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Diseases of the Older Women

By Dr. Kusum Yadav

Ageing in women is related to many hormonal changes in their body that leads to menopause, that is cessation of menstruation and other bodily changes making a woman more prone to illnesses such as ovarian cancer.

Women and men age differently. Part of women’s advantage with respect to life expectancy is biological. Far from being the weaker s*x they seem to be more resilient than men at all ages, but particularly during early infancy. In adult life too, women may have a biological advantage, at least until menopause, as hormones protect them from ischaemic heart disease, for example.

Currently, female life expectancy at birth ranges from just over 50 years in the least developed countries to well over 80 in many developed countries, where the typical female advantage in life expectancy ranges from five to eight years. As a result, the oldest old in most parts of the world are predominantly women. However, longer lives do not necessarily translate into healthier lives and patterns of health and illness in women and men show marked differences. Women’s longevity makes them more likely to suffer from the chronic diseases commonly associated with old age. We know, for instance, that women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, incontinence, and arthritis than men. By reducing morbidity, chronic disabling diseases such as arthritis have an impact on the capacity to maintain social contacts and thus on the quality of life. Men are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke, but as women age, these diseases become the major causes of death and disability for women too. The common view that heart disease and stroke are exclusively men’s problems has obscured recognition of their significance for older women’s health and more research is necessary in this area.

During the reproductive years, a woman’s cycle is regulated by a variety of hormones, the most important of which are oestrogen and progesterone. Around the time of menopause, the production of these hormones reduces dramatically and this can give rise to a number of symptoms including night sweats, hot flushes, mood disturbance and loss of libido. The hormonal changes that accompany menopause are also associated with an increase in risk of certain medical conditions such as raised blood cholestrol, heart disease and osteoporosis.

The period of life when there is a permanent cessation of menstruation is known as menopause. It is one of the difficult times in a woman's life where she has to come to terms with many changes that take place in her body. Menopause is actually the end of the reproductive life of a woman when she can have no more children. Menopause is confirmed when the woman does not menstruate for six consecutive months. Menopause is the stage when ovaries permanently stop producing ova.

Menopausal symptoms
In majority of females there are no symptoms except for the cessation of menses. But many women suffer from symptoms that disrupt their health as well as their lives. For such women proper support, love and affection of the family is very important.

The most common symptom during menopause is hot flushes. It is a feeling of heat that develops around the face and head often accompanied by flushing and a tingling sensation. This may spread to the whole body also. Flushing subsides after a few minutes only to be followed by profuse cold sweating. These flushes may occur several times in a day disturbing a woman's day to day activities. These hot flushes persist for several months or years and then subside gradually. The patient experiences palpitations and the pulse rises by 20 beats per minute.

Dyspareunia (painful inter****se), atrophic va****tis, painful urination, recurrent urinary infection, diminished libido and endometritis are the other symptoms that may occur during menopause.

Psychological symptoms occur due to decreased oestrogen levels. Insomnia, headache, anxiety, irritability, depression, lack of energy and confidence are common psychological manifestations during menopause.

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