. Past age 45, diabetes affects about one in six women.
Women can also develop:
osteoporosis, or loss of the quantity of bone, common in postmenopausal women who have estrogen changes.
alcohol abuse, characterized by repeated usage of alcohol despite negative consequences. These women frequently do not seek treatment because of fear of consequences (i.e., loss of child custody). This disease can also have adverse affects on fertility and in the developing fetus if the mother continues to consume alcohol (fetal alcohol syndrome).