Women’s Health Tips: How Women Can Focus on Their Health at All Stages of Their Lives

How Women Can Focus on Their Health at All Stages of Their Lives

Our health literally is our wealth. Women/mothers/humans commonly do all of things to take care of others while typically neglecting their own health and well-being We recently spoke with Dr. Donna O’Shea, an OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer of Population Health at UnitedHealthcare, who shared some ways women can improve their well-being at all stages of their lives. Read on for her list of women’s health tips below:

Dr. Donna O’Shea, an OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer of Population Health at UnitedHealthcare,
Dr. Donna O’Shea, an OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer of Population Health at UnitedHealthcare,

Westchester Family: Why is it important to focus on women’s health this time of year?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: Springtime is part of the annual cycle of renewal and rebirth, so it is an ideal time to think about ways to help encourage women of all ages to prioritize their health. While women are often the CEOs of their families’ health care needs, they sometimes prioritize the well-being of their partners, parents and children while neglecting their own.

In fact, a recent survey found that nearly half of women had skipped a preventive health care appointment during the last year, such as an annual checkup, vaccine or recommended screening. Given that, it’s always a good idea to start with your primary care physician, who can get to know you and best support your health over time.

Westchester Family:  What are some screenings and health habits that are important for teenagers?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: By the time girls reach their teenage years, it becomes especially important to focus on healthy eating, regular exercise and adequate sleep – all of which are vital to support growing bodies and minds. Additional screenings and vaccinations should also be recommended at this point, especially for teens with a family history of behavioral health issues. 

Recent research found that 57% of high school girls reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness in the last year,” compared to 36% a decade ago. Parents should be aware of this and look for symptoms of depression or anxiety. If needed, consider tapping into virtual care options, which may offer more convenient and affordable access to qualified psychologists and psychiatrists.  

Westchester Family: You’ve mentioned that it is important for teenages to test for depression. How is this facilitated?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: We know life can be tough for teenagers, as they’re coping with raging hormones, the social and emotional pressures of growing up and demands of school. Parents should be aware of typical signs of depression, which can include irritable or angry moods, unexplained aches and pains, self-criticism, and bad or dangerous behavior. To help teenagers, it is important to learn about depression, be patient and supportive, encourage them to see friends and get fit, and get the right treatment.

If you think your teenager may be depressed, take them to see their doctor. A doctor can rule out other conditions that may be causing the problems, or diagnose depression. A doctor may diagnose depression if a teenager acts grumpy or depressed for at least two weeks and has four or more of the following symptoms: • Sleep problems (usually sleeping too much). • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. • Loss of interest in friends. • Change in appetite or weight. • Lack of energy. • Trouble concentrating or making decisions. • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. • Acting restless or sluggish. • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Some teenagers may gradually get better on their own, but many need help to work through their depression. Just like adults, the main treatment for teenagers with depression is anti-depressants or counselling (or both). If your teenager is prescribed anti-depressants, make sure you understand the risks and benefits of these medications before they start taking them. And once they do, it’s important that they don’t stop without talking to their doctor first — even if they are feeling much better — as sudden withdrawal from them can make symptoms worse.

Westchester Family: As teens progress to early adulthood, what are some things they can do to maintain their overall health and wellbeing?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: As women reach their 20s, 30s and 40s, the prevalence of behavioral health issues may start to decline while the frequency of certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, increases. It becomes more important than ever to stay focused on eating a balanced diet, sticking to a consistent strength and cardiovascular training routine and minimizing stress may help ward off various diseases and reduce the likelihood of muscle strains or aches.

This is also the period of life when some women think about starting or expanding their families. While often an exciting time, ensuring access to quality pre-conception, prenatal and postnatal care is paramount, given this type of support may help improve health outcomes for both moms and babies. For the 15% of couples who experience infertility[1], dedicated support and benefits through their workplace health plan may increase the chances of a successful pregnancy and delivery.        

Westchester Family: What are some conditions you see in late adulthood?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: As women transition to late adulthood, the prevalence of some chronic conditions continues to increase, including autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis as well as certain types of cancers. Menopause may also become a concern, especially for women who smoke or frequently drink alcohol. Staying on top of recommended screenings, including hearing and vision checks and dental exams, may be a crucial way to help catch issues as early as possible. Lastly, we know that cultivating strong social connections may be key. Research shows that avoiding social isolation may be more important to physical health than even regular exercise and maintaining a recommended bodyweight.

Westchester Family: What are some important screenings that should be a part of every parent’s life?

Dr. Donna O’Shea: As with adults, parents should focus on preventive care for their children, including regular appointments with a pediatrician to ensure compliance with recommended wellness checks and vaccinations.

In addition, parents should prioritize preventive exams focused on eye and oral health. That should include comprehensive eye exams, which can identify vision issues that may be missed by school-based screenings, such as poor eye alignment, focusing issues and farsightedness. That’s why it is recommended children get their first comprehensive eye exam by age 1 and another prior to starting kindergarten. If no vision issues are detected, then it is recommended children have an exam at least once every two years.

In terms of oral health, parents should schedule an initial dental visit for their children at around 1 year of age or when a first tooth erupts. While tooth decay is largely preventable, it unfortunately ranks as the most common chronic disease among children, with nearly 50% of children by age 5 having at least one cavity. To help prevent that, consider scheduling a dental exam at the start of the school year and every six months after that. In addition to routine cleanings, maintaining proper oral health at home is important year-round, including brushing your teeth (and tongue) for up to two minutes, after meals and before bedtime; using a soft-bristled toothbrush; rinsing for 30 seconds with a mouthwash; flossing daily; and staying hydrated to help avoid issues with dry mouth, while limiting sugary snacks and drinks.