Women’s health in the spotlight
Women's health and women's healthcare concept with uterus

Women’s health in the spotlight

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s reflect on women’s health and note some of the top issues they face in 2024. Use this guide to be better prepared to recognize warning signs and talk about risk factors with your doctor.

Cardiovascular disease This is the leading cause of death – 1 in 5 – for U.S. women, who have a higher likelihood of dying at a younger age or becoming disabled as a result than men. The CDC reports that 44% of women are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. It’s easy to miss the warning signs, as women don’t always present with traditional symptoms. For example, in men chest pain is the classic symptom of a heart attack. For women, it may display as nausea, lightheadedness, unusual fatigue, back pain or even jaw pain.

Breast cancer. This is the second most common cancer women face in the United States, accounting for 30% of all new female cancer cases each year. In 2023, the American Cancer Society estimated that 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in U.S. women, with 43,700 dying from it. Early screening is crucial, as well as knowing your family history for genetic risks.

Osteopenia and osteoporosis. These diseases occur when varying degrees of bone density and mass decrease, and/or when bone structure changes. Women are more likely to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis because a reduction in estrogen happens at menopause that directly affects
bone density.

Mental health and depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated
12 million women are affected by depression in contrast to about 6 million men. While hormonal changes may account for many cases, relationship problems, finances, work-life balance and cultural stressors may also play a role. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that adult women attempted suicide 1.33 times more often than men in 2021.

Autoimmune diseases. About 76% of these diseases, which occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells, happen in women. They represent more than 80 diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Recent studies have established that many autoimmune diseases are largely driven by chronic inflammation.

Hormone dysfunction. Hormone imbalances can lead to health issues and affect women at every life stage. Common hormones like estrogen and progesterone get the lion’s share of attention, but it’s important to also look at testosterone levels, insulin and thyroid hormones. Some hormone disorders are correlated with genetic mutations that occur in families, such as diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome. Risk factors can include age, ethnicity, medications, weight, previous ovarian surgeries, tumors, inflammation and other lifestyle factors.

Army veteran Jennifer Campbell is a certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in nutrition education. She is past commander of the California Legion’s 24th District and Hollywood Post 43.