This International Women’s Day, women and men all over the world are vowing to support #BalanceforBetter and help create a gender-balanced world.
While women and men often suffer from many of the same ailments, their symptoms and treatments may not be identical and many myths about women’s health still prevail. It’s important to take some time this International Women’s Day to separate the facts from the fiction, ask your doctor the right questions, and take ownership over your health. Here are seven common health myths Australian women still believe.
Myth #1: Heart disease only affects men or very old women
Heart disease can strike anyone, but it commonly affects those in their forties and fifties. In 2015, one in ten Australians under the age of 45 had high blood pressure and one in four had high cholesterol—both big risk factors in developing heart disease. While men are more at risk of heart disease than women, a woman’s risk increases after menopause. What’s more, hypertension or high blood pressure (often referred to as “the silent killer”) is two to three times more common in women than in men. The best ways for women to prevent heart disease is to quit smoking, remain active and maintain a healthy weight.
Myth #2: A heart attack feels the same for everyone
Heart attack and its signs and symptoms can be different for men and women. A 2003 study of over 500 women who had recently had a heart attack found that, for at least a month prior to the heart attack, half of them were plagued with interrupted sleep. They also experienced shortness of breath and fatigue. On top of that, 43% of women reported zero chest pain at the time of their heart attack. Instead, they said they only felt nausea and indigestion. These less classic symptoms are much more prevalent in women. The important thing is to be aware of your risks and be familiar with the symptoms.
Myth #3: Women don’t get kidney stones
Often considered as “men’s answer to childbirth” because of how painful they are, kidney stones also affect one in twelve women. Kidney stones are hard pieces of mineral that pass through your urinary tract and cause severe vomiting and pain. The best way to avoid them is by maintaining a healthy diet, reducing intake of salt and drinking plenty of water.
Myth #4: Bras cause cancer
In this day and age, some people still believe age-old myths like bras causing cancer. Although there is no sure way to avoid cancer, you can reduce your chances by maintaining a healthy weight and limiting your alcohol intake. Women who are overweight or drink more are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t. It’s also important to get regular mammograms. The Australian government’s national screening program, BreastScreen Australia, sends out reminders to women between the ages of 50 and 74 to undergo free mammograms every two years. If you are older or younger, you are still screened for free, but you won’t be sent the reminder.
Myth #5: Have a urinary tract infection (UTI)? Take some cranberry juice
Unfortunately, though long-touted as a miracle UTI cure, there’s no real evidence that cranberry juice actually works. It has been linked to preventing UTI’s but exactly how cranberry cures or prevents bacterial infection is still inconclusive. The best way to deal with a UTI is to schedule an appointment with your GP or gynaecologist and to undertake a course of antibiotics.
Myth #6: Women and men need the same amount of sleep
If you’ve ever felt frustrated at your partner’s ability to sleep through anything while you lie wide awake, you’re right to be annoyed. Not only is your sleeplessness making you irritable, it’s also affecting your health. It turns out that disturbed sleep particularly affects women’s insulin and inflammation levels. A 2007 study of more than 6,000 people at the University of Warwick found that women who slept less than five hours a night were more prone to develop hypertension, a risk factor in heart disease, than those who slept for seven to eight hours. In men, there was no known connection.
Myth #7: Menopause is the end of your sex life
While it’s true that hormonal changes might lead to fatigue, hot flushes and vaginal dryness—which might make sex feel more tiring or uncomfortable—sex shouldn’t stop because of menopause. Libido changes can be managed with lifestyle changes such as exercise or with the use of lubricant. Your doctor might also recommend menopause hormone therapy (MHT) such as estrogen with or without progesterone depending on whether you still have a uterus. Some women even cite a resurgence in desire after stopping hormonal birth control pills or relish in the knowledge that they can no longer get pregnant. Further, menopausal and post-menopausal women are generally more comfortable in themselves, more financially stable, and have more time to enjoy a healthy sex life.
This article is produced in partnership with Besins Healthcare as an educational service.
The most reliable sources of online information are medical groups like The Australasian Menopause Society and Jean Hailes.