Women’s health risks go beyond breast cancer

Professionals and survivors speak on diabetes, heart disease and strokes

When the phrase “women’s health” is mentioned, nearly anyone’s first thought is the pink ribbon that has long been a badge of honor in support of those diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and countless other organizations and individuals, the pink ribbon is a symbol of perseverance and progress.

The battle against breast cancer is one example of how far a movement can go to address a deadly serious women’s issue. Yet, other risks to women’s health are not as publicized or as known to the general population — to the detriment of those most at risk.

“Diabetes is very prevalent disease that often goes underdiagnosed in a lot of the population,” Novant Health registered nurse Dee Murray recently told qnotes. “It is estimated by the American Diabetes Association that over 9 million women have the disease, but nearly one-third of them do not realize it.”

Overall, diabetes is the direct cause of 2.7 percent of women’s deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It ranks seventh of the most common causes of death for women of all ages.

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The two primary types of diabetes have equally drastic effects; Type One, often labeled “juvenile diabetes,” most often strikes its victims early in life. The CDC notes that “Type One is caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. About 5 percent of the people who have diabetes have type one…Currently, no one knows how to prevent type one diabetes.”

Another 90 percent of diabetics have been diagnosed with Type Two, and too often this diagnosis is blamed on lifestyle because it frequently coincides with obesity. The least-publicized variation of the disorder is gestational diabetes, incurred during pregnancy.

“You may not notice any symptoms,” the CDC warns. “So it’s important to get your blood sugar tested if you’re at risk.”

Beyond death as a direct result of diabetes, the disease itself can exacerbate the risk of other conditions listed as top women’s health concerns.

“Women that are affected [by diabetes] are more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than their male counterparts,” Murray explained. “Women are statistically less likely to have health coverage therefore less access to ongoing health care.”

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the U.S., according to the most recent CDC statistics. In 2014, 22.3 percent of women’s deaths were the result of heart disease. Cancers of all kinds followed, with a combined rate of 21.6 percent of women’s deaths. Local drag legends Tracy Morgan and Boom Boom Latour are among LGBTQ Charlotte, N.C.’s losses to heart disease.

Contributors to heart disease risk disproportionately affect women in the LGBTQ community. Lesbians and bisexual women face higher rates of obesity, smoking and stress, all central factors that can lead to heart disease. Dr. Jan Warren-Findlow, associate professor in the Department of Public Health at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that LGBTQ women may neglect to go to the doctor for long periods, increasing the risk of a disease reaching advanced stages.

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“Many lesbians don’t necessarily see a physician as often as they maybe should,” Warren-Findlow told qnotes in a past interview. “If you’re not taking contraceptives, you don’t necessarily get into that routine.”

Closely related to heart disease, blood clots and aneurysms can also impact the brain and lead to stroke, the third leading cause of death for women in the U.S. Cyteria Knight and Susan Miller, a lesbian couple, spoke to qnotes about their personal experience when Knight suffered a serious stroke early this year.

“Vision is a little squirrelly, kind of blurry on the outskirts. Also I have an issue with balance, but all things I hope that we can work on,” Knight told qnotes just weeks after recovering consciousness. “Recovery never stops. It’s amazing, you have to re-teach yourself everything.”

Knight’s partner of 35 years, Miller has fought hard to support her and keeps an online chronicle of her love’s recovery via the website CaringBridge. Knight’s stroke was caused when a serious cerebral aneurysm ruptured, and another unbroken aneurysm lurks within her brain even still.

“Recovering from a brain aneurysm can be sad and lonely at times, causing us both to feel anxious and depressed,” Miller wrote in a recent update on the site. “Cyteria struggles with ‘survivors guilt,’ especially when she learned of the recent death of a 17-year-old soccer player who collapsed on the field as a result of a brain aneurysm.”

A condition that can strike young and older women alike, brain aneurysm leading to stroke also took another queer Charlotte woman recently. A dear friend of this writer, Tish Taylor, died of this condition on April 20, just 10 weeks after giving birth to her only son, Cyrus. Rest easy, Tishy.

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