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Six Care Basics for National Women's Health Week

By Dr. David C. Pate, News and Community
May 14, 2013

This is National Women’s Health Week and I have asked one of our St. Luke’s physician leaders, Dr. Laura McGeorge, to be my guest blogger this week on some of the key health issues for women. 

St. Luke’s wants Idaho to have the healthiest women of any state. Better health for women means a more productive workforce, healthier moms, healthier babies, and lower overall healthcare costs. And since all of us men do better when we listen to women, we will be healthier, too! :) Dr. McGeorge’s report follows.


I am an internist, mother, sister, and daughter, and so I play many roles. As an internist in particular, I think of all the things that we can do to improve health. And this week is National Women’s Health Week, so I’d like to bring awareness to a half-dozen health basics that I think are very important.

We are all really busy in our lives taking care of others (our children, families, parents) and working. So many times I see women neglect themselves because they are so busy taking care of others. 

When we think of improving health, a lot of us think about what tests can be done to improve our health and prevent disease. Some tests are helpful, but many of the things that improve our health are things that we do, or don’t do, on a daily basis.

Here are six positive ways to take care of ourselves:

1.      Quit smoking.

Did you know that lung cancer is the leading cause of female cancer deaths in the United States? Eighty percent to 90 percent of those cancers are preventable by avoiding smoking. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of females’ deaths in the U.S., and tobacco use doubles or quadruples the risk that someone will have a heart attack or stroke.

Second-hand smoke, from a burning cigarette or exhaled air from someone else’s smoking, can increase the risks by up to 30 percent. Tobacco use can even increase the rate of stroke in young women, especially those taking birth control pills. 

Fortunately, there are many resources to help smokers quit. The Idaho Quitline is one of them.  Here is their link: http://www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/?TabId=324

2.      Go easy on the alcohol and avoid other addictive substances.

It is recommended that you drink no more than one drink a day. One drink is 1.5 oz. of liquor, 5 oz. of wine, or 12 oz. of beer. 

Substance abuse can increase your risk of infectious diseases such as HIV, sexually transmitted disease, hepatitis, and tuberculosis; behavioral health problems; and your risk of being a violent crime or domestic violence victim. 

And remember that prescription drug abuse is one of the leading types of abuse.

3.      Maintain a healthy weight and activity level.

Achieving and maintaining a normal body weight for your height and staying active can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, most diabetes, many cancers including cancers of the breast, uterine, colon, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, thyroid, and esophagus, falls, immobility, depression, and sleep problems. 

A normal body mass index, or BMI, is less than 25. Here is a link so you can calculate your own BMI: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm

It is not easy to get to or maintain a healthy weight, but maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to good health.

4.      Play it safe around moving vehicles.

 I suspect that nobody would think it is OK to drink and drive, and yet so many people are willing to text and drive. 

Texting while driving has been reported to injure around half a million people per year, and it’s entirely avoidable.

And don’t forget to wear a helmet when biking or rolling!

As a mother, I try to remember that I am the biggest role model for my children. If I text while driving or don’t wear my bike helmet, even once, they will follow my lead.

5.      Get recommended screenings.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is a national body of experts that looks at medical evidence and makes recommendations on screening tests. These are some of their recommendations for average-risk people:

  • Breast cancer screening: The decision to screen before age 50 is an individual one and should be made in consultation with your physician. It is unclear if screening for women 75 or older is beneficial. The task force recommends mammograms every two years in women age 50 to 74. Other professional organizations have slightly different screening guidelines, so talk this over with your healthcare provider. 
  • Cervical cancer prevention and screening: Pap smears should be done every three years in women age 21 to 65 who do not have a history of precancerous pap smear results. Most women who have had a hysterectomy do not require pap smears. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine series is recommended for girls at age 11 or 12. This vaccine reduces the likelihood of getting the HPV virus which can cause cervical cancer.
  • Colorectal cancer screening: Screening is recommended for ages 50 to 75 years old. Screening can occur with fecal occult test cards, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. Check with your doctor to see what’s right for you.
  • Osteoporosis screening:  Most women should have a bone density test at age 65.
Your risks may be different, so you should discuss your screenings and what’s appropriate for you with your care provider.

6.       Get your shots.

It is rare for anyone to have a medical reason to NOT get an influenza vaccine. Most, if not all, people will contract the flu at some time. 

The majority of healthy people will be inconvenienced by influenza, but even healthy people can become very ill, or even die, from influenza. The annual vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. It is even recommended for pregnant women.

Other vaccines to discuss with your health-care provider are tetanus-whooping cough (Tdap), HPV, pneumonia, shingles vaccine, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), meningitis, hepatitis, and others. Recommendations differ depending on your age and medical history. 

Here is a link to the CDC website to learn more:  http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/

Why is it important? It’s all about you!

Please make your health and healthy habits a priority so you are well and can be a role model for others. Help each other out by taking care of each other.

If we are not well, we won’t be in as good a position to help take care of the ones we love!

About The Author

David C. Pate, M.D., J.D., is president and CEO of St. Luke's Health System, based in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Pate joined the System in 2009. He received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center.