5 health concerns every woman should understand
We look at five health concerns that commonly affect women.
Research is increasing our understanding of the differences between the health needs of men and women. From an increased risk of severe heart attacks to conditions such as RED-S – women are left with a heightened predisposition to several health conditions.
It’s time for women to be more aware of how their biological make-up affects their risk of disease.
In this blog, we discuss five health concerns that commonly affect women, including:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Breast cancer
- Depression and anxiety
1. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Studies estimate that up to a whopping one in five women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but as many as 70% of women go undiagnosed .
PCOS develops when egg follicles within the ovaries develop tiny fluid-filled sacs (often mistaken for cysts). Although these fluid-filled sacs are not dangerous themselves, women can experience a wide range of unpleasant symptoms that can interfere with their daily lives, including the development of actual cysts. Because PCOS affects hormone levels, the ovaries, and developing eggs, it can also cause fertility problems.
Symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Being overweight or having difficulty losing weight
- Acne or oily skin
- Mood changes
- Excess hair growth on the body
- Higher than-expected levels of androgens (male sex hormones), such as testosterone
You can read more about PCOS in our PCOS Guide.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of PCOS, our Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Blood Test may be able to help you on your journey to diagnosis.
2. Autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells within the body (through an immune response, in the same way it would attack a virus or foreign body). Autoimmune diseases affect both men and women, but women are disproportionately affected – with 80% of people living with an autoimmune disease being female .
There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, affecting different parts of the body. You may have more than one autoimmune disease, as having multiple autoimmune conditions is fairly common since one autoimmune condition predisposes you to developing others.
The most common autoimmune diseases include:
- Thyroid diseases, such as Graves or Hashimoto’s
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease
- Coeliac disease
- Pernicious anaemia
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
The link between gender and the risk of developing an autoimmune disease isn’t completely understood, but experts believe that female hormones could make women more susceptible .
Autoimmune diseases can often be overlooked, as symptoms can be similar to other, more common, conditions. Therefore, if you suspect an autoimmune disease is the cause of any of your long-term symptoms, you should seek medical advice.
3. Breast cancer
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and can affect both men and women. However, it’s much more prevalent in women, with one in eight women being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime . And some women can be at greater risk of developing breast cancer than others.
Risks for developing breast cancer include:
- Family history
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol
Symptoms of breast cancer can vary from woman to woman, and one of the most important things you can do is to check yourself every month. Coppafeel has a great Boob check basics Guide to help you get to know your body and be aware of breast cancer symptoms.
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A new lump or area of thickened breast tissue
- A change in the size or shape of your breasts
- Discharge or fluid from the nipple
- Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- A change in the appearance of your nipple
For younger pre-menopausal women, the appearance and feel of their breasts can change over a month due to hormonal changes. The most important thing is to know what is normal for you so you can identify anything unusual if it occurs.
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, you should see your GP. In many cases, these changes are not cancerous, but it’s always best to get checked.
Endometriosis can affect women of any age. It is thought one in ten women have endometriosis .
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue begins to form in other areas of the body, most commonly in your ovaries, bowels, and pelvis. This tissue can cause inflammation and pain, which is sometimes worse during different periods of your monthly cycle.
Endometriosis can lead to secondary problems such as:
- Blocked fallopian tubes – affecting fertility
- Adhesions (scar tissue) – also possibly affecting fertility
- Bladder and gut problems
Symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pain in the lower tummy which can worsen during your period
- Pain in other areas of the body such as the back and legs, which can worsen during your period
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain when going to the toilet during your period
- Bleeding in between periods
- Difficulty getting pregnant
Women living with endometriosis may also have heavy periods, which are difficult to control with pads and tampons. If you’re experiencing endometriosis symptoms, you should visit your GP, especially if they are significantly impacting your life. Although there is no direct cure for endometriosis, there are many treatments available to help manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
5. Depression and anxiety
Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men  and depression in women is just as prevalent . For women, hormones can play a huge factor in the development of depression.
From post-natal baby blues to menopause, female hormones can fluctuate throughout life. These fluctuations can have a huge impact on mental health and leave women more at risk of developing depression and anxiety .
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and sometimes a medical cause could be to blame for your low mood.
Lifestyle changes to better your mental health include:
- Exercising, such as walking or yoga
- Forest bathing
- Taking more time for yourself
- Eating a healthy balanced diet
If you’re feeling persistently low for longer than two weeks, it’s best to seek medical advice.
- PCOS prevalence (no date) NICE. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome/background-information/prevalence/#:~:text=Polycystic%20ovary%20syndrome%20(PCOS)%20is,2014%3B%20RCOG%2C%202014%5D. (Accessed: February 22, 2023).
- Angum, F. et al. (2020) “The prevalence of autoimmune disorders in women: A narrative review,” Cureus [Preprint]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8094.
- Breast Cancer (no date) NHS choices. NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/ (Accessed: February 22, 2023).
- Endometriosis facts and figures (no date) Endometriosis UK. Available at: https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures (Accessed: February 22, 2023).
- Remes O, Brayne C, van der Linde R, Lafortune L. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations [Internet]. Vol. 6, Brain and Behavior. 2016 [cited 2016 Dec 2]. p. e00497. Available from: doi.wiley.com
- Albert, P.R. (2015) “Why is depression more prevalent in women?,” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 40(4), pp. 219–221. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1503/jpn.150205.