Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”. A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep, and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.
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You can approach a gynaecologist for any of these problems, apart from your concerns around pregnancy and menstrual health.
Women in India are more informed, educated, aware of their health and healthcare needs more than ever before, but ironically, they still seem to be reluctant while seeking help from a gynaecologist. Many women continue to overlook symptoms which can be better tackled if addressed early. In fact, for most women in the rural areas, reproductive health is not a priority. Consequently, this lands them with severe diseases which could have been avoided.
Here are a few illnesses that women need to be cautious about and approach a gynaecologist for if the need arises:
Chronic vaginal infections:
Women of all ages, from puberty to menopause or even later, can suffer from vaginal infections. These infections can be bacterial, fungal, viral or of other causes. But during our day-to-day practice, we often see that they are neglected until they become severe and unbearable. Vaginal infections can present as altered discharge from the vagina, menstrual symptoms like dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), itching or even urinary tract-related symptoms. Like all infections, these are best treated early with help from a gynaecologist, else they can progress to other more severe reproductive tract infections.
Women’s sexual health is often a taboo subject to discuss even within a doctor’s office. Women do not feel comfortable addressing the difficulties they may be facing in the bedroom, and often suffer in silence. Vaginismus (severe vaginal pain and discomfort during penetration) is far more common than openly discussed. Deep pelvic pain during intercourse could be the only sign of Endometriosis in some patients. Sexual health is an indicator of mental well-being in a relationship too. All facets of sexual health must be understood and discussed with your gynaecologist, who will be more than happy to help.
Pelvic floor health:
The pelvic floor is made up of eight different muscles intertwining together to form a strong base for the reproductive organs, bowels and the urinary bladder to lie over. Vaginal protrusion, vaginal laxity, difficulty in urinary control, involuntary urinary passage and difficulty in passing stools are only some of the symptoms of pelvic floor muscle weakness. It is usually the result of childbirth or old age but can be present in anyone. There are a wide variety of treatments ranging from physiotherapy to surgery. But these conditions are inherently progressive in nature and the sooner the treatment is begun the better the results will be. Also, preventive therapy for strengthening pelvic floor muscles is very rewarding.
Women in general are predisposed to osteoporosis or weak bones. Frail, thin, lean women are more susceptible to low bone density and fractures. This risk increases after menopause when the inherent bone protection afforded by estrogen is gradually lost. Stress fractures of the spine, pelvis and long bones are more common after menopause. Regular calcium intake, vitamin D supplementation and weight bearing exercises to strengthen bones and muscles are important for preventing osteoporosis, and for women to lead a healthy life after menopause.
Cancer risk assessment and prevention:
Women must be aware of their lifetime risk of cancer. Breast cancers, ovarian cancers and some uterine cancers can have a hereditary component. Detailed evaluation of hereditary risk of these cancers must be assessed. Also, other cancers like cancer of the cervix, though not inherited from one’s parents, are greatly preventable and amenable to screening programs. Preventive vaccines, regular pap smear screening, regular mammograms, and self- breast-examinations are some of the approaches by which a doctor can help guide you through for early detection.
In the end, early screening and timely intervention is the key to better health. Women need to prioritize their health needs in order to build healthy families and thus healthy communities.
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