There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
What can women do to promote a healthy pregnancy and birth?
Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy and birth. Before a woman gets pregnant, a pre-pregnancy care visit can help her take steps for a safe and healthy pregnancy. This is important because early fetal development occurs often before women even know they are pregnant. Certain behaviors, such as exposure to tobacco smoke and drinking alcohol, can increase the risk for complications, while other behaviors, like taking the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, can reduce the risk for neural tube defects, like spina bifida, by two-thirds.1
During pregnancy, a woman's prenatal care visits will include education and counseling about how to handle different aspects of pregnancy, the importance of good nutrition and physical activity, and what to expect during labor.
What health screenings are important for women?
- Breast cancer screening. A mammogram (X-ray of the breast) is recommended for all women beginning at age 50, or earlier if a woman has a family history of breast cancer. Screening is recommended every 2 years.
- Cervical cancer screening. Screening for cervical cancer should include a Pap test, a screening performed during a pelvic exam that checks for changes in the cells of the cervix, and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test, which finds certain infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer. The American Cancer Society website outlines the cervical screening recommendations for specific age groups .
- Osteoporosis screening. A bone mineral density test should begin at age 65 or earlier if a woman is at risk for osteoporosis. Risk factors include older age (post-menopause), a family history, low body weight or a small, thin frame, a history of broken bones, a lack of calcium and vitamin D, smoking, an inactive lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, and drinking too much alcohol.
The screenings listed above are just a few of the many tests that women should seek throughout their lives. Some screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks and colonoscopies (to screen for colon cancer) are important for both men and women. Other screenings, such as tests conducted during pregnancy at regular prenatal visits, help protect the health, and could even save the lives, of the mother and her fetus as well as prevent complications during pregnancy and beyond.
What unique challenges do women with disabilities face?
Millions of American women have a disability, including physical, learning, and intellectual and developmental disabilities.4 The challenges faced by women with disabilities increase as they age and their abilities become increasingly limited. Some of the challenges faced by women with disabilities include:
- Barriers to health care services, including a lack of knowledge among health care providers about disabilities.3
- Younger women with disabilities are often less likely to seek health care.5
- Increased risk for health issues such as depression, stress, being overweight, and high blood pressure5
- Decreased levels of physical activity6
- Fewer opportunities to be screened for cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol, osteoporosis, and sexually transmitted diseases and infections5
- Additional challenges faced during pregnancy, including a lack of health care providers who are familiar with managing pregnancy in women with disabilities and increased discomfort and health complications as the pregnancy advances7
- This Disability and Health special issue describes the latest research on sexual and reproductive health in women with disabilities.