With age comes wisdom, but a few diseases and conditions hitch a ride too. Once a woman turns 40, it pays to be a little extra vigilant about her health. While in many ways, 40 is still very young and more women are sailing through this decade healthier and happier than ever, there are still some increased risk factors to look out for. Below are 10 health risks that particularly afflict women in their forties.
Osteoperosis – In their forties, as women enter perimenopause or menopause, their bone density starts to drop. Anywhere from five to twenty percent of women in their fifties have osteoporosis, depending on their ethnicity, but it can also start much earlier. Since pregnancy and breastfeeding can also cause short term osteoporosis, women in their forties face a potential double-whammy as they can have a child early in their forties and then enter perimenopause a few years later. Women who want to avoid it should start prevention early by eating a balanced diet and exercising.
Heart Disease – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, surprisingly topping even cancer. Between the ages of 45 and 64 up to 12% of women have heart disease, according to New York Presbyterian Hospital. There is a greater risk of having a heart attack after menopause, and that risk grows even greater for smokers or those who are overweight or have a family history of heart disease. Staying active, not smoking, and getting regular checkups can help to manage these risks, but women in their forties should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and should immediately call 911 if they believe they are experiencing one.
High Blood Pressure – This is another situation where women are dealing with multiple risk factors. Birth control can cause high blood pressure. Pregnancy can sometimes cause high blood pressure, called Pregnancy Induced Hypertension. And after menopause a woman’s risk of high blood pressure rises dramatically. So basically, women at any point in their reproductive lives can face this, but women in their forties might face all three of these stages of life in one decade. Exercising, proper diet, and regular health checkups can ameliorate the risks.
Breast Cancer – As women get older their risk of breast cancer rises. Between a woman’s thirties and her forties, her risk of breast cancer more than triples. It continues to rise with age, but a woman’s forties is when the jump is most dramatic. In total, over the course of a woman’s life, she has about a 12% chance of getting breast cancer. Certain factors, such as smoking, obesity, drinking heavily, not breastfeeding or family history, increase that risk.
Melanoma – This is another disease where the risk increases with age, though younger women in particular have a higher risk than young men. In a British study, women in their forties actually had more new cases of melanoma than women in their fifties. But while women in their forties should be vigilant in checking for unusual or changing moles, melanoma is surprisingly common in younger women as well, and is in fact one of the most common cancers for women in their thirties. Avoiding sunburns and wearing sunscreen will help reduce the risk.
Weight Gain – Women in their forties tend to have to work a bit harder to fight weight gain. This can be due to thyroid issues, it can be due to accumulated lifestyle factors, or it can be due to perimenopause. Some women even notice increased appetite despite the slower metabolism. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life and women who want to maintain their more youthful weight need to make sure they are getting enough exercise and eating properly.
Declining fertility – A woman’s fertility drops sharply in her forties, and even with fertility treatments the chance of successfully getting pregnant dramatically declines. At age 30 a woman has a 20% chance of getting pregnant on any given cycle, but only a 5% chance by age 40. The risk of miscarriages increase with age as well. Therefore, women who desire to have biological children should try to do this by their mid-thirties or, if they can’t, freeze some eggs.
Unplanned Pregnancy – Ironically, despite dramatically decreased fertility, aside from teenagers women in their forties are the most likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. This is due to women who are still ovulating being less diligent with their birth control due to the aforementioned decreased fertility. A lower chance of getting pregnant is still a chance, so women who do not want to grow their family should make sure to continue to use birth control diligently.
Depression – The odds of being diagnosed with depression peak at 44. Due to hormonal changes, as well as lifestyle stressors, many women in their forties end up suffering from depression. Even scarier, women have the highest risk for suicide between the ages of 45 and 54. Anyone suffering from increased stress, anxiety or depression should not hesitate to reach out for help.
Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes usually develops after the age of 40, though it can appear at any age. Women also face the risk of gestational diabetes, which generally resolves once she gives birth. Symptoms of diabetes include thirst, blurred vision and slow wound healing. This extremely serious condition should be monitored and controlled by a doctor. Any woman who suspects that she may be suffering from adult-onset diabetes should immediately get tested by her doctor.