The leading cause of death in Australian women over the age of 45 is coronary heart disease (CHD), but only 29% of us are aware of that. It’s caused by a cholesterol build-up which narrows your arteries, meaning your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. Many women can live with it for years without any direct symptoms, but it can ultimately be fatal. You’re at risk of developing CHD if you smoke, have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or diabetes.
A new case of diabetes is diagnosed every five minutes. Whilst men have a slightly higher chance of developing Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is becoming more common amongst pregnant women. You’re more at risk if there’s a family history of Type 2, if you’re overweight, have PCOS or are an Indigenous Australian. Good news: you can easily assess your risk of developing diabetes by testing your blood glucose levels at your local Amcal pharmacy.
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australian women. Whilst there are several different types of dementia – such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and vascular – they all affect the brain’s ability to function. Typically it affects those aged 65 or over, which can make it tricky to diagnose as forgetfulness is a natural part of ageing. A recent study highlighted that people with diabetes are at a 65% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Endometriosis sufferers have uterus tissue growing outside of the womb which causes excruciating pain and, in some cases, reduced fertility. Just as harrowing as it sounds, unfortunately the source of the condition remains unknown. However retrograde menstruation – where the womb lining flows back through the fallopian tubes instead of leaving the body as a period – and genetics are thought to play a part. One of the main symptoms is very painful periods, so see your GP if you’re concerned. Don’t suffer in silence.
The third leading cause of death in Aussie women is cerebrovascular disease. The medical term describes conditions that affect the blood supply to the brain, like a stroke. Factors such as smoking, being overweight, a poor diet and lack of exercise put you at a higher risk. A stroke requires urgent medical assistance so familiarise yourself with FAST diagnosis: the Face may drop, they may not be able to lift their Arms, their Speech may be slurred and Time is of the essence so call triple zero.
Over 1 million Aussies have osteoporosis. The common condition causes brittle bones leading to a higher risk of breaks or fractures in people over 50. The musculoskeletal disease is particularly prevalent in women post-menopause as lower oestrogen levels cause bones to lose calcium faster. Low vitamin D levels and coeliac disease put you at a higher risk of developing it, but you should also request a bone density scan if you’ve ever been on any medications that affect bone strength.
Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Major life events such as pregnancy and menopause are thought to be key contributors with 1 in 10 women developing mental health issues during pregnancy and 16% of Aussie women suffering from postnatal depression. If you’re tired all of the time, feeling withdrawn and have been sad for a prolonged period, speak to your GP. The beyondblue online checklist can also help you measure your mood and work out the next steps.