We’re Smack Dab in the Middle of It All

By: Porter Regional Hospital Last Updated: April 4, 2011

From the Spring 2011 StayHealthy publication

Last week I realized that I had put 60 miles on my car in one day, just running my kids around and taking my mother to a doctor’s appointment,” says Pat, a Valparaiso mother of two. “Some days I feel like my own ‘tank’ is empty as I try to take care of everyone,” she says.

Pat isn’t alone. “Most women I see are busy women,” said Kurt Wiese, MD, a Porter County OB/GYN. “When life gets busy, women may sacrifice their health in the name of getting it all done,” he said. “But I tell people that the time they put into their health is worth it. You’ll get back that hour you spend exercising by being more energetic, more efficient and less stressed. You’ll also get back that time you spent making a simple, nutritious meal rather than grabbing something at the drive- through window,” he said. Fill you own tank first and you’ll have more resources to share with others.

Women wear so many hats – wife, mother, daughter, chef, girlfriend, sister, teacher, caregiver… and the list goes on. But whatever role you play, you can’t be your best unless you’re at your best, and that means taking care of yourself. So to help you accomplish just that, we asked five local physicians to answer 5 important health questions.

1. What are the most important things a woman can do on her own to protect her health?

Start with awareness,” said Sangeeta Sehgal, MD, internist with Portage Medical Group. “You don’t have to have a PhD to be an expert on your own body. By knowing your own numbers and noting changes in your health, you can set healthy goals,” she added.

Sehgal explained that we usually know our weight, but not other important numbers. “Think about cholesterol: Shoot for a total under 200, while trying to get your ‘good’ cholesterol over 50. Resting heart rate is another indicator of overall health, shooting for 60 to 80 beats per minute – even less if you’re an athlete,” she said. Sehgal also advises knowing your waist-to-hip ratio as it can be helpful and a predictor for heart attacks. To check, measure your waist at the smallest point; then measure hips at the widest point. Divide the first number by the second number. An ideal ratio is 0.8 or lower.

Just being aware is critical,” said Sehgal. “By doing a regular exam of your breasts, you are aware of changes that could be cancer.” On the same lines, she advises to watch for changes in weight, in skin, in the way you feel in general and then report irregularities to your doctor.

We can’t expect to do everything right all the time, but consider adding one new healthy habit each week. Drink more water. Floss. Add some fiber. Certainly quit smoking, if you are. You’ll see progress and you’ll feel better,” she explained.

2. What are some symptoms women should not ignore?

Heart disease in women can present atypically,” said Kimberly Perry, MD, internist with Portage Medical Group. “Don’t ignore indigestion that can’t be explained by a burrito binge or does not respond to over-the-counter acid suppression,” she added.

Perry cautions women to listen to their bodies and report changes to their doctor. “Women know to report a new breast lump to their doctor, but they should also be concerned about irregular vaginal bleeding. Even a small amount of spotting after menopause should be reported. And don’t assume that blood in the stool is from hemorrhoids. It could signal other problems. Unexplained weight loss is another symptom to report. It may be welcomed, but it also may indicate illness,” she explained.

Even if you have no symptoms, Perry advocates regular check-ups and screenings. “We want to find diseases at the point where we can cure or treat them. A number of serious conditions can be silent – like hypertension, diabetes, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. By the time you have symptoms, the condition may be advanced. So many things can be treated when we find them early,” she added.

3. What are some things that your healthiest patients have in common?

They approach life in a manner that results in a healthy mind, body and spirit,” said Jennifer Murphy, MD, an OB/GYN with Obstetrical & Gynecological Associates, Inc. “They recognize there is no temporary or ‘quick fix,’ but they make healthy choices part of their routine, so being healthy becomes a lifestyle, rather than a chore,” she remarked.

Unequivocally, my healthiest patients are informed. After acquiring information from other doctors, health magazines, or the Internet, these patients come to their annual appointment with questions and a genuine interest in understanding what it takes to maintain their health,” she said.

Murphy notices that her healthiest patients maintain normal body weight by eating in moderation as well as making smart food choices. “Their regular diet includes plenty of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and unrefined carbohydrates. Only on occasion do they ‘eat out’ or drink alcohol,” she said.

Yet these same patients recognize diet alone is not enough to maintain their health. They exercise!” Murphy recommends combining aerobic exercise to elevate the heart rate, along with resistance training to increase metabolism and bone strength.

4. How likely am I to inherit the health conditions of my mother and how likely am I to pass on my traits to my daughter?

Some diseases do run in families, but just because it’s in your family doesn’t mean it’s in your future,” said Crystal Strickland, MD, an OB/GYN with Obstetrical & Gynecological Associates, Inc. “The benefit of knowing your family history is that you can take control. If you know that heart disease runs in your family, you can be screened earlier, you can modify your diet and exercise,” she said.

Some conditions that tend to run in families include common diseases like heart disease, some cancers and diabetes, along with rare diseases like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. There has also been shown to be a genetic link for some breast cancers, particularly those diagnosed before age 40. “So if you know your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s, we can assess your risk and perhaps refer you to genetic counseling. Likewise, you can be screened for other conditions that may run in your family. The information can help you take better care of yourself – and your daughters,” she remarked.

5. Why do women live longer than men?

In general, women live about five years longer than men. Interestingly, of people who live to be 100 or older, 85 percent are women. Why? “The reasons women live longer is a combination of both physical and lifestyle factors,” said Daniela Sikoski, MD, internist with Portage Medical Group.

Sikoski gives the biggest credit to women themselves. “I believe women are more tuned to their bodies and symptoms than men. They take the time to educate themselves, and they look for doctors’ advice. Women also come in with a list of questions. I rarely see men do that at any age,” she said.

Visit the Porter Health System website
Valparaiso Campus
814 LaPorte Avenue
Valparaiso, IN 46383
Phone: 219-263-4600

Sikoski also attributes female longevity to regular screenings and exams. “I’d say 90 percent of the women I see annually are coming in for their pap smear. That may be the purpose of their visit, but we can address other problems and catch them early in this way. Men don’t generally come in for prevention,” she added.

Screenings Women Need

Talk to your doctor about your own health and family history, but here are general guidelines for when to screen.

  • Screening Mammography
    • To catch breast cancer at its most treatable stage
    • Annually, beginning at age 40 (American Cancer Society)
  • Pap Smear
    • To find and even prevent cervical cancer
    • Annually, beginning at age 21 (American Cancer Society)
  • Colonoscopy
    • To find polyps and cancer of the colon
    • Every 10 years, beginning at age 50 (American Cancer Society)
  • Bone Density Screening
    • To detect osteoporosis before dangerous fractures occur
    • Beginning at age 65 (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force)
  • Blood Sugar Screening
    • To detect diabetes
    • Routinely, beginning at age 45 (American Diabetes Association)