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The Head, Hand, and Heart of Women’s Health

While healthy living is essential to all military personnel and civilians, there are some health concerns that affect women differently than men, sometimes with more life-threatening consequences. October—Women’s Health Month—provides a platform to educate women on issues that affect their day-to-day lives. The Military Health System contributes by addressing health issues as they relate to women.

From the catchphrase of nonprofit organizations to ancient lifestyle teachings, the concept of nurturing the “head, hand, and heart” has been referenced in popular culture, specifically when it comes to health. Nourishing these three aspects of health, and noting how symptoms in women may differ from those in men, can keep women ready and vigilant to counter health issues as they arise. Here are a few areas of health that women should take into consideration.

The Head: Managing migraines and depression

“A higher percentage of women than men suffer from migraines,” said Briana Todd, clinical psychologist at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. “Research suggests women experience them approximately two to three times more frequently.”

According to Todd, many migraines in women are related to a drop in estrogen levels, particularly around a woman’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen drop is just one of multiple red flags that may precede a migraine. Todd says that tracking these warning signals will help women manage future migraines and mitigate symptoms.

Another illness that affects women differently is depression, marked by a period of low mood lasting at least two weeks. Depression affects women most drastically during three stages of life: puberty, post-pregnancy, and just before menopause.

Medical professionals like Navy Cmdr. Paulette Cazares, associate director for mental health at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, urge women to view depression the same way they view other serious illnesses that require treatment. “[This] allows service members to realize the necessity of early treatment, and the ability to stay focused on career and personal goals,” Cazares said.

The Hand: Protecting the body against breast cancer

Recent statistics posted by the National Cancer Institute list breast cancer as the most common cancer in the United States. While the disease exists in both men and women, women are estimated to be diagnosed nearly 100 times more often than men. Changes in the breast region like persistent pain, lumps, dimpling, irritation, and expelling of abnormal discharge are all symptoms of breast cancer. Women are advised to visit their providers if these symptoms persist.

Factors like family history cannot be changed in preventing breast cancer, but keeping fit via diet and exercise can. Women are advised to avoid unhealthy behaviors like excessive alcohol or cigarette use. Breast cancer screening is also a healthy tool to keep track of breast health and detect symptoms early. Women should talk to their providers about these screenings and materials for self-assessments of breast health.

The Heart: Preventing heart disease

Heart disease is a common health complication for both men and women, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributing it to one in every four male deaths as opposed to one in five female deaths. However, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in women in the United States.

Not every woman is symptomatic for heart disease; some fail to show warning signs until the onset of more serious episodes, such as heart attack, heart palpitations, or heart failure. Common symptoms to look for are pain in the chest, neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back.

Women can reduce their chances of getting heart disease by paying attention to blood pressure and maintaining a healthy lifestyle of a balanced diet and exercise.

The Military Health System posts numerous resources for women looking to take charge of their health. Visit the Military Health System’s Women’s Health page for more information.