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3 silent killers of women

Certain illnesses are more dangerous for women than men. Some of these medical conditions, known as silent killers, are illnesses with no obvious symptoms that can progress to an advanced stage before they are discovered.

Here are three silent killers of women:

1. Heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women, claiming the lives of one in three women every year.  Most women have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and two-thirds of women who die from a heart attack have never experienced chest pains.

“Heart disease is a silent killer in women because the symptoms can be so non-specific,” says Jyoti Sharma, M.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute. “One of the most common things I hear from women is they feel fatigued. But they don’t believe that is really a symptom because everyone gets tired. Or when you think of a heart attack, you think of someone having chest pains.  Women experiencing a heart attack may have subtler symptoms like jaw pain, headaches or back pains.”

If you are experiencing any symptoms that include shortness of breath, fatigue, sweating or abdominal pain, please consult your doctor.  

“Heart disease is 80 percent preventable,” Dr. Sharma says. “The earlier your doctor detects health risks, the more options a woman will have as far as treatment.”

2. Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women a year in the United States. Though the disease has a significant survival rate if caught in the early stages, it can be difficult to diagnose because women often have no symptoms.

“Women don’t usually come in complaining of symptoms until they are stage III or stage IV,” says Tia Guster, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont.  “At that point the prognosis can be devastating.”

While there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, Dr. Guster suggests scheduling an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing bloating, pelvic pain or a loss of appetite.

“If you feel something is unusual, go to your doctor,” Dr. Guster says. “They will likely take a detailed medical history, do a physical and consider performing an ultrasound. If there is a genetic predisposition for ovarian cancer, they may consider removing the patient’s ovaries.”

3. Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a disease of the liver caused by five different viruses, the most serious being hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Hepatitis C is spread when the blood of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person. This transmission usually occurs through sharing needles, blood transfusion, organ transplants and less commonly, sexual contact.

Almost 4 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 80 percent of people infected with acute Hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms.

Though there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there are medications that can cure the condition.

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