In honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’ve broken down eight of the most common myths surrounding women’s health.
Myth 1: Heart disease mostly affects men
Many people believe that heart disease is a ‘man’s disease’, just as breast cancer is a ‘woman’s disease’. But the truth is, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in women – not just in Singapore, but around the entire world.
“Between the ages of 45 – 64, one in nine women develop symptoms of some form of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr Ooi Yau Wei, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. “After age 65, it is one in three women, according to the US National Center for Health Statistics.”
More fatal than all the cancers combined, heart disease was responsible for nearly 30% of all female deaths in Singapore in 2016. According to a survey by Singapore Heart Foundation last year, only 10% of women in Singapore are aware of this fact.
It’s scary, but it’s important to know, because heart disease can often be prevented by:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet
According to Dr Ooi, the symptoms of heart disease include chest tightness or heaviness over the chest wall, jaw discomfort, breathlessness, heart palpitations, and increased fatigue and dizziness when performing physical exercise.
On average, women are around ten years older than men when they are first diagnosed with heart disease. The risk of having a heart attack also increases after menopause. But whatever your age, you should learn to recognise – and never ignore – its symptoms. If you are at all concerned, consult your doctor.
Myth 2: Wearing a wired bra can increase your risk of breast cancer
This myth has been circulating for many years. But when scientists investigated the link, they couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that wearing wired bras increases your risk of breast cancer.
Some people believe that a bra’s metal underwires restrict the movement of bodily fluids (also known as ‘lymphatic drainage’), which eventually turns them ‘toxic’. The truth is, bodily fluids travel upwards and towards from the armpits. The bra you choose to wear will not restrict their flow or cause you any internal damage.
Instead, breast cancer risk factors are associated with your hormones, how old you are, the age you have your first child, breastfeeding, as well as your family history. Speaking to your doctor may help to clarify your risk of developing breast cancer.
Remember to check yourself at least once a month! You can do this visually and physically. Using the pads of your fingers, move around each breast from the outside to the centre, as well as under each armpit, feeling for lumps, knots or any other unexpected changes. Visually, look for swelling, dimpling, puckering or any changes in the contour of your breast.
If you find anything unusual, speak to your doctor.
Myth 3: You can’t get pregnant during your period
If you’re trying for a baby – or trying to avoid having one – it’s important to know that having sex during your period does not automatically mean you can’t get pregnant.
The typical female menstruation cycle is 28 days long. For many women, their period starts on day one, and ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg for fertilisation) occurs around day 14.
However, the day of ovulation varies widely depending on a woman’s individual cycle. You could ovulate on day 12 of a 28-day cycle, or day 21 of a 35-day cycle.
Plus, sperm can live inside your body for up to 72 hours (three days), which means having sex during this timeframe doesn’t guarantee your egg won’t be fertilised.
The likelihood is low, but you can never be 100% sure that you won’t get pregnant during your period. You should always practise safe sex (unless, of course, you are trying to have a baby!).
For more information about family planning, speak to your doctor.
Myth 4: Women can’t get kidney stones
Kidney stones are calcified material that form inside the kidney and can travel down the urinary tract. According to Dr Chin Chong Min, urologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, they are about three times more common in men. However, women can and do get kidney stones – and passing them out of your system can be very painful!
Men are more likely to get kidney stones from the age of about 40 onwards. Women don’t usually develop them until later in life, from their 50s onwards. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get them before this point in your life. “Kidney stones can occasionally occur in those as young as 30 years old,” says Dr Chin.
The best way to avoid getting kidney stones is to drink plenty of water. Diet can also be a factor – according to Dr Chin, there are many foods that could increase your risk of kidney stones when eaten in excess, such as chocolate, peanuts and soybeans.
Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about kidney stones, or if you experience any of the common symptoms, like back pain, pain when you urinate or blood in your urine.
Myth 5: Morning sickness only happens in the morning
Are you, or is someone you love pregnant? Morning sickness is common in the first few months of pregnancy. This may make you feel nauseous, or even cause you to vomit. But despite its name, morning sickness can actually occur at any time of day!
Not every expectant mother will have morning sickness. Truthfully, doctors aren’t 100% sure why some women experience it and others don’t. Increased hormone levels in the first few weeks of pregnancy is thought to be a contributing factor. Other factors that may make it worse include:
Having twins or triplets
No one really seems to know why morning sickness is called morning sickness, apart from that it usually occurs earlier in the day. Most of the time, it is totally harmless to you and your baby. If you experience it, drink plenty of water, eat small meals and nap when you need to.
Myth 6: Eating fat makes you fat
How many times have you reached for a ‘low-fat’ treat when you’re trying to be healthy? We’re often led to believe that eating any food with fat in it is bad for us, when in fact, the opposite is true!
Your body needs fat to survive. You use it for energy, warmth, and to absorb vitamins. Healthy fats – like monounsaturated fats in nuts and vegetable oils – help to improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Avocado, cod, salmon, tuna, eggs, nuts and seeds are all healthy sources of fat.
Instead of avoiding all fat, avoid foods that are high in trans-fat or saturated fat, like doughnuts, pastries, biscuits, cookies, regular cheese, fatty meat, poultry skin and processed meat.
Myth 7: Only young girls need the HPV vaccine
Cervical cancer is the tenth most common cancer in Singapore. It is usually caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted via sex.
There are over 100 different strains of HPV, but only 15 of these are known to cause cancer by triggering the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix.
The HPV vaccine, while not compulsory in Singapore, is designed to protect you from two of these HPV strains, which account for 70 – 80% of all cervical cancer cases.
Many women think the vaccine is only for young girls, but the truth is, you can encounter HPV at any age. By getting the vaccine, you reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by 70 – 80%. Speak to your doctor to find out more.
Myth 8: Drinking cold water is bad for you
This is one your parents or grandparents may have told you! In traditional Chinese medicine, cold water on a hot day is a big no-no, as it is thought to irritate your stomach and be bad for your digestion.
However, scientific studies have shown that drinking cold water on a hot day or during exercise helps you to stay hydrated and prevent your body from overheating. In addition, drinking a cold isotonic drink can help you to replenish essential body salts lost through your sweat after a long session of vigorous exercise.
Ultimately, it is still much better for your body to drink water – hot or cold – than it is to consume sugary drinks. With no concrete evidence to prove that cold water is bad for you, it’s up to you to decide what temperature you like best.
This article was first published on Mount Elizabeth Health Plus. Article reviewed by Dr Ooi Yau Wei, cardiologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Dr Chin Chong Min, urologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Dr Tan Yah Yuen, breast surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Cynthia Kew, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Lee Yee Hong, senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital