If you were a woman born in this country a mere century ago, you could expect to live barely into your 50s.
The disease that claimed most lives back then was tuberculosis, followed by heart disease, influenza, and pneumonia. Also on the top 10 list – diphtheria, diarrhea and typhoid fever.
But in 1911, disease was not the only risk a woman faced. In each year between 1900 and 1930, approximately 15,000 died giving birth. For every death, 20 more women suffered disabling complications.
At the other end of the spectrum was “the menopause,” which many women didn’t live long enough to experience. If they did, they usually didn’t get much help coping with symptoms, medical or otherwise. “What Every Married Woman Should Know, “a tiny handbook published in 1924 compliments of Dr. Southington Remedy Co., states, “Among the general symptoms are flushing, also giddiness, headaches, faintness and pains in the back.”
The remedy? “Hygienic living, cheerful employment of the mind, and the sympathetic companionship of a sensible husband constitute the best treatment for the menopause.”
Now, it is rare for a woman to die giving birth in this country and thanks, in part, to the landmark Women’s Health Initiative study, we are gaining a better understanding of the risks and benefits of using hormone replacement therapy to treat menopause symptoms.
Today, in the United States, women can expect to live, on average, decades beyond menopause – to the venerable age of 81.
We have seen declines in many health problems, but we’ve seen increases in others, some quite preventable.
The leading cause of death for women of all ages is now heart disease, with cancer and stroke close behind.
Maine is among the top 10 in the United States when it comes to improving the health status of women, according to the 2010 edition of Making the Grade on Women’s Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card released last December by the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University.
In the past 10 years death rates from heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer have lowered, but more Maine women have diabetes and high blood pressure and are considered obese.
With the possibility of living at least eight decades, don’t we owe it to ourselves to live well and in as good health as possible? Fortunately, there is a great deal we can do throughout our lives, but it’s up to us to take charge of our own bodies and to educate ourselves as best we can.
In this issue of Maine Women we’ve tried to make it easy for you to learn about several women’s health issues and recommendations for health screenings and immunizations, by organizing the information according to decades. For instance, in your 20s you should have a Pap test every two years; after 30, every three years; and after 65, maybe none at all.
We’ve also included personal stories from Maine women of various ages. Each woman has her own unique health story. Woven together with the facts and figures, they offer inspiration and guidance to all women who are trying to maneuver the transitions that come with every decade. We need all the help we can get.
To quote Franc?ois de la Rochefoucauld, a French classical author from the 17th century, “We come fresh to the different stages of life, and in each of them we are quite inexperienced, no matter how old we are.”
Formerly a health reporter at WCSH-TV and manager of marketing and public relations at Mercy Hospital, she is now a freelance medical writer and writes a blog called Catching Health, found at www.dianeatwood.com/catchinghealth.
Health concerns are far different for Kay Soldier, left, who is 73, and Carol Taylor, 26, photographed at Mercy Windham Family Practice in Windham, but both are optimistic. Despite some ongoing problems, Soldier says she “feels great most of the time.” Taylor has no chronic conditions and is relatively healthy. “My goal is to stay that way as I age,” she says.