Promoting women’s wellness focuses on the aspects of health that affect women disproportionately, or solely such as reproductive and hormonal issues and bone health to mention a few.
The month of Augustus is dedicated to the awareness of the achievement of the women of our country by National Women’s month. The 9th of August is also National Women’s Day which historically is the anniversary of the great women’s march of 1956, where women marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the carrying of pass books. It celebrates women in general and the leadership and change brought about by the resilience and leadership of women in our country, not only historically but continuing to this day.
Although the general health issues with various chronic diseases and lifestyle challenges for men and women are very similar, women’s physical and mental health issues are unique and hence needs to be tackled differently. Promoting women’s wellness focuses on the aspects of health that affect women disproportionately, or solely such as reproductive and hormonal issues and bone health to mention a few.
This awareness and pro-active management of wellness over the continuum of a woman’s life is of great importance because the health status in one stage of life may influence the health in the following stage. So, as we celebrate Men’s Health Awareness in November each year, we also need to focus on women’s health and wellness awareness while we are celebrating the important achievements of women in our society. It is again important to consider the definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” (World Health Organization). The whole person!
To get a better understanding of the unique issues that impact on the health and wellbeing of women, it is useful to consider that women’s life can be broadly divided into different life-stages with each of these stages being profoundly wonderful on one hand but presenting with distinct challenges on the other. Think broadly of pre-teen primary school girls, of teens with the onset of menstruation and adolescence, of young women after the teenage period now in their reproductive stage of life, the mature but relatively young women after they reached the menopause and the aging women after the age of 65 years.
Consider the following to try and understand why women’s health and wellness needs our support every step of the way:
The girl who menstruates for the first time. Over time the age of the onset of the first menstruation had been on the decline, now between around 12 to 13 years of age, associated with the hormonal changes at that point in their lives. The teenage period of life comes with increased physical and emotional development. Often with peer pressure and with an increasing trend of early first intercourse. Health issues therefore includes a marked rise in sexually transmitted diseases and also of unwanted pregnancy and requests for termination of pregnancy. It is also during this life stage that the psychological and mental problems like depression and, in those with body-image issues, eating disorders are prevalent.
The health issues during the reproductive stage of life, approximately between 19 and 40 years of age, brings the wonder of healthy pregnancy and delivery of children. But the challenges associated with nursing an infant, breastfeeding sometimes difficult and infants with colic depriving mothers from sleep. The mental health issues may be because of the various roles socially being related to being a women and challenges with keeping many balls in the air – being a good mother, partner and developing a career- may lead to burn-out and depression. Don’t forget premenstrual syndrome – it is real! Real problems like contraception, painful menstruation, excessive menstruation with chronic anaemia, chronic pain due to endometriosis or screening and awareness of unique female cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus and cervix is of great importance during this stage of life.
When a woman reached the menopause (literally meaning the stop of menstruation), the climacteric stage starts with mind and body needing to adapt to the physiological effect that lowering of the female hormone, oestrogen, production from the ovaries have on health and wellness. It may cause the so-called hot flushes, abnormal sweating, and sometimes mood changes. The way women experience this period in the life varies greatly with either very mild symptoms to distressing symptoms. Due to the hormonal changes, there is a real danger of osteoporosis with the risk of fracturing bones easily and even spontaneously.
In the older individual (over the age of 65) managing the health and screening for and early treatment for emerging chronic illnesses becomes very important. The life expectancy of women still beats the life expectancy of men by about 7 years which means that women in this age often experience the loss of loved ones, being lonely and depressed.
In celebrating women’s month every one of us , women and men, should take a moment to consider our role in promoting wellness of women in our country. Starting with those close to us – being a daughter, a wife and mother or grandmother. We need to educate, we need to support and empathise, we need to play a role to unleash women magic!
Dr Martin de Villiers, MBChB (Stell) DOM(Stell) FCFP(SA) MBL is the Medical Director at Medwell SA. For more information visit www.medwell.co.za