This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Check with a qualified medical professional before engaging in 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 gender can play a vital role in health and aging. Women may be at a higher risk of developing certain conditions. Some common health problems can also affect women differently than men.
Knowing women’s most common health concerns — and how these concerns change over the years — can help you 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 is one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially in women. Sun damage in your 20s can increase your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
You can protect yourself early on by avoiding overexposure to the sun or wearing sunscreen. Experts also recommend checking your skin for unusual spots and seeing a dermatologist regularly for exams.
Suicide is a serious problem for young people in their twenties. In Canada, suicide accounts for 25 percent of all deaths between the ages of 15 and 24. While young men are more likely to die from suicide, women are two to three times more likely to attempt.
Young adults in their 20s are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems. More than 13 percent of Canadians in their 20s reported that their mental health was fair to poor.
Smoking and drinking
Although smoking rates among young people have declined, it remains the leading cause of premature death in Canada. Between 2009 and 2016, deaths from alcohol abuse rose 10.5 percent per year among people aged 25 to 34.
The smoking and drinking habits you formed in your 20s can affect you later in life. Quitting smoking before age 30 can reduce the risk of lung cancer mortality by more than 90 percent. Heavy alcohol use in your 20s can also play a role in developing problems such as cancer and liver disease.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 30s
Pregnancy related problems
In your 30s, your fertility may decrease, making it more difficult to conceive. Women over the age of 35 are also at higher risk for pregnancy-related health problems and miscarriage. Some of the most common pregnancy problems are:
As we age, metabolism naturally slows down. Women in their thirties may experience weight gain or difficulty losing weight. While not necessarily a sign of a health problem, excessive weight gain can contribute to problems like heart disease, diabetes, and infertility problems.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STDs)
Between 1998 and 2015, the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases in Canada increased from 39,372 to 116,499 annual cases. Experts say women are at higher risk for STIs like chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea.
If left untreated, STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility and ectopic pregnancy. Women are less likely than men to have symptoms, so it’s important to get tested regularly 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 for osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones. About 80 percent of people 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, the way it changes your body has been linked to other health issues.
After menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen. Lower estrogen levels can lead to a higher risk of other health problems. For example, a lack of estrogen can 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 cancer
Women in their 40s are also at higher risk for certain cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer.
Screening measures for ovarian cancer include a pelvic transvaginal ultrasound, blood tests, and CT scans. For breast cancer, national Canadian guidelines recommend mammograms starting at age 50, although women may choose to start earlier as a preventive measure. The risks of exposure to radiation from mammograms are low, but some women may experience psychological distress from false-positive findings.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 50s
With 88 percent of colon cancer cases developing in people age 50 and older, it’s important to start screening for colon cancer in your 50s. This will help you catch it early and increase your chances of getting effective treatment.
Almost half of women over 50 suffer from 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 leakage of urine when laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercising.
Anxiety and depression
Mental health problems can affect all ages. For some people, anxiety and depression can flare up later in life. In a 2020 survey, 9 percent of Canadians in their 50s said their mental health was fair or poor. That is an increase of almost 3 percent compared to 2015.
Biggest health concerns for women in their 60s
As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible, putting pressure on the arteries that deliver blood throughout the body. That’s why so many people develop high blood pressure as they age. About 70 percent of women in their sixties and seventies 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 have 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 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a condition characterized by a fast and irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart.
Strokes can occur 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 buildup of cholesterol that can lead to stroke. In Canada, 45 percent more women die of a stroke than men.
Biggest health concerns for women aged 70+
Hearing loss affects almost everyone who reaches the age of 70. In Canada, 94 percent of people in their 70s reported hearing loss, while another 31 percent experienced 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 such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
A gradual loss of visual acuity may be a normal part of aging, but it’s not the only vision problem that can arise in your 70s. Cataracts, or a clouding of the lens of the eye, affect nearly half of all people in their 70s. In the next decade, that number rises to 68 percent. If left untreated, cataracts can impair vision and even lead to vision loss.
Several conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, can cause memory loss in older women. Memory loss and dementia can start gradually, but over time memory and thinking ability can be completely impaired. While there are some factors, such as age and heredity, that you can’t control, experts suggest that a healthy, balanced lifestyle can help.