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Young Women: Watch for These Health Risks

Young Women: Watch for These Health Risks

When you’re still young, it’s often hard to imagine getting sick—and if you don’t have easy access to healthcare, it’s tempting to pretend any problem will just go away if you ignore it. For young women especially, it can be easy to tell yourself that your pain/symptoms are “nothing” or that you’re making “too big a deal” about it.

But your health matters. You owe it to yourself to take your body’s signs and signals seriously, even if you have to be loud to be heard. Many health issues affect teen girls and young women more than anyone else, and illnesses can strike even if it seems too early to worry about them. The two best things you can do for your health are to schedule well-woman exams every year starting in your teens and pay attention to anything unusual in your body - then share it with your primary care provider.

When you report symptoms early, you give yourself the best chance of successful treatment with the most options. And if you know how to prevent common serious illnesses, you can start early to lower your risks.

You’re Not Too Young For…

While many conditions are more common in older people, it doesn’t mean that young women are immune. When you assume you won’t get these until later in life, you could overlook an early warning sign. Watch out for these conditions:

  • High blood pressure: Hypertension creates a risk of stroke and can contribute to other illnesses. One in 8 adults ages 20-40 has high blood pressure.
  • Heart attack: One in 10 adults under 40 will have a heart attack, and they’re becoming ever more common for young women. One particular type called spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), caused by a small tear in the artery wall, strikes women 90% of the time and is responsible for 40% of heart attacks in people under 50.
  • Cancer: Colorectal cancer rates are rising among people under 40. Breast cancer affects women in their 20s or 30s about 5% of the time. One type of ovarian cancer that forms in the germ cells is rare overall but more likely to affect younger women.
  • Type 2 diabetes: More and more young, seemingly healthy women are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and you can have it without showing any symptoms at all.
  • Skin cancer: When you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you might feel like you can indulge in sun worship and bounce back for another decade or so. But skin cancer can hit early—and having five or more severe sunburns in your teens puts your lifelong risk of skin cancer much, much higher. That’s why daily sunscreen and good skincare are so important.

You don’t need to live in fear, of course. By getting an annual physical and gynecological exam, not smoking, eating well, exercising, using sunscreen, and discussing your detailed family medical history with your primary care provider, you can lower your risk and increase your chances of early detection. Your primary care provider will tell you if you need to start any screenings at a much younger age than normal.

Illnesses Young Women Should Look Out For

Some conditions are especially common for young women. These shouldn’t be ignored:

  • Eating disorders: Many young women have a diagnosed eating disorder. As many as 57% of young women engage in eating habits based on fear, body dysmorphia (obsessing over “flaws”), and starvation. Talk to your primary care provider immediately if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
  • Depression and anxiety: As many as 25% of young women experience depression or anxiety. These mental illnesses decrease your quality of life and can lead to self-harm or suicide (call 911 immediately). There is help. Learn more about Behavioral Health.
  • Thyroid disease: It’s very common for women to have an over- or underactive thyroid. It can start in puberty, causing menstrual issues, weight gain or loss, and mood swings.
  • Endometriosis: This happens when tissue on the lining of the uterus grows outside of it. This can cause painful, heavy periods and pelvic pain. It often starts at a young age.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS occurs when the ovaries grow cysts that disrupt hormones. It affects as many as 10% of teens and young women, causing menstrual problems, hair growth, pelvic pain, and weight gain.
  • Migraines: Nearly 40% of women of reproductive age get migraines.
  • Lupus: This is an autoimmune disease that, 90% of the time, is diagnosed in women ages 15-34. It causes flares of pain, fever, fatigue, and rash.
  • Preeclampsia: Some women get high blood pressure when they become pregnant. This is called preeclampsia. If you have it, it could indicate that you’ll have high blood pressure again when you’re older.

Symptoms to Watch For

If you know what’s normal for your body, you’ll notice when something doesn’t seem right. Never feel like you have to “tough it out” if something is troubling you. You deserve to have your healthcare team listen to you and check out your symptoms.

These are fairly common issues that young women face and could be a sign of an illness or condition that needs treatment. Talk to your doctor about:

  • Heavy or irregular periods
  • Very short or no periods
  • Pelvic pain, especially while menstruating
  • Mood swings, irritability, regular sadness, or hopelessness
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Unusually rapid weight gain, especially around the belly (a “pregnant belly” appearance can be a sign of PCOS)
  • Dark, coarse, or excess hair growth on the upper lip, back, or other places it didn’t grow before
  • Frequent body pain (including headaches)
  • Unusual tiredness or sleeplessness

Bottom line, your health is precious. You deserve the best possible care at all ages. Boost your chances for better health and wellness by taking good care of yourself and maintaining healthy habits, schedule a well-woman exam every year, and never be afraid to tell your primary care provider when something seems off. It could be the thing that saves your life.