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Women's health: As women age, time crunch and life stresses get in the way of self-care


Oregonian (Portland, OR)

06-21-13

June 19--Women in their 30s have a tremendous opportunity, says Gary Hoffman.

"The 30s," he says, "can set you up for the rest of your life."

We asked several health professionals, including Hoffman, division chief for women and children at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, what advice they give women in those years.

The responses were remarkably consistent: This is a crucial time to lay groundwork for future success, by eating right, exercising and eliminating unhealthy habits.

Ahead lie dangers like elevated risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis. Though they likely won't appear until later, start fighting them now.

Time traps

Women in their 30s face hidden health pitfalls.

It's easy do other things than help your health. Women are often focused on advancing their career, caring for their spouse or kids, or caring for aging parents.

Or they may be caring for their marriages, which often are "either coming together or breaking up," says Gillian Rosicky, a Providence Medical Group family nurse practitioner. "It's a very transitional decade. I deal with a lot of mental health issues in that decade."

Either way, stress, anxiety and sacrifice can get in the way of self-care.

Not only that, but it is easy to be complacent about health in one's 20s, and the 30s will continue that way for many women, allowing bad habits to settle in.

"When you're younger, your body is more forgiving," says Brendan Carroll, an OB-GYN at the Adventist Medical Center's Women's Health Care Clinic of Oregon.

But feeling healthy doesn't mean you're doing what you should to stay that way. So you need to get focused on yourself, and see your doctor every year, despite new guidelines that say a yearly Pap smear test is no longer a good idea.

"There's been a lot of confusion lately over that test," says Audrey Curtis, aurogynecologist for the Women's Health Center opening at Legacy Meridian Park in Tualatin. "Women still need to come in every year for everything else."

Bone up

Signs of osteoporosis won't emerge until later in life, but now is when to head it off.

Two of the biggest ways: Get the recommended daily dose for calcium of 1,000 mg for women 50 and younger through supplements or foods like kale, broccoli, milk, yogurt or cheese. Also, engage in weight-bearing exercise. Your bone density is at its best in your 20s and 30s. From there it's all downhill.

"This is a quirky thing, but in the 30s is when you set your bone density. Rosicky says. "That's when your peak is formed. If you start with a low bone density in your 30s, it's going to be hard to reset it later."

About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 80 percent of them are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Estrogen levels start to decline gradually in the 30s, causing bone loss -- a process that accelerates with menopause.

The result are fractures of the hip and other bones. Hip fractures are more dangerous than they sound. Women aged 62 or over who suffer a hip fracture -- even women who otherwise are in good health -- face a much higher risk of dying in the first three months after the fracture for reasons that include heart disease, pneumonia and stroke, according to 2011 research published by Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland.

Know your roots

If you haven't already, get a handle on your cancer risk.

There continues to be debate over potential environmental risks, and there's ample research that links obesity and alcohol intake to cancer as well. But a major risk factor is prevalence of cancer among your ancestors and relatives, mainly in the first degree.

Women in their 30s "need to know their history around breast cancer, heart disease, colon cancer," says Kate Beadle, a Kaiser nurse practitioner who specializes in women's health.

Actress Angelina Jolie recently drew national attention when she had a preventive double mastectomy after learning she had the BRCA gene, which indicates higher cancer risk.

If your family history suggests an elevated risk for cancer, particularly breast cancer, you and your doctor need to talk about genetic screening. Though only a small percent of people have the BRCA gene like Jolie, they need to know about its dramatic boost to cancer risk.

Yearly mammograms are not recommended for most women in their 30s, but get your doctor's advice if you have a family history of breast cancer.

Getting a handle on health now will pay off. Women who leave their 30s obese and unhealthy face dramatically higher risk for diabetes and other problems, Hoffman says.

-- Nick Budnick

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(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com

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Copyright Oregonian (Portland, OR) 2013

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