This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
While women face many of the same health issues as men, the truth is that your sex can play a critical role in health and aging. Women may be at a higher risk of developing certain conditions. Some common health problems may also affect women differently than men.
Knowing the most common women’s health issues — and how these concerns change over the years — can empower you to make the best diet and lifestyle choices for your future. Here are some of the biggest health concerns for women, broken down by decade.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 20s
Melanoma is a dangerous skin cancer that can occur at any stage of life, and the risk increases as we age. However, it’s among the most common cancers for young adults, especially women. Sun damage in your 20s can increase your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
You can start protecting yourself early by avoiding excessive sun exposure or wearing sunscreen. Experts also recommend checking your skin for any unusual spots and regularly visiting a dermatologist for exams.
Suicide is a serious issue for young people in their 20s. In Canada, suicide accounts for 25 per cent of all deaths between the ages of 15 and 24. While young men are more likely to die of suicide, women are two to three times more likely to attempt.
Young adults in their 20s are especially vulnerable to mental health issues. More than 13 per cent of Canadians in their 20s reported that their mental health was fair to poor.
Smoking and drinking
While smoking rates have declined for young people, it remains the leading cause of premature death in Canada. Between 2009 and 2016, deaths from alcohol abuse increased 10.5 per cent annually among people 25 to 34-years-old.
The smoking and drinking habits formed in your 20s can affect you later in life. Quitting smoking before age 30 can cut the risk of lung cancer mortality by more than 90 per cent. Heavy alcohol use in your 20s can also factor in developing issues like cancer and liver disease.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 30s
In your 30s, your fertility may decrease, making it harder to get pregnant. Women over the age of 35 are also at a higher risk of pregnancy-related health problems and miscarriage. A few of the most common pregnancy issues include:
As we age, metabolism naturally slows down. Women in their 30s may experience weight gain or struggle to lose weight. While it’s not necessarily a sign of a health problem, excessive weight gain can contribute to issues like heart disease, diabetes and infertility problems.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Between 1998 and 2015, sexually transmitted disease cases in Canada rose from 39,372 to 116,499 annual cases. Experts say that women are at a higher risk of STIs like chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea.
If left untreated, STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which may cause infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Women are less likely than men to have symptoms, so it’s important to be regularly tested for STIs, especially if you’re having unprotected sex.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 40s
Women in their 40s may be at higher risk of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. About 80 per cent of people living with osteoporosis are women.
Menopause is something almost all women go through, usually after the age of 40. While menopause isn’t necessarily a health condition, how it changes your body is linked to other health problems.
After menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen. Lower estrogen levels can lead to a higher risk of other health conditions. For example, a lack of estrogen may cause a buildup of cholesterol, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. It can also affect your risk of developing osteoporosis, lead poisoning and urinary incontinence.
Breast and ovarian cancers
Women in their 40s are also at a higher risk of certain cancers, including breast and ovarian cancers.
Screening measures for ovarian cancer include a pelvic transvaginal ultrasound, blood tests and CT scans. For breast cancer, the national Canadian guidelines recommend mammograms starting at age 50, though women can choose to start earlier as a preventative measure. The risks of radiation exposure from mammograms is low, but some women can experience psychological distress from false-positive findings.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 50s
With 88 per cent of colorectal cancer cases developing in people 50 and older, it’s important to start getting screened for colon cancer in your 50s. This will help you catch it early and increase your chances for effective treatment.
Nearly half of women over 50 experience stress incontinence, also known as urinary incontinence. Still, women under 65 are less likely to talk to a doctor about treatment options for stress incontinence. This condition causes urine leakage while laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercising.
Anxiety and depression
Mental health issues can affect all ages. For some individuals, anxiety and depression can emerge later in life. In one study from 2020, 9 per cent of Canadians in their 50s said that their mental health was fair or poor. This was an increase of almost 3 per cent from 2015.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 60s
High blood pressure
As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible, putting pressure on the arteries delivering blood throughout the body. That’s why so many people develop high blood pressure as they get older. Roughly 70 per cent of women in their 60s and 70s have this condition.
As women age, plaque buildup in the arteries can lead to heart disease. Women are typically diagnosed with heart disease later in life than men. They’re also less likely to suffer a heart attack, but it’s still a major health concern, especially for women in their 60s.
Women with heart failure also have a 25 per cent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a condition characterized by rapid and irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart.
Strokes can happen at any age, but data shows that the risk of stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55.
Women are disproportionately affected by strokes. Lower estrogen levels may play a role in the cholesterol buildup that can lead to a stroke. In Canada, 45 per cent more women die of a stroke than men.
Biggest health concerns for women who are 70+
Hearing loss affects nearly everyone who reaches age 70. In Canada, 94 per cent of people in their 70s reported hearing loss, with another 31 per cent experiencing tinnitus. Hearing loss often occurs as a gradual and natural part of the aging process, but it can also be caused by long-term medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
A gradual loss of visual acuity can be a normal part of aging, but it’s not the only vision problem that may arise in your 70s. Cataracts, or a clouding in the lens of the eye, affect nearly half of all people in their 70s. In the next decade, that number goes up to 68 per cent. If left untreated, cataracts can interfere with vision and even lead to vision loss.
Several conditions, including Alzheimer’s, can cause memory loss in older women. Memory loss and dementia may begin gradually, but over time it can completely impair memory and thinking skills. While there are some factors like age and heredity that you can’t control, experts suggest that a healthy, balanced lifestyle can help.