The 5 Most Common Diseases in Women and their Treatment
As this BBC article shows, regardless of geographical location, women generally live longer than men. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) are clear: the global average life span in females is 74.2 years, while males have a value of 69.8 years. Sure, the difference may seem small, but it’s significant. However, some diseases in women are more common than in the male gender.
The differences cited above can be explained by multiple factors, such as genetic interlocking based on gender, hormonal action over the years and, above all, an important cultural load when it comes to understanding health and personal care. Women tend to take better care of themselves, which makes them less prone to certain habit-related illnesses.
However, this doesn’t mean that women are exempt from physiological risks. All organic matter is finite and, therefore, subject to aging and disease. Based on this premise, we’ll show you the 5 most common diseases in women and their treatment.
What are the most common diseases in women?
As indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO), out of the 40 leading causes of death in the world, 33 of them are more common in men. Pathologies such as lung and colon cancers and other types of neoplasms are much more common in males.
Without going any further, according to the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM) the probabilities of developing cancer in this European country, by age, vary greatly between men and women. At 80 years of age, the percentage of men with cancer is up to 50.9%, while for females the figure is far lower – 28.3%.
Again, we need to turn to genetic, hormonal, and social factors to explain these trends. Based on this premise of “greater general female health”, we’re going to tell you the most common diseases in women. Many of them have to do with hormonal processes and are greatly influenced by the menopause.
1. Osteoporosis: one of the most common diseases in women
We’re going to begin with a disease that, statistically, is biased towards the female gender. As indicated in the Journal of Osteoporosis and Mineral Metabolism, the prevalence of osteoporosis in women aged 80 years and over is 80%, while only 8% of men over 50 years of age suffer from it.
To understand this pathology, we need to take into account that bone tissue is variable over time. Bones have bone cells (osteoblasts, osteoclasts, osteocytes, and osteoprogenitor cells) and a matrix rich in minerals, mostly represented by hydroxyapatite crystals. 99% of the calcium in the body is located in the bones.
Bone cells can resorb or generate a bone matrix based on the individual’s needs. For example, if a patient is severely malnourished and lacks calcium, they are likely to develop osteoporosis: cell bodies are dissolving the bone matrix and weakening bones so that the body can use the calcium that it doesn’t receive.
One in three women suffers from osteoporosis, especially after the menopause. Due to the hormonal imbalance in this period (the drastic decrease in estrogens), there’s a higher rate of bone resorption, which causes the bones to become weak and brittle. This can lead to injuries and fractures.
The treatment of osteoporosis, as indicated by the Quirón Salud portal, consists mostly of hygienic-dietary measures. The patient needs to consume foods rich in calcium, abandon risky activities and, above all, give up tobacco and alcohol if they use them. If all this doesn’t work, then they’ll have to turn to medication.
Migraines are much more common in women, with a 3 to 1 ratio to men. Experts suspect that this is due (in many cases) to hormonal changes, as menstrual periods, pregnancy, and menopause seem to trigger the presence of intense migraines in the female gender.
Although the causes of these annoying events are still not fully understood, science is looking at the role of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in headaches (such as the peptide related to the calcitonin gene, CGRP). Although there’s still a long way to go, experts are learning more and more about this pathology.
As the Mayo Clinic indicates, migraines caused by hormonal imbalances can be reduced with certain medications. On the other hand, some patients argue that these ailments are made even worse by hormone replacement therapies and oral contraceptives.
Medications such as pain relievers, triptans, and nausea drugs can reduce the symptoms of migraines.
3. Breast cancer
Believe it or not, men can also get breast cancer. However, this neoplasm is much less common in men than in women, since male breast tumors only account for 1% of all breast cancers. On the other hand, 30% of cancers diagnosed in women are located in the breasts.
In 2018, more than 2,000,000 breast cancers were diagnosed in women around the world.
Despite the well-founded fear that this pathology instills, it is one of the most “benign” when it comes to cancers: according to the Spanish Association Against Cancer, the 5-year survival rate after diagnosis is 90%.
Surgery is the first option. In it, the breast tissue where the tumor has occurred is removed and, sometimes, lymph nodes that may have been affected are also removed. After that, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and hormonal approaches can be used to prevent cancer recurrence.
4. Hip fractures
Unfortunately, this pathology is closely linked to osteoporosis. Women are up to 3 times more likely to suffer a hip fracture than men, because, as we’ve said, a fall in a patient with osteoporosis can be fatal.
We’re facing a very serious type of injury: 30% of those injured die during the first year after the fall and, of those who survive, only 20% regain their previous mobility. A hip fracture can easily be complicated by a tendency towards blood clotting and systemic infections.
There are several approaches to treating a hip fracture, but surgery is always the first option. These are the available treatments that are used to save the patient’s life:
- Internal screw repair. Metal screws are inserted into the broken bone to hold it together while the fracture heals.
- Total hip replacement. This is the most successful option. In this surgical procedure, the upper end of the femur and the joint itself are removed and replaced with artificial devices. This is the best approach for any patient who isn’t in poor health.
- Partial hip replacement. The head of the femur is removed and replaced with a metal version. This is only recommended for people who are very weak or who can no longer stand up by themselves in any situation.
5. Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a very complex clinical entity to understand, as, for the first time in this list, a viral agent comes into play. We’re talking about HPV or human papillomavirus, a viral group that usually generates warts in different parts of the body. There are more than 200 types of HPV and 40 of them affect the genitals.
Of all the registered papillomaviruses, at least 14 are oncogenic, that is, they could promote the development of some types of cancer. HPV 16 and 18 are the most worrisome, as the WHO estimates that they cause 70% of cervical cancer cases in female patients.
However, most uterine HPV infections in women are temporary. 90% of them remit within a maximum period of 2 years, but if, for any reason, they become persistent, there’s a risk of developing precancerous lesions on the cervix. If these aren’t treated, they end up leading to cervical cancer.
The early stage of this pathology doesn’t show clear symptoms, but precancerous lesions can be diagnosed long before they pose a danger to women. Among the symptoms of an already developed tumor, we find the following:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause. A woman’s normal period consists of a detachment of the thickened tissue of the endometrium, and so if the woman is outside of the normal cycle, this bleeding must be caused by something else.
- Watery vaginal fluid with blood or a foul odor. This clinical sign isn’t unique to cervical cancer, as many Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) being with them purulent secretions.
- Sustained pelvic pain, especially during sexual intercourse.
Treatment will depend, to a large extent, on the extent of the cancer and the patient’s general health.
For example, if you have surgery, you can remove only the tumor, the entire cervix (trachelectomy), or the cervix and uterus at the same time (a hysterectomy). If the cancer has spread, then radio or chemotherapy may be needed.
Every woman who has contracted HPV is recommended to have a cervical test every 6 months. Precancerous lesions can be treated, which prevents the development of cancer.
The most common diseases in women and their reasons
These are 5 of the most common diseases in women, but not the only ones. The female gender also commonly suffers from illnesses such as diabetes, ischemic heart disease, food intolerances, allergies, and many other conditions. However, these imbalances are usually linked to the individual’s lifestyle and not to their biological sex.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, many diseases find their answer in health and habits. Without going any further, 1/3 of cancers are caused by the following parameters: high body mass index, reduced intake of fruits and vegetables, lack of physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. Beyond these specific gender differences, taking care of yourself is the real key to well-being.
- ¿Por qué las mujeres viven más que los hombres? BBC. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-47117444
- Cifras recogidas de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.who.int/es
- Las cifras del cáncer en España, SEOM. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://seom.org/seomcms/images/stories/recursos/Las_cifras_del_cancer_en_Esp_2017.pdf
- Epidemiología, O. D., Muñoz-Torres, M., Varsavsky, M., Avilés Pérez, M. D., Nogués Solán, X., Guerri, R., … & Groba Marco, M. V. (2010). Osteoporosis y Metabolismo Mineral.
- Osteoporosis en la menopausia, Quirón Salud. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.quironsalud.es/blogs/es/ellas/osteoporosis-menopausia#:~:text=La%20osteoporosis%20es%20una%20enfermedad,cese%20brusco%20de%20los%20estr%C3%B3genos.
- Migraña, Mayo Clinic. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201#:~:text=La%20migra%C3%B1a%20puede%20causar%20un,la%20luz%20y%20al%20sonido.
- Supervivencia del cáncer de mama, AECC. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.aecc.es/es/todo-sobre-cancer/tipos-cancer/cancer-mama/mas-informacion/evolucion-cancer-mama
- Papilomavirus humano y cáncer cervicouterino, OMS. Recogido a 1 de marzo en https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer