Tips for Women: Protecting your health

Simple steps to prevent illness and improve your health

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What can lesbian and bisexual women do to protect their health?

Find a doctor who is sensitive to your needs and will help you get regular check-ups. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association provides online health care referrals. You can access its Provider Directory at glma.org or contact the Association at 202-600-8037.

Get a Pap test.

The Pap test finds changes in your cervix early, so you can be treated before a problem becomes serious. Begin getting Pap tests at age 21. In your 20s, get a Pap test every two years. Women 30 and older should get a Pap test every three years. If you are HIV-positive, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

Get an HPV test.

Combined with a Pap test, an HPV test helps prevent cervical cancer. It can detect the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about an HPV test if you’ve had an abnormal Pap or if you’re 30 or older. Talk to your doctor or nurse about other screening tests you may need. You need regular preventive screenings to stay healthy. Lesbian and bisexual women need all the same tests that heterosexual women do. Learn more about what tests you need, based on your age at womenshealth.gov/screening-tests-and-vaccines/.

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Practice safer sex.

Get tested for STIs before starting a sexual relationship. If you are unsure about a partner’s status, practice methods to reduce the chances of sharing vaginal fluid, semen or blood. If you have sex with men, use a condom every time. You should also use condoms on sex toys. Oral sex with men or with women can also spread STIs, including, rarely, HIV. HIV can potentially be passed through a mucous membrane (such as the mouth) by vaginal fluids or blood, especially if the membrane is torn or cut.

Eat a balanced, healthy diet.

Your diet should include a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods give you energy, plus vitamins, minerals and fiber. Reduce the amount of sodium you eat to less than 2,300 mg per day.

Drink moderately.

If you drink alcohol, don’t have more than one drink per day. Too much alcohol raises blood pressure and can increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, many cancers and other problems.

Get moving.

An active lifestyle can help any woman. You will benefit most from about two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. More physical activity means additional health and fitness benefits. On two or more days every week, adults should engage in muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights or doing squats or push-ups.

Don’t smoke.

If you do smoke, try to quit. Learn more about how to stop smoking at womenshealth.gov/smoking-how-to-quit/. Avoid secondhand smoke as much as you can. Try different things to deal with your stress. Stress from discrimination and from loneliness is hard for every lesbian and bisexual woman. Relax using deep breathing, yoga, meditation and massage therapy. You can also take a few minutes to sit and listen to soft music or read a book. Talk to your friends or get help from a mental health professional if you need it.

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Get help for domestic violence.

Call the police or leave if you or your children are in danger. Call a crisis hotline or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or TDD 800-787-3224, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish and other languages. The helpline can give you the phone numbers of local hotlines and other resources.

Build strong bones.

Take the following steps to help build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis: exercise; get a bone density test; get enough calcium and vitamin D each day; reduce your chances of falling by making your home safer (for example, use a rubber bathmat in the shower or tub and keep your floors free from clutter); and talk to your doctor about medicines to prevent or treat bone loss.

lesbian-stroke

Know the signs of a heart attack.

Women are less likely than men to know when they are having a heart attack. So, they are more likely to delay in seeking treatment. For women, chest pain may not be the first sign your heart is in trouble. Before a heart attack, women have said that they have unusual tiredness, trouble sleeping, problems breathing, indigestion and anxiety. These symptoms can happen a month or so before the heart attack. During a heart attack, women often have: pain or discomfort in the center of the chest; pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; a cold sweat; nausea; and light-headedness.

Know the signs of a stroke.

The signs of a stroke appear suddenly and are different from those of a heart attack. Signs you should look for include: weakness or numbness on one side of your body; dizziness; loss of balance; confusion; trouble talking or understanding speech; headache; nausea; and trouble walking or seeing. Remember: Even if you have a “mini-stroke,” you may have some of these signs. : :

— Courtesy the Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at womenashealth.gov. Reviewed by Susan Cochran, Ph.D., M.S., Professor of Epidemiology, UCLA School of Public Health.

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