I'm going to make a bold statement here: Women are tough as nails. I'm not even opening this up for discussion; I’m stating it as fact. I don't always think that this is a positive thing, though. I know far too many women, mothers especially, who spend years ignoring issues happening with their own bodies because they are “too busy,” or think it “isn’t a big deal." We live with physical ailments because, quite frankly, we have too much on our plates and are in the habit of putting ourselves last. These health problems women tend to ignore might seem like no big deal, and could even be quite common amongst your friends, but not getting them checked out might lead to bigger issues down the road.
Sure, we all have those friends who bookmark WebMD and use it as their own personal diagnostic tool, convinced they are dying of no less than 10 rare illnesses. But for most of us, once we reach a "certain age," we tend to accept that aches and pains are just part of normal life. Not true, according to the experts I spoke with for this article. Basically, it all comes down to an old adage I heard once, which goes like this: "If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.”
Women, listen to those whispers. Lord knows you listen to enough screaming already when your kids are home, so let's not add to it by ignoring the messages your body is trying to send us, okay?
If you experience any of these eight health issues, please call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Mama's orders.
1. Brain Fog And Fatigue
I know, I know. When you're a mom, brain fog and fatigue seem inevitable. However, in speaking with Amanda Ling, physical therapist, wellness coach, and co-owner of Peak Potential Physiotherapy & Wellness in Collierville, Tennessee, I learned that it's essential to pay attention to when you're experiencing these symptoms.
"There's a grey area between fatigue and just being tired," she says.
"For instance, I'm tired today because our alarm went off at 2 a.m.; there's a reason for it. But if you're getting 6-7 hours of sleep at night, you shouldn’t still be needing that third cup of coffee. There may be something else going on."
That something else could be a hormone imbalance or an issue with your thyroid, the small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. This gland, according to the Office on Women's Health, makes a hormone that controls your metabolism. Too little of this hormone leads to, amongst other things, feeling very tired. What's more, hypothyroidism (as this condition is known) can be triggered by childbirth, Ling reports.
So if your baby is no longer keeping you up at all hours of the night for feedings but you're still feeling foggy and fatigued, ask your doctor for a full blood panel to see if something is awry.
"The good news," Ling says, "is that if it's caught early, there are ways you can treat hypothyroidism naturally." Ignoring it, however, will likely mean that you'll have to treat with ongoing medication. Plus, who wants to be tired all the time? (Note to self: schedule blood panel with doctor).
2. Back And Joint Pain
Another common health issue Ling says women tend to ignore is pain in their back and/or joints.
"A lot of times when I ask female clients whether they have back or joint pain they'll say, 'No, just the regular amount,'" she says. Sound familiar? "Pain isn't normal," she explains. "It may be common, but it isn't normal." One explanation for this could be that your body hasn't put itself back together in the right way after childbirth. Ling continues, "Joint pain may be the result of not getting your core abdominal strength functioning correctly. Just because you can do a plank for 60 seconds doesn’t mean your core is working properly."
This can be corrected, thankfully, by working on your body's alignment, and Ling suggests seeing a physical therapist who specializes in women's health as a great starting point.
3. Peeing "Just A Little" When You Sneeze/Laugh/Workout
If you are a woman who has given birth vaginally and you don't live in fear of an unexpected sneeze, I salute you. Most of the moms I know, myself included, joke about this unfortunate side effect of giving birth, but Ling cautions against accepting this as "just the way it is." Much of her work is with patients who experience urinary stress incontinence, a condition described by the Mayo Clinic as "the unintentional loss of urine... when physical movement or activity — such as coughing, sneezing, running or heavy lifting — puts pressure on your bladder."
"Just like any other part of your body," she explains, "your abdominal wall and pelvic muscles can be re-trained after childbirth." And it may take more than kegels, which Ling notes most people are doing incorrectly anyway.
"Kegels are a good place to start, but it isn't the whole answer. More often than not, it takes a little more work than that." Again, physical therapy is often the answer.
And if you think living with bladder leaks isn't that big of a deal and therefore not something you really need to address, take heed of Amanda's warning.
"The problem is that when we don’t address it, when we hit menopause and our hormones tank, women experience life-altering incontinence." Read: wearing diapers. Or worse, "pelvic organ prolapse, where your bladder or uterus can literally fall out of your body." Talk about your body screaming!
4. Pain During Sex
Pain during sex isn't normal. I repeat, pain during sex isn't normal. And yet, according to Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN and women's health expert, many women she treats don't readily open up about discomfort during sex, or even realize that it's a problem.
"I see it a lot in women who were brought up in very strict households," she notes. "They were never taught about sex, so when they start having it and there's pain, they don't know how to handle the pain and they think it's normal."
There are several reasons a woman could be experiencing pain during intercourse, vaginismus being one of them, she explains. But in order to find out what is going on, women must first find a doctor they trust enough to discuss it freely with.
"Sexual health isn't part of the health sphere," she explains. "When I bring up sexual health, many women are surprised and get uncomfortable." Please, talk to your doctor about any and all pain you experience during sex. Sex won't always be mind-blowing, but it definitely shouldn't cause you pain.
5. A Low Libido
Even when sex isn't painful, sometimes you just do not want to have it. That isn't necessarily the sign of a health problem, but it could be. Having no interest in any type of sexual activity, including masturbation, or seldom having sexual fantasies and thoughts, could be symptoms of a low sex drive in women, according to the Mayo Clinic... a condition, by the way, that can be treated, but you have to be willing to talk to your doctor (and your partner) about it.
And no, you likely won't die due to a lack of sex, but experiencing sexual pleasure and orgasms can definitely improve your quality of life, and that's something Shepherd wishes more women would focus on in terms of their overall wellness. "We have to reset how we think about sex and intimacy... women weren't raised to discuss these things," she states. The result is that so many are suffering.
6. Breast Changes
Another health issue Shepherd says women tend to ignore has to do with changes in their breasts. "Most women have one breast that is larger than the other, but if you are noticing changes in the architecture of the tissue, that's something that needs to be checked out," she explains. And though our breasts can change due to pregnancy, Shepherd cautions, "If you've never had an inverted nipple before and suddenly you do, or you have discharge that is red or green, you should definitely tell your doctor."
7. Irritable Bowels
I noticed a trend recently amongst my friends: We talk about diarrhea, a lot. If you were to take my phone right now you'd see more than one text thread about someone almost pooping their pants. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is, according to the Mayo Clinic, "a common disorder that affects the large intestine... symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both." And it seems just about everyone has it these days.
Acupuncturist and Holistic Medicine expert Isabelle Shuman explains why. "The word 'irritable' has a direct link to stress. Your bowels are irritable because you are stressed out." Without the high levels of stress, she continues, your life (and your bowels) improve. Shuman recommends first getting a stool analysis so that you can see what's out of balance. After that, "You have to be willing to go through a process of potential diet and lifestyle changes." Sure, you can take medication for the rest of your life (as one doctor recommended for my own stomach issues), or, you can approach it more naturally.
(To be transparent, Shuman helped me through my own issues with IBS after years of suffering. It can take some time, but you'd be amazed at how willing your body is to heal itself when you actually give it what it needs.)
8. Irregular Periods
Periods are remarkable. I mean that sincerely. Though I certainly spent years lamenting each time my cycle would leave me with mind-numbing cramps and cravings for all the potato chips, the older I get, the more in awe I am of what women's bodies are capable of, periods included. "Women should be having a regular moon cycle that is natural every 25 to 35 days," Shuman says. She believes that experiencing a regular period naturally (read: not with the help of hormones such as birth control) helps with the health and longevity of our ovaries.
That's not to say you shouldn't be on birth control if you want/need it to prevent pregnancy, but before you jump at the chance to eliminate periods from your life, as some birth controls do, you should stop to consider that there are actually benefits of having your period, and if you aren't getting one regularly, it's time to check-in with your doctor about the potential reasons why.