Over the years, Usha Sriram, a senior city-based endocrinologist, has seen an increasing number of young women becoming susceptible to non-communicable diseases. Diabetes, hypertension, weight issues and mental illnesses, she says, seem to be more common now than they were a few decades ago. “Women these days are balancing careers and traditional roles and high levels of stress, lack of sleep and social isolation are increasing,” she said.
One important condition that needs combating, Dr. Sriram said, is gestational diabetes. “In the 1980s, two to four per cent of pregnant women had gestational diabetes. Now, it’s between 16 and 20 per cent. One out of six pregnant women could potentially have gestational diabetes,” she said. The Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group in India (DIPSI) has also declared March 10 as Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Day for the first time, she said.
With gestational diabetes, the risks of an overweight baby are higher. Research has also shown that if the baby is a girl, then she is at risk of gestational diabetes, making it a multi-generational problem, Dr. Sriram said. In addition, about half of the women who develop gestational diabetes go on to have diabetes in the following five to ten years, she said.
And so, to create more awareness and to help reduce risks for women and babies, Dr. Sriram has founded Diabetes in Women Worldwide Awareness Advocacy Action Strategies, an organisation that has a vision of women and girls living long, healthy, productive lives, free of diabetes and its complications. “By addressing diabetes, most other non-communicable diseases will be tackled too,” she said.
An initiative of the organisation is ‘Fit to be Mom’, a checklist of conditions, issues and reminders for every woman to be and stay healthy.
“The health of a woman is vital to having a healthy baby. But our checklist doesn’t apply just to mothers or mothers to be. It applies to every young woman. The goal is to get yourself in good shape, stay physically active and optimise nutrition,” she said.
The list, in alphabetical order, has notes on conditions from anaemia to blood pressure and domestic violence to Vitamin D deficiency. The idea, said Dr. Sriram, is to ensure that every stage of a woman’s life is programmed towards being healthy — a life course approach. “The checklist is something every woman can follow and keep checking on,” she said.
Other doctors too concur that rising stress levels as well as other factors are leading to a number of health complications in women. Sumana Manohar, consultant gynaecologist at Apollo Hospitals, said rising stress levels were primarily seen among two groups of women — young women who work long hours, especially those in the IT sector and middle aged women who multitasked — looking after the needs of their own families and their ageing parents. “High levels of stress can contribute to infertility, menstrual irregularities, bad eating habits and vitamin deficiencies, cancers and even affect pregnancy outcomes — earlier deliveries and smaller babies. The first thing we tell our patients to do is relax,” she said.
Over the last decade or so, there has been a definite increase in the number of women with heart ailments, said K. Kannan, head of cardiology, Government Stanley Hospital. “Among women who are working, stress in the workplace and taking care of the family are factors, while among women who are not, sedentary lifestyles and bad food habits are risk factors,” he said. Increasing number of women who are overweight and the rise in diabetes and hypertension are also contributing, he said.
(Except the title PHAF Team did not change the body of article. It is as it is published on The Hindu)