Lesbian and Bisexual Women
All women have specific health risks, and can take steps toimprove their health through regular medical care and healthy living.
Research tells us that lesbian and bisexual women are at a higher risk for certain problems than other women are, though. It is important for lesbian and bisexual women to talk to their doctors about their health concerns, which include:
- Heart disease. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all women. The more risk factors you have, the greater the chance that you will develop heart disease. There are some risk factors that you cannot control, such as age, family health history, and race. But you can protect yourself from heart disease by not smoking, controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol,exercising, and eating well. These things also help prevent type 2 diabetes, aleading cause of heart disease. Lesbians and bisexual women have a higher rate of obesity, smoking, and stress. All of these are risk factors for heart disease. As such, lesbians and bisexual women should talk with their doctors about how to prevent heart disease.
- Cancer. The most common cancers for all women are breast, lung, colon, uterine, and ovarian. Several factors put lesbian and bisexual women at higher risk for developing some cancers. Lesbians are less likely than heterosexual women to have had a full-term pregnancy. Hormones released duringpregnancy and breastfeeding are thought to protect women against breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely to get routine screenings, such as a Pap test, which can prevent or detectcervical cancer. The viruses that cause most cervical cancer can be sexually transmitted between women. Bisexual women, who may be less likely than lesbians to have health insurance, are even more likely to skip these tests. Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than other women to get routine mammograms and clinical breast exams. This may be due to lesbians' and bisexuals' lack of health insurance, fear of discrimination, or bad experiences with health care professionals. Failure to get these tests lowers women's chances of catching cancer early enough for treatments to work. Lesbians are more likely to smoke than heterosexual women are, and bisexual women are the most likely to smoke.This increases the risk for lung cancer in all women who have sex with women.
- Depression and anxiety. Many factors cause depression andanxiety among all women. However, lesbian and bisexual women report higher rates of depression and anxiety than other women do. Bisexual women are evenmore likely than lesbians to have had a mood or anxiety disorder. Depression and anxiety in lesbian and bisexual women may be due to social stigma, rejection by family members, abuse and violence, unfair treatment in the legal system, stress from hiding some or all parts of one's life or lack of health insurance. Lesbiansa nd bisexuals often feel they have to hide their sexual orientation from family, friends, and employers. Bisexual women may feel even more alone because they don't feel included in either the heterosexual community or the gay and lesbian community. Lesbians and bisexuals can also be victims of hate crimes and violence. Discrimination against these groups does exist, and can lead to depression and anxiety. Women can reach out to their doctors, mental health professionals, and area support groups for help dealing with depression oranxiety. These conditions are treatable, and with help, women can overcome them.
What can lesbian and bisexual women do to protect their health?
- Find a primary care provider and get regular check-ups.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about screening tests you may need. You need regular preventive screenings to stay healthy. Lesbian and bisexual women need all the same tests that heterosexual women do. Learn more about what tests you need, based on your age such as cancer screening for cervical, breast, colon and lung cancer (Pap/HPV, mammography, colonoscopy, lung CT, others), diabetes, cholesterol, etc.
- Practice safer sex. Get tested for STIs before starting asexual relationship. If you are unsure about a partner's status, practice methods to reduce the chances of sharing vaginal fluid, semen, or blood. If you have sex with men, use a condom every time. You should also use condoms on sex toys. Oral sex with men or with women can also spread STIs, including, rarely, HIV. HIV can potentially be passed through a mucous membrane (such as the mouth) by vaginal fluids or blood, especially if the membrane is torn or cut.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Your diet should include a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods give you energy, plus vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Reduce the amount of sodium you eat to lessthan 2,300 mg per day.
- Drink moderately. If you drink alcohol, don't have more than one drink per day. Too much alcohol raises blood pressure and can increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, many cancers, and other problems.
- Get moving. An active lifestyle can help any woman. You will benefit most from about 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. More physical activity means additional health and fitness benefits. On two or more days every week, adults should engage in muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights or doing squats or push-ups.
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, try to quit. Learn more about how to stop smoking. Avoid second hand smoke as much as you can.
- Try different things to deal with your stress. Stress from discrimination and from loneliness is hard for every lesbian and bisexual woman. Relax using deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and massage therapy. You can also take a few minutes to sit and listen to soft music or read a book. Talk to your friends or get help from a mental health professional if you need it.
- Get help for domestic violence.
- Build strong bones. Take steps to help build strong bonesand prevent osteoporosis.
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