International Women’s Day: Health Conditions that Affect Indian Women More Than Men?

Women’s health in India is a major concern due to factors like poor nutrition, changing lifestyles, stress, domestic violence, maternal health ignorance and limited access to basic healthcare facilities.
International Women’s Day: Health Conditions that Affect Indian Women More Than Men?

New Delhi: In the patriarchal society, gender disparities extend into every facet of lives. The healthcare system is just another reflection of this stark reality. There are multiple diseases, which affect the female sex and body more than the male counterpart, but research and awareness around the same is next to nil.

According to recent studies, Indian women have an average 2.7 year-longer life expectancy than their male counterparts. But there is a minimal difference of just 0.1 years in their healthy life expectancy. It implies that women may not necessarily experience healthier lives.

Experts attribute this inequality to the constraints on bodily autonomy and inadequate resources that disproportionately affect women’s health. The impact of societal norms and the stigma surrounding women’s intimate health further adds to the gender gap.

Here are some of the common diseases, which the females are more vulnerable towards. Unfortunately, a study of the gender aspect is missing from almost all.

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Anemia

Women are more susceptible to this iron deficiency condition. They, especially those aged 12 to 49, are more prone to this condition due to monthly blood loss during menstruation periods.

The risk is higher for women with prolonged or heavy periods, and additional iron is required during pregnancy for proper fetal development. Pregnant women need 50% more iron than usual.

Symptoms: The common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, difficulty in breathing, pale or yellowish skin (more noticeable on lighter skin tones), an irregular heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain and cold extremities.

Government’s intervention: Launched in September 2018, the Anemia Mukt Bharat (Anemia-free India) initiative aims to combat the medical condition through various measures, which include the Weekly Iron Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) supplementation, deworming, the SBCC (Social and Behavior Change Communication) campaigns and addressing non-nutritional causes.

The National Health Mission (NHM) emphasizes six institutional mechanisms for effective implementation and aims to reduce Disability-Adjusted Life Years lost due to anemia by 2022. Positive outcomes are anticipated, with the forthcoming NFHS V data expected to show a decline in anemia levels.

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Osteoporosis

It causes bones to become weak and brittle. Low calcium intake is a widespread concern in India, impacting toddlers, adolescents, pregnant/lactating mothers and postmenopausal women, and it makes the females more prone to the medical condition.

The situation is particularly alarming, given the importance of building peak bone mass during puberty and the increased calcium requirements in crucial life stages. 

Financial constraints and unequal distribution of milk and milk products, with males receiving larger portions, add on to the issue — especially among lower socioeconomic classes.

Symptoms: According to the National Institutes of Health, Osteoporosis is often referred to as a “silent” disease since it typically manifests without symptoms until a bone fracture occurs. 

Symptoms of vertebral (spine) fractures include intense back pain, loss of height and spine malformations — leading to a stooped or hunched posture, known as kyphosis.

Government intervention: Till now, there has been no specific government intervention around the disease, especially around the gender aspect of it. Many potential policy interventions that increase diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis have been identified and shown to be effective, in cases of countries such as the United States and Australia.

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Thyroid disorders

According to Dr Vineeta Taneja, director, internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, estrogen plays a role in stimulating thyroglobulin — a thyroid hormone precursor. 

As estrogen levels fluctuate throughout a woman’s life (menarche, puberty, pregnancy, lactation and menopause), she said, thyroid disorders become more common in women.

She said autoimmune illnesses are more prevalent in women that also impact the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is often observed during puberty, pregnancy and menopause and requires specific monitoring during these phases. 

Additionally, thyroid cancers are more common and occur earlier in females compared to males.

Symptoms: Common signs of thyroid disorders include fatigue, sensitivity to cold, weight gain, constipation, hair loss, cognitive fog, dry skin, nail alterations and irregular menstrual cycles. 

Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, is characterized by unintended weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Government intervention: In April 2023 at a conference in Jammu, Union Minister Jitendra Singh appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bringing “preventive healthcare” into focus and talked about the prevalence of thyroid disorders. Still, any particular intervention is out of discussion, let alone a gendered aspect of it.

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Heart diseases

The natural estrogen provides heart protection for South Asian women before menopause, leading to a delayed onset of heart attacks compared to men by 10 to 15 years.

However, after menopause and a decline in estrogen levels, a woman’s risk of heart disease not only equals but exceeds that of a man with similar risk factors, particularly after the age of 75.

According to a report by Times of India, Dr Vijay Kumar, a senior consultant and interventional cardiologist, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, said, “Women might face an increased susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) due to hypertensive pregnancy disorders and the persistence of post-pregnancy weight gain, attributed to physiological changes during pregnancy and hormonal fluctuations in menopause.”

Symptoms: The main symptoms of heart disease include chest discomfort, breathlessness, coughing or wheezing and swelling in the legs, ankles or feet. Additional warning signs involve poor blood supply to extremities, fatigue and palpitations. Early recognition of these symptoms is crucial for prompt detection and management of heart-related issues.

Government intervention: Launched in 2017 under the NHM, the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Stroke (NPCDCS) focuses on interventions up to the district level.

The program aims to raise awareness for lifestyle changes, screen individuals with high-risk factors and provide early diagnosis and treatment, with referrals to higher facilities, when necessary, for an effective management of the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases. But there is no gendered study on the diseases.

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