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Women's Top 5 Health Concerns

From heart disease to breast cancer to depression, WebMD gives you the inside info on why women are at high risk for these problems but may not know it.

Depression

Depression appears to affect more women than men. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about 12 million women are affected by a depressive disorder each year compared to about 6 million men.

Dorree Lynn, PhD, a psychologist and author of Getting Sane Without Going Crazy, says women need a connection with others in their lives.

"They need that sustenance," says Lynn. "If they don't have it, they tend to get depressed."

Sometimes, hormonal changes can also trigger the condition, particularly after pregnancy (postpartum) or around menopause.

Other risk factors for depression include:

  • A previous depressive episode
  • Family history of depression
  • History of heart problems
  • Serious chronic illness
  • Marital problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Use of drugs that could trigger depression, such as medicines for high blood pressure or seizures
  • A stressful life event, such as job loss or death
  • Diseases that could trigger depression, such as vitamin deficiency and thyroid disease
  • Recent serious illness or surgery
  • Childhood history of physical or sexual abuse
  • Being a worrier or being overly anxious
  • Having an eating disorder or an anxiety disorder

To help reduce risk of depression, Lynn recommends finding a reason to get up in the morning. She says things such as work, community, love, pets, and volunteering can be good reasons.

"Statistically, the healthiest adults, both in women and men, are people in significant caring relationships," says Lynn. She says adults not in nurturing relationships can reduce their risk of depression by making efforts to reach out into the community.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks the body and destroys or alters tissues. There are more than 80 serious chronic illnesses in this category, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), about 75% of autoimmune diseases occur in women. By themselves, each disease appears to be uncommon -- except for diabetes, thyroid disease, and lupus -- but as a group, the disorders make up the fourth-largest cause of disability among American women.

It is not known what causes the body to turn on itself, but genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors are suspects.

"That's such a major area of needed research," says Helentjaris.

Since autoimmune diseases are not very well understood, pinpointing specific risk factors is difficult. Symptoms can also be nonspecific, hampering proper diagnosis. However, if you know something is wrong with you or a loved one, it's important to become an active health advocate.

"It's very common for women to make multiple visits to multiple doctors to finally get a diagnosis," she says. "Insist that someone take your symptoms seriously."

If you don't feel like your doctor is taking your complaints seriously, Pearson advises finding another doctor that will take the time to investigate your symptoms.

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Reviewed on October 18, 2010

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