Mumbai: Women of today live in a different set of challenges compared to women of yesteryears. Women these days are working full time, busy excelling in their careers, multi-tasking, taking care of their homes & families. This creates a crunch of time for self-care and often the health of the woman is neglected and takes lesser priority in the “to-do” list of things. This pattern however is most of the times multi-factorial. The balance is easier said than done and it is therefore a tight rope walk.
The most common health issues that women face today are quite different in the urban metropolitan cities compared to the rural areas. Urban lifestyle is synonymous with stress and most women would agree to it. Stress not only creates a mental effect but also significant physical effect. Chronic stress is even more dreadful. Along with mental disorders like anxiety and depression, it leads to lifestyle diseases like Diabetes and Hypertension. Even in women who have no family history, these diseases are cropping up rampantly due to such debilitating lifestyle habits. The chronic stress leads to eating disorders which have gradually become a part of normalcy i.e eating outside often, binge eating/ binge drinking, smoking, feasting on fast foods, pizza and burgers, aerated drinks, the list is endless and scary. The end point is all these habits along with erratic sleep patterns slowly keep poisoning the body culminating in diabetes and hypertension. These lifestyle habits need a lot of self-control. Smoking is strongly associated with hypertension and cardiac disorders like Stroke, MI (heart attack) and IHD (Ischemic heart disorders). Smoking also leads to a lot of cancers, lung cancer being the most notorious and commonly associated. Many times women give in to peer pressure and end up adopting such habits which is why one must prioritize their health and know where to draw the lines for a healthier life.
Secondly, cancers in general are on a rise and the most common cancer that women of today face is Breast cancer. It usually present as a painless lump/ swelling in the breast area or the arm pit. It is usually painless to begin with and then the lump keeps growing gradually. Sometimes it may present as skin changes like dimpling or puckering of the skin or nipple discharge which is often blood stained or frank bloody discharge. Women must be aware that any of the above signs and symptoms are a red flag and may be an early sign of breast cancer. It may not be present in families because these days, 90% of cancers are not familial but they are due to sporadic mutations in body. Early breast cancer is curable. These days there are so many advances in the treatment modalities that even the advanced breast cancers are often curable and patients get a good survival and quality of life after treatment. The most important aspect is to get examined and to take necessary action at the right time.
The second common cancer among women is gynecological cancers like cancer of cervix and endometrium (uterine cancer). These cancers most commonly present with bleeding. The women may complain of post-menopausal bleeding in uterine cancers or may present as unusually heavy bleeding during the menses or bleeding in between the menses. Many times there is no bleeding but a foul smelling discharge or dragging lower abdominal pain/ low back pain. Many times if the bleeding becomes chronic, women may feel a lot of fatigue and weakness due to the slow and constant blood loss which can even lower the hemoglobin levels. So women must know of all these characteristics that could be early sign of such cancers because if this time is missed, the golden hour is lost wherein the probability of cure is the highest.
The constant hustle bustle of daily life takes a toll on the emotional health of women as well. There are various kinds of stressors like the compelling need to excel at work in a competitive world along with the need to be a good wife/mother etc creates a psychological effect on women. Nuclear families are increasing especially in bigger cities which creates added recipe for mental disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression or sometimes even dysthymia which is a form of long lasting persistent depression. Women must know to take the regular brief pauses in this fast paced life to take a hold of such situations and tackle such psychological challenges. Help is always provided only when asked and hence women should never hesitate and must reach out and vocalize their issues however small it may seem to be.
The last issue that I would like to highlight is one of the most important one. WHO has described it as one of the most “blatantly visible” and yet “most neglected” public health problem. Obesity is a complex disorder which has psychological and social component and it is an epidemic that affects all age groups and socio-economic status affecting developed as well as developing countries. It co-exists paradoxically with under-nutrition and overweight and obesity has become a global health entity leading to a dangerous epidemic of “Globesity”. That is scary and the endpoint can be disastrous if no immediate actions are taken. WHO defines overweight as BMI of 25 or more and Obesity as BMI of 30 and more. Obesity is directly related to causation of above disorders of diabetes and hypertension. In addition obesity is one of the modifiable risk factors for breast cancer as many studies have proved that obesity is linked to increased risk of breast cancer. So it is apparent that these health issues are co related and linked to each other. The problem is a multi-dimensional one and hence the solution is not as simple as it seems. The women have to take a lead in every household for making themselves responsible for their own health. We must be accountable to ourselves and we deserve this self-care. Women often neglect their own health issues in traditional Indian families and feel reluctant to ask for help.
This year we must pledge to take better care of ourselves and take necessary steps for a better and healthier tomorrow.
(This article has been authored by Dr. Ms. Mukul Roy, Consultant, Clinical & Radiation Oncology Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.