May 10 to 16, 2015 is National Women’s Health Awareness Week, and the purpose of the event is to empower women across the country to make their health a priority. Some of the most critical emergency risks for women are the ones that are often overlooked, so we decided to highlight them to help raise awareness. Here are our top 4:
These are small, hard deposits in your gall bladder caused by a build-up of substances such as cholesterol, bile or billrubin (a chemical produced by the liver).
Approximately 20% of American women experience them at some point in their lives, and certain racial groups have a higher risk factor for them than others.
Symptoms: Much of the time, gallstones don’t produce any symptoms; however, if a stone becomes stuck in a bile duct and doesn’t pass it can cause biliary colic. This results in nausea accompanied by a constant, severe pain in the upper abdomen that lasts from a few minutes to a few hours.
Complications: Cholecystitis or inflammation of the gall bladder is a common complication. If untreated, it can block the blood supply to the gall bladder resulting in an infection and ruptured tissues. This can ultimately lead to gangrene. Other complications include:
- Obstruction of the intestine, and
Outlook: The colic frequently passes by itself when the stone is no longer lodged in the duct, but if it continues you should get to the emergency room to prevent complications from developing.
Women are particularly prone to suffering from migraines, which are severe headaches accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light. Migraines are triggered by allergies to food or medication, changes in hormone levels, stress, depression and exposure to stimuli such as lights, noise or odors.
Symptoms: Migraines often affect only one side of the head, and last from a few hours to several days. Some patients experience warning signs such as flashing lights (also known as aura), numbness or weakness in their limbs and difficulty speaking.
Treatment: If you don’t typically get severe headaches, don’t assume your pain is a migraine without having a professional medical evaluation. A number of dangerous conditions can manifest as headaches, and it’s worth taking a trip to the ER to have your pain assessed in case it is an emergency.
Outlook: Modern methods such as migraine surgery and BOTOX treatments have shown promising results. For patients with a history of migraines, it’s therefore worth exploring long-term treatments other than over-the-counter pain relievers and lying down in a darkened room.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder that plagues the lives of up to 45 million Americans, with women forming two-thirds of sufferers. The cause is unknown, but the symptoms are very familiar to many. There is no known cure, either; however, patients can treat the symptoms and manage the condition with careful attention. Occasionally, an attack of IBS may constitute an emergency that sends you to the ER.
Symptoms: Abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and food intolerance that recur more than three times in six months are the primary signs of this condition. If your symptoms are accompanied by vomiting and high fever, it may be more than a regular IBS flare-up and warrant a visit to your doctor.
Self-care options: Managing IBS through a balanced diet, regular exercise and avoiding common triggers is the best option for patients with this condition. Over-the-counter medications such as antispasmodics, laxatives and antidiarrheals are commonly used to treat flare-ups.
Outlook: There’s no long-term cure for IBS, but with the help of prescription medications and regular self-care patients can maintain a reasonable quality of life. If you experience symptoms that are worse than usual, a visit to your nearest ER will help to determine whether you have cause for concern.
A urinary tract infection usually occurs in up to 40% of American women in their lifetimes, and affects some or all of the following:
The further up in the body the infection occurs, the more serious it is.
Symptoms: The signs of an infection in the lower urinary tract include an urgency to urinate, cloudy or bloody urine and mild pain in the lower abdomen. These are usually not serious and the best bet is to make an appointment with your regular physician. If you experience signs of upper urinary tract infection, however, it’s important to get immediate care. Symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea and vomiting accompanied by pain in one side may indicate infection in the kidneys.
Treatment: An upper UTI may require IV fluids and antibiotics to combat the infection quickly. In some cases, a serious upper UTI patient may need to be hospitalized for observation during treatment. Lower UTI treatment usually comprises oral antibiotics taken over several days.
Outlook: UTIs can generally be cured without difficulty provided they are caught early before complications arise.
During Women’s Health Week, implement plans to improve your overall health through regular screening, healthy diet and exercise programs and getting enough sleep.