Forty is a magical number for women's health. Your career, friendships and relationships may all be flourishing . Yet turning 40 also means your chance of developing illnesses like cardiovascular (CVD) disease, osteoporosis or a thyroid condition increases significantly. You might not even be aware of the risks associated with these diseases. For instance, according to the American Heart Association, 23% of women 40 and above die within 1 year of having a heart attack compared to 18% of men.
Many diseases simply become more common as we grow older. And certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking or poor diet, begin to take their toll by age 40. You can't turn back the clock, but you can learn how to protect yourself from the health problems that could destroy your quality of life. Along with the help of your physician, you need to focus not only on prevention, but on early detection of certain medical conditions.
Here are the top 5 questions you need to ask your doctor, building to the #1 most important:
Question #5: What supplements should I take?
Women over 40 need to increase their supplement intake to make up for common deficiencies such as low vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium and protect against bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Click here to learn more about the health benefits of vitamin D.
You're at greater risk for low-vitamin D if you have dark skin, regularly wear high SPF sunscreen or live in a northern climate. To get enough vitamin D from the sun, you need about 15-20 minutes of daily exposure, which is not always possible.
To protect against bone loss:
- Women in their 40s should have their vitamin D checked with a simple blood test, practice resistance training, refrain from smoking and take a supplement.
- Women 65 and older should get a bone mineral density scan. Those who have a family history of osteoporosis, smoke or take steroids should get screened earlier. If your bone density results are below normal, prescription vitamin D and calcium, a higher intensity scan of your hips and weight-bearing exercise may be called for.
Supplements for Women Over 40
- Vitamin D
Click here to learn more about critical supplements for women.
Question #4: Why am I gaining weight?
After turning 40, most women need to eat much less and move more to maintain the weight they had when younger. With age your metabolism slows, estrogen level drops and muscle mass diminishes. Weight gain can also signal hypothyroidism - an under active thyroid. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include dry skin, fatigue and an inability to tolerate cold.
In normal thyroid function, the hypothalamus and pituitary activate the thyroid to release hormones. With hypothyroidism, the brain loses feedback from the thyroid and keeps trying to activate it, which results in the thyroid getting larger, creating a condition known as goiter.
If the muscles on the sides of your neck feel larger than usual, you might have a thyroid issue. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check for thyroid disease.
Question #3: How healthy is my heart?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. In addition to family history, the risk factors for heart disease include unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and smoking,
High blood pressure is the #1 cause of heart attacks. Some pharmacies have blood pressure machines that allow you to check it yourself, along with your cholesterol and blood sugar numbers.
If you smoke, seek help from your doctor. Your chance of quitting successfully using medication is about 50% as opposed to 5% when you try on your own. For help quitting smoking, visit Dr. Oz's Kick the Habit Plan.
Get all the vital information women need about heart attacks here.
Question #2: Do I still need birth control?
A recent study shows that women over 40 are almost as likely to have unplanned pregnancies as 16-year-olds. Certain myths, like thinking you're too old to get pregnant, contribute to women over 40 getting pregnant.
Birth control after 40
- Unless you have officially entered menopause you need to use contraception, even if you've had infertility in the past.
- If you don't smoke or have any other risk factors, you can safely take the pill under the advice of your doctor. Women over 40 on the pill reap other benefits like treating peri-menopausal symptoms, PMS and fibroids.
Question #1: Is it menopause?
It's important for women over 40 to know how to recognize menopause. Very simply, menopause is a clinical diagnosis based on not having had a period for 12 consecutive months, provided there's no other reason, such as being pregnant or nursing. Learn more about identifying irregular patterns in your period here.
The average age for menopause onset is 51. Women have menopausal symptoms beforehand if they undergo menopause earlier or experience peri-menopause - an approximate 2-10 year time span of having periods along with some menopausal symptoms.
Common symptoms associated with peri-menopause and menopause include: missed periods, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, forgetfulness, low libido and mood swings. Sleep disturbances, an often overlooked symptom, are also very common.