Your bones hurt. Your eyesight is shot. You can’t so much as pick up a box without worrying about throwing your back out. Sure, you knew that things would be different once you got older, but nobody prepared you for the chronic conditions that seemed to come from out of nowhere after your 40th birthday.
And while many of the perils associated with aging can’t be stopped, they can at least be managed—as long as you know what to look out for, that is. Herein, we’ve rounded up a list of common female health concerns after 40, so you can live a longer, happier, and healthier life.
Active women—particularly those over 40—need to watch out for osteoporosis. This disease, found in approximately one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50, decreases bone density and weakens the bones significantly, and so any slight movement or strenuous workout could cause a serious break.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than two-thirds of elderly women are diagnosed with this autoimmune disease. The good news? Several medications exist that can ease the pain or rheumatoid arthritis and improve symptoms, so long as you seek help in the early stages and know what to look out for, including pain, stiffness, swelling, and joint immobility.
Vulvovaginitis, or inflammation of the vulva and vagina, occurs when something like bacteria or yeast gets into the vagina and triggers an infection. According to Medscape, this vaginal affliction is one of the most common gynecological problems in elderly women, though it’s rarely anything serious that can’t be treated by antibiotics and topical ointments.
Most commonly witnessed in older women, genital prolapse occurs when one or more of the pelvic structures (like the bladder or the uterus) descends from its normal location either in the direction of or entirely through the vaginal opening. According to one study published in the journal American Family Physician, this condition is the result of a loss of pelvic support due to things like injuries, complications during childbirth, and chronic coughing, and in severe cases, it can impact a woman’s ability to urinate and defecate.
Women of all ages and ethnicities should have breast cancer on their radar, but it’s an especially pressing health concern for women over 40. In fact, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, while, according to the American Cancer Society, a caucasian male is nearly 100 times less likely to develop the disease compared to his female counterpart, and a black male is approximately 70 times less likely to get the disease compared to his female friends and family members.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a debilitating disease, caused by external substances like smoke, that affects the lung and makes it hard to breathe. Though the disease is frequently found in the geriatric community, one study published in the journal JAMA noted that “the treatment of the older patient with COPD is highly challenging” thanks to comorbidities, like osteoporosis, that are more prevalent in individuals over 40. And while COPD rates have been on the decline among men for years, rates of COPD among women have not significantly diminished since 1999, making it essential for any past or current smokers, or those experiencing chronic breathing problems, to get checked out by a doctor.
In your 40s and beyond, you can no longer rely on your once-magical metabolism to keep you slim and healthy. And yet, many older individuals seem to have trouble adjusting their lifestyle to accommodate that metabolic slowdown. In fact, one 2009 study published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing found that the number of older adults struggling with obesity has doubled in the past 30 years—not a good indication we’re exercising more or eating healthier in mid-life.
Should you choose to ignore your widening waistline in favor of your favorite fast foods, you can find yourself dealing with health issues ranging from arthritis to diabetes, so make sure to try to tackle those weight problems before they get out of hand.
Per the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, women have many unique risk factors that contribute to strokes being the third leading cause of death amongst females. Evidently, everything from high blood pressure during pregnancy to elevated stress levels can cause a woman to have a stroke—and to add insult to injury, the older you are, the greater your risk of cardiovascular complication.
Alzheimer’s is one of the most serious female health concerns after 40, and one that more women should be on the lookout for. According to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately two-thirds of all Americans with the disease are female, and women tend to be more sensitive to the genes that cause Alzheimer’s when compared to their male counterparts. The good news? Catching Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia early may help slow the progression of the disease.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the result of your body producing insulin, but not using this pancreatic hormone in an effective manner. Unfortunately, while risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include some things that you can fix, like your weight and your cholesterol levels, there are factors you can’t control, including a history of heart disease and being over 45.
Like many other parts of the body, tendons tend to deteriorate and degenerate as a person ages. And because of this deterioration, doctors and researchers have found that “an aged tendon is weaker than its younger counterpart and is more likely to tear or suffer from overuse injury,” meaning that older women and men alike need to be extra careful when playing tennis, going for a run, or even just lifting heavy objects.
Though many people who have never experienced depression assume a person can simply will themselves out of having the condition, the World Health Organization predicts that it will be the second-leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020, just after cardiovascular disease. If you’re a woman between the ages of 45 and 64, then you’re unfortunately among the group at greatest risk for developing depression, and it’s important that you seek help immediately should you ever feel so sad that even getting out of bed feels like too much effort.
According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately one-third of all individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from some form of hearing loss, and almost half of all people over the age of 75 have trouble hearing. Though some older individuals will try to suffer through their hearing issues, it’s important to note that these problems can get worse if left untreated. Scarier yet, the results of a study published in JAMA reveal that untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia.
According to research published in the journal American Family Physician, approximately one in every three people will suffer from some form of vision loss by the time they’re 65. One eye disease that older patients should especially watch out for is glaucoma, a typically hereditary condition that damages the optic nerve and, if left untreated, can cause permanent blindness.
Glaucoma tends to be asymptomatic at first, so it’s important to see the eye doctor every year or two just to confirm that everything’s healthy, even if there doesn’t appear to be any problem.
Hypertension, or dangerously high blood pressure, is a huge problem in the adult subset—and one that disproportionately affects women. In fact, more than half of all adults in the United States with hypertension are women, and what’s more, research published by the American College of Cardiology noted that women who are postmenopausal are even more likely to be hypertensive, as falling estrogen levels can contribute to rising blood pressure levels. So, while diet and exercise can help, it’s also essential to make sure you’re getting your blood pressure checked at every physical—and more frequently if anything seem amiss.
“Rates of gallstones are two to three times higher among women than men,” reveal the authors of a study published in the German journal Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift. And seeing as an uptick in sex hormones has been linked to gallstones, risk factors that older women need to watch out for include hormone replacement therapy and taking oral contraceptives with high doses of estrogen.
For men and women alike, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases exponentially with age. In fact, according to 2013 data from the American Heart Association, 70.9 percent of women between the ages of 60 and 79 have heart disease, compared to a staggering 87.1 percent of women over the age of 80. And seeing as 66 percent of cardiovascular disease-related deaths occur in people over the age of 75, it’s important to take measures to improve your heart health, including staying physically active and maintaining a healthy diet.
According to one study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, there are four times as many cases of pneumonia seen in elderly patients every year than there are in individuals under the age of 65. And not only is this infection more frequent amongst older individuals, it’s also more likely to lead to hospitalization and death for people in older age groups.
Falling is a serious health risk for women as their bodies begin to age. According to one study of 57,302 subjects published in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, elderly patients are three times as likely to die from injuries sustained from a ground-level fall compared to individuals under 70 years old.
Prescription Drug Misuse
According to research published by the Center For Applied Research Solutions, approximately 12 to 15 percent of all elderly patients who seek medical care end up abusing (or are already abusing) prescription drugs. Though prescription drug misuse is seen in individuals of all ages, it’s especially concerning in older individuals, as it can put them at greater risk for falls, car accidents, and other potentially fatal physical impairments. And while research suggests that men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs than women, the results of a study published by the American Psychological Association, women are just as likely to become addicted as their male counterparts.
Though people between the ages of 25 and 29 are most likely to get HIV, individuals over the age of 50 actually accounted for 17 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Though older people have the same risk factors as younger people when it comes to HIV, older individuals don’t get tested as often and are therefore more likely than their younger counterparts to get diagnosed when the virus is in its later stages—meaning that the disease is much more likely to lead to serious damage and even death.
The average woman is 62 years old when she is first diagnosed with endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that begins in the lining of the uterus. Early symptoms include vaginal bleeding (both after menopause and in between periods), abnormal vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain—and the sooner the cancer is detected, the better the chances are of survival.
According to the CDC, more than 300,000 individuals over the age of 65 are hospitalized annually for hip fractures, many of which are the direct result of falling. These fractures become more dangerous—and even life-threatening—with age, so be extra vigilant when it comes to slippery surfaces and gym sessions.
If your liver couldn’t handle your extreme alcohol consumption in your 20s and 30s, then it definitely can’t handle it once your 40th birthday has come and gone. Health issues associated with heavy drinking include cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancer, hypertension, and psychological disorders—and those are just naming a few. In fact, the risk of alcohol poisoning, which, if left untreated, can be deadly, is higher among middle-aged individuals than their younger counterparts—according to the CDC, 76 percent of alcohol poisoning deaths occur in individuals over 35.
Because Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that worsens as time passes, the mean age of the onset of the disease is 60 years old. Nobody understands exactly how Parkinson’s is contracted, but it is generally believed that there is, unfortunately, little to nothing a person can do to prevent the onset of the debilitating disease. The good news? The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you are to maintain your quality of life.
While just under five percent of folks under the age of 65 suffer from cataracts, or vision impairing lens opacities, nearly half of all individuals over the age of 75 are dealing with them. And though cataracts are the most common cause of blindness worldwide, there are many surgeries that can be performed in order to prevent them from permanently rendering you sightless.
According to a report from the CDC, approximately nine percent of women over the age of 65 were cigarette smokers from 2004 to 2005. If you fall into this minority group, then you are one of the people at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive lung disease, and early death. And if you think that quitting will have your weight skyrocketing, think again: according to a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports, smokers actually have an increased risk of abdominal obesity when compared to their counterparts who abstain.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
As its name suggests, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of vision impairment for people over the age of 50. This blinding condition affects the macula, a small area near the center of the retina that is required to see straight ahead. One surprising factor that can increase your risk? Older individuals who smoke are twice as likely to develop AMD.
If you’re in the older age demographic and you’ve recently suffered from a fall, don’t ignore things like a pounding headache, confusion, or dizziness. While people tend to associate concussions with young athletes and athletic individuals, older individuals are actually prone to getting them as well—and conditions that disproportionately affect women, like osteoporosis, can increase your risk. Scarier yet, if left untreated, that concussion can lead to permanent cognitive impairment.
Women over 40 with pain in their knee often end up being diagnosed with a meniscus tear, or torn cartilage. This injury is similar to what is commonly found in athletes, though in older individuals, it’s usually the result of aging tissue that is more vulnerable to damage.
When people are born with a defective gene on chromosome 4, they experience a progressive brain disorder known as Huntington’s disease (HD). Unlike other chromosomal disorders that present in early life, symptoms of this disease typically begin to manifest in a person’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some signs you might want to talk to your doctor about a potential Huntington’s diagnosis? Uncontrolled limb movements, cognitive decline, concentration issues, and depression.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, approximately 17.2 percent of seniors over the age of 65 have periodontal disease, or gum disease. Though getting older is a factor that increases your risk of periodontitis that you don’t have much control over, you can control some other factors that cause the disease, such as smoking, substance abuse, and forgetting to floss.
Constipation, or the inability to defecate, is a problem that plagues the elderly community. In fact, one study published in the journal Canadian Family Physician found that amongst individuals over the age of 65, approximately 26 percent of women suffer from constipation. And what’s more, not only is constipation annoying, but it can lead to serious health issues like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and rectal prolapse. Worse yet, research presented by the American College of Gastroenterology reveals a link between recurrent constipation and colon cancer.
Caused by various underlying medical conditions, balance issues are a major cause of falls for older individuals. Unfortunately, falls can be a surprising source of peril as you age, with 30 percent of individuals over 65 suffering from a fall, and falls being the leading cause of death among this age group, as per the CDC. The good news? Many balance issues are little more than the result of an inner ear infection, and can be treated quickly if they’re caught in time.
Incontinence is just a fancy way of describing those urine leakages that occur all too often in a woman’s later years. But while this condition isn’t fun, it might help you to know that you’re not alone in your suffering: According to one study published in Ochsner Journal, up to 20 percent of older individuals are limited by their incontinence.
Currently, more than 50 percent of all cancers are diagnosed in individuals over the age of 65—and according to one study published in the journal Aging and Disease, older individuals with white skin are most at risk of developing skin cancer. Malignant skin cancers are primarily caused by external environmental factors (like sunburns and exposure to UV rays), and so it’s important to make sure that you always take proper care when going outside. Considering that melanoma alone is on track to kill more than 3,300 American women this year, it’s time to start loading up on the SPF.
Any woman going through menopause can expect to experience at least one hot flash, if not many more. When your time comes to handle a hot flash, be ready to deal with a sudden feeling of warmth, a rapid heartbeat, and sweat all over your body—and when the flash lets up, a chilled feeling like you’ve just entered a freezer.
Thanks to conditions like dementia, depression, and isolation, malnutrition is a problem amongst older adults, even in the United States. And what’s more, malnutrition can happen to underweight and overweight women alike—all it means is that you’re not giving your body the nutrients it needs in order to function.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D, which is most readily available in nature from food sources or sunlight, is an important nutrient that assists in everything from building strong bones to the body’s regulation of vital minerals. Unfortunately, though, older individuals are at increased risk for a vitamin D deficiency—in fact, one study published in the journal Nutrients determined that approximately half of all people over the age of 65 don’t have enough vitamin D in their blood. The good news? Vitamin D supplements are readily available—and even if you don’t want to take any more pills, all you have to do is get outside more to soak up some delicious nutrients.
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
Epstein-Barr, or EBV, is the virus that causes mononucleosis—and once a person is infected with it, they can carry a latent form for the remainder of their lives. In fact, when Duke University researchers tested subjects over the age of 60 for EBV, they found that anywhere from 90 to 97 percent of them had it in their blood.
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