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York International Women’s Week 2014: Health and wellbeing all year round

The York International Women’s Week is once again enlivening the city this March. As the week long annual festival which offers an array of healing sessions, dance classes and techniques to manage change and understand anxiety gets well underway, NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is taking the opportunity to remind women in the city to be mindful of their health all year round.

Local GP and the CCG’s Clinical Lead for Women’s Health, Dr Emma Broughton, and the CCG’s Chief Nurse, Lucy Botting, are calling all women, no matter how busy and full their lives are, to put their health on the top of their list of priorities.

As women’s health needs change throughout the years, it is important to incorporate healthy behaviours into the daily routine, which in turn can help prevent and manage many conditions, making for a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Diet, Fitness and Weight Loss

Exercise can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

The NHS Choices weight loss guide (www.nhs.uk/Livewell/weight-loss-guide) promotes safe and sustainable weight loss, lessons on making healthier food choices, support from an online community and a range of exercise plans.

Dr Emma Broughton said: “Regular activity and a healthy weight helps to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers.

“Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“With spring well on its way, what better time to dust off your walking boots, get active and burn off those few extra winter pounds.”


Heart Disease

In the years following the menopause, your risk of getting heart disease rises significantly. As well as managing weight, eating healthily and cutting down salt and saturated fat intake, there are several other simple steps you can take to protect yourself.

1. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked

If you’re over 40, ask your GP about having a health check to assess your risk of developing heart disease. Your GP can suggest lifestyle changes or, if necessary, prescribe medication to reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol.

2. Stop smoking to protect your heart

You’re twice as likely to have a heart attack if you smoke. Over the past few decades, men have increasingly quit smoking but women haven’t been stopping smoking as much.

3. Drink moderately to help your heart

Drinking a little alcohol regularly may be good for your heart, but make sure you stay within the recommended limits. Heart healthy drinking for women is one or two units of alcohol a day.

4. Manage your stress

Some studies have suggested that stress can contribute to heart disease. If you feel under a lot of stress, it's important to learn how to relax. There are some simple techniques you can learn to help you cope with stress. If you feel so stressed and anxious that it's affecting your daily life, your GP can help you deal with it.


Mental Health

If you are experiencing mental health problems, then you're not alone. One in four of us will have problems with our mental health at some time in our lives.

Dr Emma Broughton said: “Usually the first step to getting help if you feel you are having problems with your mental health is to visit your GP surgery.
“Before an appointment, it can be helpful to write down a list of things you’d like to ask or discuss with the GP. This could be writing down a list of symptoms or perhaps side effects from medication.”

If you don’t want to talk to your GP, there are a number of organisations that you can ring for confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair or for people living with mental illness:

Samaritans – phone: 08457 90 90 90 (24-hour helpline)
Sane – phone: 0845 767 8000 (daily, 6pm-11pm)
Mind – phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
Rethink mental illness – phone: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm)


Breast and Cervical Cancer and Screening

Regular breast screening and cervical screening (also known as the smear test) is extremely important – breast screening is estimated to save around 1,300 lives a year and cervical screening a staggering 4,300 lives.

The CCG’s Chief Nurse, Lucy Botting said: “Should you have any concerns, it is important that you contact your GP straight away. A trip to your doctor's surgery could save your life.

“Early diagnosis means treatment is more likely to be successful. You're not wasting anyone's time and it's much better to be sure, if only to put your mind at rest.

“If you, a friend or a relative says they have any possible symptoms, insist they see their doctor.”

Possible signs of breast cancer include a lump in your breast or armpit, nipple changes, changes to the skin of your breast, changes in the shape or size of your breast and pain in your breast or armpit.

Possible signs of cervical cancer include abnormal or post-menopausal bleeding, unusual discharge, discomfort or pain during sex and lower back pain.


Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can leave victims and families frightened and feeling trapped in the situation. Victims of abuse are often isolated from their friends and family and those who aren’t often feel unable to confide in friends about what is happening.

Domestic abuse includes physical violence, sexual assault, emotional and psychological abuse, and financial abuse. It also includes the threat of violence, destruction of property, isolation from family and friends, control over access to money, personal items, food, and the telephone.

The CCG’s Chief Nurse, Lucy Botting said: “Many victims of domestic abuse find it very hard to tell anyone about what is happening to them. There are a number of local and national organisations that provide vital and confidential support to victims.”

• To report an incident of domestic abuse call North Yorkshire police 101
• If you have a speech or hearing impairment you can use Textphone 18001 101
• In an emergency or if your safety is threatened, always call the police on 999
• For confidential help and advice contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247


Pregnancy

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow, and will keep you fit and well. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully.

Stopping smoking will benefit both you and your baby immediately. It's never too late to stop smoking. Every cigarette you smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals which can restrict the essential oxygen supply to your baby, so their heart has to beat harder every time you smoke.

The CCG encourages smokers in the Vale of York to ditch the nicotine habit – especially if they are due to have hospital treatment or an operation; a time when it is even more important to give up cigarettes for good.

Dr Emma Broughton said: “Patients that smoke and have surgery are at the greatest risk of complications during or after an operation. These include potentially serious complications that can affect the lungs or heart as well as problems related to the general anesthetic which is vital in the majority of surgical procedures. Fighting infection is also more difficult for a smoker.”

Nicotine is highly addictive but with help and support more and more people are finding it easier to stop. Because we are all different, some people will prefer one way to stop smoking as opposed to another.

Your GP can help in lots of different ways to go smoke free including Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) sprays, gum and patches to manage withdrawal and prescription medicines such as Zyban and Champix.

Vaccinations against whooping cough are available to women when they are 28-38 weeks pregnant to help protect their babies against whooping cough.

For all this information explained and more see your GP or midwife. Your GP surgery or local Children’s Centre can put you in touch with your nearest midwifery service.


Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby. Exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months (26 weeks) of your baby's life. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside other food will help them continue to grow and develop.

Occasionally, there are clinical reasons for not breastfeeding. For example, if you have HIV or, in rare cases, you're taking certain types of medication that may harm your baby. If you’re not sure whether you should breastfeed your baby, speak to your midwife or health visitor for information and support. Alternatively, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.


Menopause

The menopause, also known as the 'change of life' is the end of menstruation. This means a woman's ovaries stop producing an egg every four weeks. She will no longer have a monthly period or be able to have children.

In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 52, although women can experience the menopause in their 30s or 40s.

Dr Emma Broughton said: “You should speak to your GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you.

“Although there is no definitive test to diagnose the menopause, a blood test to measure hormone levels may sometimes be recommended.

“Many women find that making changes to their lifestyle and diet helps improve menopausal symptoms. Taking regular exercise, reducing stress levels and avoiding certain foods can help reduce hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings.”

For more information on any of the above please contact your GP surgery or refer to the NHS Choices website (www.nhs.uk) which hosts a wealth of information and advice on all of the topics covered.

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