What is preventive health?
The term ‘preventive health’ is used to describe the measures taken to prevent the onset of serious illness and chronic disease. Many of the conditions affecting women are lifestyle related and preventable. Chronic conditions are defined as those that last three months or longer. The risk of chronic disease increases with age – and some may require lifelong treatment.
Why is preventive health important?
Preventive health provides the opportunity to better manage our lifestyle and reduce the risk of future diseases. Lifestyle changes often include increased physical activities, an adaptation to healthier lifestyles (i.e smoking cessation), healthier eating, a loss of weight and the proper management of stress. Women’s health screenings perform a vital role in preventive health. Evidence-based recommendations can then be made for optimal health and wellness in order to reduce the risk of chronic illness.
Women’s health screening
Women have unique (gender-specific) health screening needs. The principles for lifestyle management and prevention of the onset of chronic illnesses (or early detection of diseases) are similar for men and women. Health screening provides an accurate indicator of health and the risk of future illness. It also empowers women to perform a vital role in the self-management of their own health. A sustainable lifestyle change may be all that is needed to resolve any illness predictors that have been discovered during a health screening.
Health screenings can detect diseases without symptoms – while at their curable or most treatable stages.
Due to the asymptomatic (no symptoms) nature of some chronic diseases, women’s health screening is very important. For example, women may not be aware that they have developed high cholesterol, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Heart disease and stroke combined are the leading cause of death among women in Singapore. While mostly preventable, it is still known as a silent killer as there are no symptoms of the disease.
Choosing the most appropriate women’s health screening tailored to her health needs
There are many health screening options and tests for women. A physician who specializes in preventive care services can provide a customized ‘health screening package’ that meets the individual needs of a woman. Women’s health is a broad topic and extensive resources are needed to evaluate the entire range of potential health issues and conditions unique to women.
Weight management and disease prevention
Obesity is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health’. Women who are obese are particularly susceptible to diabetes and have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, weight management is an important aspect of health screening. BMI (Body Mass Index) tests are recommended if over the age of 18.
Healthy ageing and osteoporosis detection and prevention
Bone density tests for the early detection of osteoporosis are of particular value in the healthy ageing of older women. Tests should start post-menopausal unless there are other risk factors that require testing at an earlier age. Without screening, there are no obvious signs of osteoporosis until a fracture occurs.
Cancers affecting women and the need for regular screening
The risk of cancer increases with age. In Singapore, breast cancer is responsible for 25% of all cancers that are diagnosed. Breast cancer is most prevalent among women older than 40 years of age, but also affects younger women. Most cancers are treatable when detected early. Annual mammograms (an X-ray of breast tissue) enable women to minimize the risk of breast cancer. These should be conducted each year for women between the ages of 25-69 and who are sexually active. Regular pap smears in women’s health screening can prevent cervical cancer. With early detection, abnormal cells can be removed before they become cancerous.
Chronic illness and preventive health differ for men and women.
Many challenges in the prevention of chronic diseases are common to both men and women. However, there are gender differences in the way diseases target our health. For example, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) are in decline worldwide but less so in younger aged women. Conversely, ischaemic sudden death is higher among all age groups in men. Women however experience more strokes than men – with an increasing number of younger women being affected. In women, psychological factors and social stress are some of the determinants of re-infarction (heart attack).
Stress and lifestyle management
Lifestyle modifications that can provide preventive health benefits include stress management (i.e. in the control of hypertension). This is particularly important in Singapore, where stroke and heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Numerous studies have shown that a reduction in fat, increased exercise, and proper stress management can lead to a significant reduction in the risk of Coronary Heart Disease.
Antillon, Daphne, and Amytis Towfighi. 2011. “No Time to ‘Weight’: The Link between Obesity and Stroke in Women.” Women’s Health 7 (4): 453-63. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2217/WHE.11.36
Teo, joyce. n.d. “Guide to Health Screening Identifying People at Risk – HealthXchange.”
Thomson, Rebecca L., Jonathan D. Buckley, Siew S. Lim, Manny Noakes, Peter M. Clifton, Robert J. Norman, and Grant D. Brinkworth. 2010. “Lifestyle Management Improves Quality of Life and Depression in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” Fertility and Sterility 94 (5): 1812-16.
http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(09)03980-6/fulltext“WHO | Obesity and Overweight.” 2018, February. World Health Organization.