Five medical conditions that affect more women than men

... and what you can do to lower your risk


ShutterstockYou might know that some conditions affect more women than men, such as osteoporisis and breast cancer, but did you know that women are at far greater risk of anxiety, dementia, stroke and gallstones? Read on to discover five diseases that affect more women than men...

See also: Nine ways to reduce your risk of dementia

See also: A guide to fibromyalgia: symptoms and treatments

1. Dementia
The leading cause of death for females in the UK is dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Not only are women at greater risk from dementia than men, they also decline at a far faster rate.

Scientists in America say that women aged 65 have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer's disease compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men. In addition, researchers have found that women suffering from mild cognitive impairment, a forerunner to dementia, go downhill twice as quickly as men.

Medical experts are still trying to find out the cause of the gender disparity. What scientists do know, is that staying physically active and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains, can significantly lower your risk.

2. Fibromyalgia
Around 1.7 million people in the UK suffer with fibromyalgia – a condition which causes widespread pain, muscle stiffness and fatigue – and 80% of those diagnosed are women. Those who have other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are also at greater risk.

In addition to muscle pain, stiffness and fatigue, fibromyalgia can cause sensitivity to bright light, smells, noises, smoke and certain foods.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but painkillers and muscle relaxants can help to relieve the symptoms. Many people find that low-impact exercises, such as swimming, cycling and yoga help, as can complementary therapies such as acupuncture and massage.

3. Thyroid disease
Your thyroid—a small gland in your neck—has a huge impact on your body. It produces hormones that affect your heart rate, body temperature and metabolism. While men can have thyroid problems, they are far more common in women.

In fact, hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones, is 10 times more common in women than men. And while both men and women can have an underactive thyroid, it affects 15 in every 1,000 women and only 1 in 1,000 men.

As the thyroid is responsible for controlling the metabolism, weight change is one of the main symptoms. Hyperthyroidism leads to weight gain, while an underactive thyroid results in weight loss. Treatment can involve taking daily hormone replacement tablets or surgery.

4. Stroke
A study from 2007 found that women aged between 45 and 54 were at a higher risk of having a stroke than men within the same age group. Not only that, but a separate study found that the risk of ischaemic stroke (caused by a blockage) is more likely to be inherited by women than by men. And those with a family history of stroke who had experienced a stroke, were two to three times more likely to be female than male, according to researchers.

Strokes can be fatal – they cause around 10% of deaths in women and 7% of deaths in men – and are the leading cause of adult disability in the UK.

High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, contributing to around half of all cases, so it's important to get your blood pressure checked regularly and keep your numbers in a healthy range, which may involve taking medication as well as making lifestyle changes.

5. Gallstones
Gallstones are small hard particles, usually made from cholesterol, that form inside the gallbladder. Though most people show no symptoms, gallstones can lead to discomfort and serious complications.

Women who are over 40, have had multiple pregnancies, are obese, or taking hormone replacement therapy, are more prone to them. You're also more likely to have gallstones if you suffer from digestive disorders such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

If you're in a high risk category and have pain in the right upper abdomen, make an appointment to see your GP. Gallstones can cause inflammation of the gallbladder, which can lead to infection and cause you to become seriously ill.

Reducing the amount of fatty, high-cholesterol foods in your diet and eating more high-fibre foods and fresh fruit and vegetables will help to lower your risk. If you are obese, its best to lose weight slowly with healthy eating and exercise, as rapid weight loss could increase your risk by disrupting the bile chemistry.