Womens' Health on the Back Burner

There is speculation, especially among expectant women and those already with children, that if men gave birth the medical establishment would have found a quicker and less painful way of procreating.The current trend in preventative medicine is that an aspirin a day can help reduce heart disease, yet these studies were done on and the results only hold true for men. Aspirin frequently causes excessive bleeding in women.The Cincinnati Bureau of Vital Statistics can quickly come up with a Top 10 list of the leading causes of death in our area, but it would take a week to pull stats on how many women died from breast cancer. Nationally, one out of nine women get breast cancer. In 1992, 43,068 women died from breast cancer compared to 297 men. OK, so women have breasts and men don't. The number one cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease. Unfortunately, women are the "winners" here, too, as heart disease kills more men than women. A woman is more likely than a man to die from a heart attack because the women tend to be older and unfortunately tend to be less likely to receive aggressive treatment needed than men.More medical testing is done on men. Or when medical research is being conducted on diseases that effect both men and women -- diabetes, stroke, cancer -- the special needs of women that are present because of hormonal and developmental differences are ignored or not given the attention they deserve. Is women's health the ignored stepchild that doesn't get to the ball? Not in Cincinnati, it seems, and likely it's not the case in other cities.Drop by any area bookstore and you'll find row after row of books dedicated to women's health. Women know that it's essential for them to take charge of their needs. That includes regular pap smears and mammograms. At home it means protecting your skin from the sun, eat healthy and not smoking, do routine self breast exams and plan your pregnancies. While ultimately the burden to get your health needs met falls on the individual, there is help out there.The champion for women's health in this area is Marcia Swehla, director for Women's Health Services at the Health Alliance. The Health Alliance includes facilities located at Christ Hospital as well as St. Luke's, University and Jewish hospitals. The goal is to help coordinate and champion for women's health services.All breast health is a major service, including screening and mammography. "Our goal is to make mammography easy," Swehla says. "In addition to the in-hospital facilities, we already have three mobile mammography units and will soon have a phone number where women can call to help them find a place near them to get the screening."One of the benefits is that in many cases the screenings are for a nominal fee or free if the women do not have health insurance. Each hospital has a specialty or particular service they provide. In general, the Health Alliance provides general obstetric and gynecological service, teen pregnancy counseling and well baby check-ups, regular ob/gyn screenings and high-risk care. The Ohio Department of Health has provided a grant to fund non-OB services which will include infertility treatment, a premenopause and menopause center and precancer screenings through pap smears and other means."We need to help the women who fall through the cracks, who don't have insurance or who have to work full time jobs just to get insurance," Swehla says.In addition the Women's Health Initiative has a nationally funded program to aid women aged 55 and older whose health needs, beyond menopause, have traditionally been ignored. This program will research the effects of diet and exercise, calcium intake, hormone replacement therapy and other needs of the mature woman. Women shouldn't wait until they are sick or feel they're in a high-risk category such as a family history of disease to get health information. In fact, the Women's Health Initiative will come to you. They provide community presentations on a variety of issues related to women's health.In May, the Women's Health Initiative held a conference in conjunction with Procter & Gamble where professionals spoke on the differences between men and women in their health care needs and discussed how men and women's bodies use drugs differently. A July conference covered the effects of stress and depression on health. Emotional stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased susceptibility to substance abuse and other illness. A more light-hearted conference is planned for September at the Quality Inn in Covington, with a focus on mother/daughter relationships.The information is out there, and women must be willing to take charge of their health and get it. Pick up a copy of the American Medical Associations Complete Guide to Women's Health (1996) at most bookstores and see what you can do to help yourself before medical intervention is necessary. Or you can pick up your phone and call your area Planned Parenthood. Besides educating on birth control, they have prenatal clinics for women without insurance and offer full gynecological services. Most importantly they are willing to educate and offer counseling for most women's health issues. The most important thing a woman can do for herself is ask questions. Breast cancer, hysterectomy, osteoporosis, abortion, endometriosis, amenorrhea, cervical cancer, ovarian cysts, pregnancy, oral contraception, and the list can go on. These are women's health issues, and women like Marcia Swehla are making sure they are not being ignored.Sidebar: The AMA Complete Guide to Women's Health offers the following at the top health priorities for women 18-40:* Quit smoking* Eat a healthy diet* Exercise regularly* Practice safer sex* Don't abuse alcohol or drugs* Examine your breasts every month* Plan your pregnancies* Protect your skin from the sunFor Women Aged 40-60* Consider hormone replacement therapy at menopause* Don't ignore chest pain--it could be a heart attack* Know you cholesterol and blood pressure level* Have regular mammograms* Maintain your bone strength and density* Have an annual test for color cancer* Maintain a healthy weight* Exercise regularly

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