Women are often the primary caretakers of their family’s health, but when it comes to their own needs, they often relegate themselves to the bottom of the priority list. But studies have consistently shown that when women make the time to take better care of themselves, the benefits trickle down to the entire family.
This year, National Women’s Health Week kicks off on Mother’s Day, May 11, and runs through Saturday, May 17. The national observance empowers women to take better care of their own health.
“It is important to be a well-informed advocate for your own health,” says Jo Parrish, vice president of communications for the Society for Women’s Health Research, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy organization. “No one knows your body and your personal and family history as well as you do.
“Your health and the quality of care you receive is a shared responsibility between you and your health care providers. National Women’s Health Week encourages women to make their health a priority and to take steps toward a healthier life.”
According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, there are five key health tests every woman needs at various stages of life to stay healthy:
• Blood pressure and cholesterol screening for heart disease prevention

• Pap test for cervical cancer screening

• Mammogram to detect breast cancer when it is most treatable

• Colonoscopy to prevent and detect colon cancer

• Annual skin examination to prevent and detect skin cancer

Many women aren’t aware of the health issues they may face at different times in their lives and instead focus on reproductive and gynecologic health issues.
“When people talk about women’s health, they’re often focused on reproductive health,” Parrish said. “That’s a big part of women’s health, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Women’s health can differ from men’s health in almost every area. Take heart disease, for example. It strikes women, on average, 10 years later than men and women often experience different symptoms associated with a heart attack. That’s why you should always ask yourself how being a woman instead of a man may uniquely affect your symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of disease.”
Familiarizing yourself with your family’s health history and keeping copies of your own medical records that includes tests and medications can go a long way in safeguarding your health now and in the future. Also knowing what screenings are available and recommended can make a big difference, too.
The “National Women’s Check-up Day Pledge” is a major focus of women’s health week. Women are encouraged to schedule at least one of the recommended health screenings within the next 90 days by submitting an online pledge.
“You can submit your pledge online through the official women’s health week Web site—www.womenshealth.gov/whw/—where you can also find a list of recommended health screenings for your age group,” Parrish said.
In addition to taking the pledge, women can also sign up for the WOMAN Challenge, which stands for “Women and Girls Out Moving Across the Nation.” It is an eight-week physical activity challenge for better health.

—Jennifer Wider, M.D.

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