Many diseases affect both men and women. However, some diseases have a higher incidence in female patients.
Since industrialization and new forms of production, the degradation of the ecosystem has become an increasingly evident reality. The toxicity of the environment is not only leaving notable traces in natural sites and fauna, but directly in human health itself. This pollution, caused by constant production and exposure to chemical agents, puts our vulnerability to the test.
In 1962, Rachel Carson already warned with her work “Silent Spring” the effects of this situation on people. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 chemical substances have been introduced into daily life, of which between 4,000 and 8,000 can be highly harmful.
All of these are introduced into the human body by routes as simple as air, through microparticles that are suspended and we end up breathing, water, or food (by pesticides or other chemicals), making it virtually impossible to escape them. In addition, another important factor to take into account, and which has gone unnoticed until recently, is the risk posed by exposure to radiation (whether by antennas, mobile phones, computers …).
But does this toxicity affect everyone equally?
According to numerous studies, pollution is not egalitarian. In fact, factors such as sex or age are determining factors in the consequences that a person may suffer. The writer and endocrinologist, Carme Valls LLobret, explains in her book “Salud y medioambiente” that women, due to the very condition of their bodies, suffer more from this pollution.
What is clear is that the action of the human being puts his own health ‘in check’. The polluting activities of the last few years are the main causes of the diseases of this new century. And although it cannot be stopped, it is possible to work to achieve and adopt prevention policies that follow a more respectful line with the environment and, ultimately, with any way of life.
In this way, it is useful to know the biological differences between women and men in order to understand why certain illnesses (caused by external or internal factors) affect one sex or another more.
Leaving aside the physical evidence, one of the main distinctions is that associated with the composition of chromosomes, whereby men (with XY chromosomes) are more likely to contract genetic disorders than women (with XX chromosomes). Hormonal differences also represent an important point, as the woman synthesizes a greater amount of estrogen, causing a greater storage of fat. In addition, the changes that women experience during menstrual cycles also have a significant impact on their vulnerability, even affecting areas such as the brain, which becomes more sensitive to exposure to certain chemicals.
Many diseases affect both men and women. However, as has been explained, some in particular have a greater incidence in female patients. Here are the five most common.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by the progressive loss of the mass that makes up the bones and therefore reduces the quality and strength of these and increases the risk of fractures.
It is more common in women, mainly for two reasons: on the one hand, women accumulate lower bone density than men, so it is easier to reach fragility. On the other hand, after menopause, the rate of bone mineral loss accelerates.
According to the latest report presented by the Organización Médica Colegial de España, osteoporosis is the most common metabolic bone disease in Western countries. It is estimated that currently more than three million Spaniards suffer from it. In fact, it has been catalogued as the “silent epidemic of the 21st century”.
The prevalence of the disease increases progressively with age. For example, in Spain, 35% of women over the age of 50 suffer from it, while the percentage of incidence in men of the same age barely reaches 8%. Despite the high rates, less than 30% of patients with osteoporosis have been diagnosed and less than 10% receive treatment.
Treatment and prevention of osteoporosis
Currently, the most common treatments for its control and prevention are antiresortives, because of their ability to reduce the risk of bone fractures. Bone mass reconstructive drugs such as bisphosphonates have also been implanted and new hormonal therapies are being increasingly researched.
However, in everyday life there are also good practices to prevent the symptoms of osteoporosis. Among these, it is recommended to include calcium and vitamin D in the diet, to practice exercise and sport frequently, and to avoid the consumption of tobacco and alcohol.
Urinary tract infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are other of the most common diseases developed in women. They can occur at different points in the urinary tract, from the bladder to the kidneys, ureters and urethra. It is estimated that up to 50% of women may develop such an infection in their lifetime. The most common are those caused by bacteria that enter the bladder and, if left untreated, could spread to the kidneys.
The urinary tract infection can be due to simple aspects such as poor hygiene, consequences of diseases (such as diabetes or cancer), even the use of tampons and compresses. These traditional hygiene products are in contact (or sometimes introduced) in the vaginal area, so they can be subject to bacterial growth.
One of the syndromes derived from this type of infection is called Toxic Shock Syndrome. Although it is very rare, its effects can be especially serious. It is caused by bacteria of the Staphilococcus family, which release their toxins into the circulatory system causing numerous symptoms: headaches, fever, vomiting, renal and cardiac involvement … and inloso, death. This disease has often been related to the prolonged and abusive use of products for intimate hygiene, such as tampons. However, less than half of the cases are associated with them. In fact, toxic shock can develop for many other reasons, such as skin trauma or wounds.
Treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections
There are different ways to prevent and treat a urinary tract infection. The main thing is to be aware of the importance of intimate hygiene in order to avoid developing any linked pathology. Some experts agree on the idea of replacing compresses and tampons with menstrual cups to prevent these diseases, as they do not affect the bacterial flora or vaginal pH, reduce infections and do not dry out the vaginal walls.
In addition, eating a healthy diet will also help keep our bladder healthy and prevent infections. Foods rich in vitamin C promote bacterial reduction and purify our body.
It is a very common cardiovascular disease, especially from the age of 40. The blood vessels are exposed to constant or sustained pressure, in which they end up being damaged.
A study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (in North Carolina) found that women are 40% more likely to develop vascular problems. This is due to different factors, such as menopause, because after menopause, blood pressure values increase due to an alteration in hormonal balance.
On a national level, the National Statistics Institute warns that this type of pathology occupies the first place in the causes of death in Spain.
Collapse of the arteries
Hypertension causes the arteries to become narrow and stiff, resulting in headaches, breathing difficulties, dizziness, chest pain, kidney complications, vision problems, palpitations, and even a stroke.
The Spanish Heart Foundation has warned, in fact, that the number of deaths from hypertensive diseases is now 90% higher than 10 years ago.
Treatment and prevention of hypertension
Healthy eating is again of vital importance in these cases. In fact, obesity is one of the additional causes that favour the development of these cardiovascular problems. In the diet, it is recommended to reduce the levels of salt and saturated fats in the dishes and to introduce fruit and vegetables frequently. The practice of sport, the elimination of tobacco and the reduction of alcohol also play an important role.
However, if a person is per se hypertensive, he or she should undergo pharmacological treatment and reconcile the above recommendations with the prescription given to him or her.
Breast cancer is the most common tumor among Western women.
It is a malignant tumor that originates in the tissue of the mammary gland. The latest data presented by the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) reveal that in 2015 more than 26,000 women were diagnosed with the disease. By 2020, an 11% increase in cases is expected, i.e. an increase of more than 2,000 additional victims (more than 28,000 in total). According to the association, 1 out of 8 women will have breast cancer during their lifetime.
One of the dangers of the disease is its lack of evident symptoms during its early phase. However, some of the most frequent signs are sinking nipples, irregularities in the contour of the breasts and even changes in size and color.
Family history, genetic predisposition, prolonged exposure to the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, or the use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause are some of the factors that can increase the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment and prevention
The AECC assures that there is currently no preventive treatment that can totally prevent cancer. However, recent studies have shown that the risk of suffering from this disease can be reduced by practicing frequent exercise, at least 4 hours a week, avoiding overweight and also avoiding alcohol consumption.
Doctors also promote an effective practice to quickly detect the presence of a breast tumor, breast self-examination. According to statistics, at least 20% of cases are detected early with this exercise.
Fibromyalgia means muscular and fibrous tissue disease (i.e. ligaments and tendons). This consists of an alteration in the perception of pain, in such a way that painful stimuli are felt that for a normal person are not.
The cause of this disease is unknown, but it is thought that any acute or chronic stressful situation can be a trigger. As progress has been made, it is characterized by the presence of generalized musculoskeletal pain. This is accompanied in almost all cases by fatigue (90%), sleep disorders (70-80%), and even anxiety and depression (25%).
An added problem is that there are currently no objective tests that favour the diagnosis of the disease. Therefore, analyses and x-rays are the only methods to rule out that the patient is suffering from another type of pathology.
Treatment and prevention of fibromyalgia
There is currently no cure for this condition, but treatments are aimed at relieving symptoms to the greatest extent possible, always depending on the type of patient.