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Women's Health

There are many things that can impact on a female’s wellbeing and longevity. Of course women are all individual people as well with different lifestyle choices. But generally, a higher proportion of women than men (globally);

  • Are more likely to take on the main role for caring for their children, the disabled and disadvantaged, their parents and their spouses. They therefore become time poor, experience more emotional stress, worry and anxiety
  • Feel responsible for ensuring their loved one’s happiness above their own needs. They are also less likely to consider their own health if they are caring for someone else’s health issues
  • Have their own unique sexual and reproductive health issues – some more than others
  • Although menopause is part of a natural ageing process it can also bring on negative effects to the body as anabolic hormone levels decrease. This can have an even greater impact if a women experiences early menopause
  • On a more positive note, women are more likely to seek medical assistance if they perceive themselves as unwell

The take home message for you, at this moment, is to recognise that your gender and the lifestyle choices you make either because of it or despite it, will all impact on your health and wellbeing.


Take the time to look through all the topics listed in the ‘Your Health and Wellbeing‘ section of ita-V. Find ways of getting back in tune with your body and recognise the signs and symptoms that may indicate ill health so that you can receive treatment (or peace of mind) from the outset. Seeking medical advice from the onset of symptoms equates to better short and long term outcomes.

If you believe there is something wrong because your health has changed but feel you are not taken seriously by your GP, get a second opinion.

You may also like to find other ways to educate yourself on your health and wellbeing needs. This section is not a comprehensive insight to all women’s health issues. The main aim is to help you to recognise the signs and symptoms of the 10 most common preventable chronic health conditions that can lead women to premature death.

A list of more general women’s health resources will be provided at the end of this section. For non-gender specific health issues and chronic disease prevention, please return to ‘Your Health and Wellbeing‘.


The following information will provide a summary of each condition as well as the risk factors, signs and symptoms to enable you to confidently speak to your GP as soon as you experience any changes to your health. The relevant resources of which the information was sourced will be provided throughout the text and also at the end of each topic for further information and support.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the leading causes of death for women in 2015 were:

  1. Ischaemic heart diseases
  2. Dementia and Alzheimer disease
  3. Cerebrovascular diseases
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases
  5. Cancer of trachea, bronchus, lung
  6. Malignant neoplasm of breast
  7. Diabetes mellitus
  8. Colon cancer
  9. Heart failure
  10. Diseases of urinary system

Ischaemic Heart Diseases

Ischaemic Heart Disease is a term given to many heart problems caused by narrowed and clogged heart arteries. When arteries are narrowed, less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle. This is also called coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease and is the most common cause of Angina and heart attacks. The Heart Foundation report that Heart Disease in women is often described as under-recognised, under treated and under researched.

“Heart Disease is however the leading cause of death in Australian women claiming the life of three times as many women as breast cancer and yet awareness of this is low”.

The majority of people who die of ischaemic heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely to die from them than men.

Modifiable risk factors:

  • Smoking
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Depression
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Diabetes

Other contributing factors may include stress, alcohol consumption, diet and nutrition.


The Heart Foundation Australia report that Angina is caused by coronary heart disease, when fatty material called plaque build-up in your coronary arteries, making them become narrow. This reduces the blood flow to your heart and sometimes it may not get as much blood as it needs.

There are two types

  1. Stable Angina (chest pain that occurs during physical activity or extreme emotion)
  2. Unstable Angina (chest pain that occurs suddenly and becomes worse over time – with no apparent cause). You may be resting or even asleep

Angina causes pain and discomfort – people describe it as a tight, gripping or squeezing sensation and can vary from mild to severe. The Heart Foundation report you may feel angina symptoms in many different ways, for example;

  • In the centre of your chest
  • Spreading to your back, neck or jaw. Or to one or both shoulders, arms or hands
  • In other parts of your body but not in your chest
  • More of an unpleasant feeling than pain in your chest, or feeling short of breath
  • Early in the morning, or when resting or even sleeping
  • In cold weather
  • After a heavy meal
  • After physical activity

Please speak to your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Angina is not a heart attack, but it is an indicator that you are at a higher risk of having a heart attack. The risk of having a heart attack increases for those who have angina. Immediate medical attention and lifestyle changes can prevent or prolong a heart attack from happening.


A heart attack (also referred as a myocardial Infarction (MI)), occurs when a blood clot completely blocks the flow of blood to the heart muscle. As a result, some of the heart muscle starts to die. The longer the blockage is left untreated, the more the heart muscle is damaged. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the damage to the heart muscle is permanent. That is why if you, or someone you are with, suspect you/they are experiencing a heart attack you need to call an ambulance (000) immediately to prevent risk of permanent damage.

Symptoms may include:

  • Discomfort or pain in your chest (heaviness, tightness or pressure – sometimes like ‘bad indigestion”. NB: Often women don’t experience this pain as severe as you may have thought that you should if having a heart attack
  • Discomfort in your arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back
  • A choking feeling in your throat
  • A feeling of heavy or useless arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • A cold sweat
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • A feeling of being generally unwell or ‘not quite right’
  • Unusual or severe fatigue lasting several days
Symptoms can come on suddenly or develop over minutes and get progressively worse. They usually last for at least 10 minutes.


As you can see the symptoms of angina and a heart attack are similar but with angina symptoms should ease within a short period of rest or after angina medication prescribed by your doctor. If your symptoms do not ease after a 10 minutes – ring emergency 000 straight away.

If your symptoms do ease after 10 minutes, make an appointment to see your GP straight away.


If you think someone is having a heart attack, look for the four Ps:

  1. Pain – a continuous pain in the chest, which could spread to the jaw, neck or arms
  2. Pale skin
  3. Rapid and weak pulse
  4. Perspiration/sweating
What you need to do
  1. Tell the person to stop what they were doing immediately and get them in a comfortable position
  2. The best position is on the floor leaning against a wall with knees bent and head and shoulders supported. This should ease the pressure on their heart and stop them hurting themselves if they collapse
  3. Call 000 and don’t hang up. Wait for advice from the operator
  4. Get the person to talk to you – ask how they are feeling – ask if they take angina medication prescribed by their doctor
  5. If they take angina medication give one regular dose and wait 5 minutes. If symptoms persist give another regular dose. If symptoms get more severe or rapid or have lasted more than 10 minutes it is a medical emergency – make sure an ambulance is on its way
  6. Be aware that they may develop shock. Shock does not mean emotional shock, but is a life-threatening condition, which can be brought on by a heart attack
  7. Keep them warm
  8. Keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response until the ambulance arrives
  9. If they lose responsiveness at any point, open their airway, check their breathing, and prepare to treat someone who has become unresponsive. You may need to do CPR

Download the Heart Attack Action Plan from the Australian Heart Foundation and CPR guide from Healthy WA. Or copy off the CPR Chart from St. Johns Ambulance:

Information, Resources and References

Dementia and Alzheimers Disease

Dementia Australia provide excellent education, information, resources and support for people with dementia and their carers. The following summary is based from this information and other relevant resources which are listed below.

In 2016, dementia was the second highest cause of death among Australian women (Ischemic Heart Disease being the first). Now according to a media release from Dementia Australia (27/9/17), dementia has now becoming the leading cause of death for Australian Women. What hasn’t changed is that more women die from dementia complications than men. One explanation for this is that women tend to live longer than men. Click on ‘media release’ if you would like to read the whole article.


Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia is not a disease. But there are over 100 diseases that may cause dementia.

The Four most common causes of dementia include:

  1. Alzheimer’s disease
  2. Vascular dementia
  3. Dementia with Lewy bodies
  4. Fronto-Temporal dementia

The majority of dementias are progressive, which means there is no cure and that symptoms will increase as the dementia progresses. This is why it is important to educate yourself on the early warning signs and symptoms of dementia and speak to your doctor immediately if you start to experience symptoms, especially if they become persistent.

Early detection will allow for many more options to manage your specific diagnosis of dementia. It is also important to note that there are several conditions that present with the same symptoms as a dementia but are curable. So try not to be fearful and put off seeing your doctor.

Only a medical practitioner such as your local doctor or a specialist, such as a Geriatrician can appropriately test for and diagnose the diseases which are causing the dementia.

DEMENTIA – The Signs and Symptoms

Normal forgetfulness:
  • Don’t compare yourself to others to tell if your memory is ‘normal’. You may never have had a good memory for numbers or faces. You may never have had a good sense of direction. You may have always struggled to remember where you put your keys
  • Word find or recall can become a little slower as we age. Your attention processes and the ability to get new information in storage can also change for many reasons

Remember! pain, stress, depression, fatigue, illness and decreased hearing can all affect your attention processes

  • Research also suggests that immediate memory and a lifetime memory do not change as we get older. Dementia is NOT a normal ageing process
  • Normal forgetfulness is occasional, dementia is persistent and progressive, not just occasional. Dementia symptoms also affect more than just your memory
Common Signs of Dementia:

Memory loss that disrupts daily life

  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks at home or leisure
  • Confusion about time and place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, i.e. difficulty reading, judging distances
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things, losing things, inability to retrace the steps
  • Decreased or poor judgement and decision making
  • Withdrawal from participating in normally enjoyed task or social activities
  • Changes in mood, personality and behaviour
  • Early signs of dementia are subtle and may not be immediately obvious, especially to outsiders. You may notice some changes but may put them down to something else, such as fatigue.
  • Symptoms can vary between people (this is because dementias can affect different areas of the brain)

Go to Warning Signs of Dementia to learn more.

If you feel that there has been a gradual shift in your thinking skills, no matter how subtle, speak to your GP. Remember, it may not be dementia related but will still need to be addressed.

Conditions that mimic symptoms of dementia:
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Delirium
  • Alcoholism
  • Infections such as a UTI (bladder infection)
  • Hormone disorders
  • Nutritional deficiencies and dehydration
  • Post-surgery with general anaesthesia (POCD) can last from a few weeks to a few months)
  • Brain tumours
Are you or someone you know experiencing changes in memory or thinking?

If so, schedule an appointment with your doctor – and sooner rather than later.

As you can see by the list of conditions that ‘mimic’ dementia symptoms, it is important that your doctor evaluates your overall health to identify the conditions/causes that may be affecting your thinking skills. Many of which are treatable.

The benefits of early detection of a dementia.
  • You will get a more accurate diagnosis as a complete medical and social history can be taken early in the disease process
  • You can voice your concerns with your doctor and specialists, answer any important questions he/she may ask and ask important questions of your own
  • You will get the maximum benefit from available treatments/medications – These treatments work best in the early on-set stages of dementia. They do not cure dementia but can slow down the progress and provide relief from symptoms. The benefit to you is that you maintain your level of independence for longer
  • Take advantage of the early stage dementia support groups and the resources available to you
  • Have time to reprioritise how to spend your time and focus on what is important to you
  • Maintain autonomy by pre-planning for what may come ahead, ensure that your affairs are in order and discuss your wishes and long-term care planning with family
  • Maintain your confidence. Knowing there is a reason for your forgetfulness or confusion can help you put strategies in place to make things easier and less stressful for you and not erode your self-esteem

Your doctor may refer you to a medical specialist such as a Geriatrician. A Geriatrician specialises in the care of older adults and Alzheimer’s disease.

A final note – Recent research suggests that hearing loss may increase risk of or the progression of a dementia. Thus, it is important to wear your hearing aids and for that matter your glasses if you have them. It is also important to have regular eye and hearing tests the older you get.

Not being able to see or hear when you are in your later years encourages stigma and misconceptions from others that you don’t understand what is going on around you. For example, if you are provided information from your doctor and do not follow those instructions (because you didn’t hear them or see them properly and did not let the doctor know), he will assume that you are confused or non-compliant.

Your doctor is not the only one who may misjudge you. Throughout your day you will come across many situations where it is in your best interest to hear and see what is going on around you. So please wear or use the visionary or auditory aids prescribed to you as much as possible. It is doubly important to wear them if you are being assessed for cognition such as a dementia.

Go to ‘Your Health and Wellbeing‘ for more information on dementia prevention and information on the sensory system, such as vision, hearing and touch.


Information, Resources and References

Cerebrovascular Diseases

Cerebrovascular disease is a term used to describe blood vessel disorders of the brain that restrict the flow of blood to certain areas of the brain. Common types of cerebrovascular disease include:

The two conditions that we are going to focus on are stroke and transient ischaemic attacks. You can click on the blue tabs above for more information on these and other types of cerebrovascular diseases.


A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of a person’s brain is cut off. Without blood, brain cells can be damaged or die. This damage can have different effects, depending on where it happens in the brain. It can affect the body and mobility, speech as well as how a person thinks and feels.

A stroke, also referred to as a Cerebral Vascular Accident (CVA) occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. Your brain cells rely on blood to provide essential oxygen and nutrients for optimal brain health and function. Without it, brain cells die and connections to other parts of the brain and body are lost.

There are two types of Stroke
  1. Ischemic – a blood clot forms in a blood vessel leading into the brain or within the brain itself.
  2. Haemorrhagic – a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures and blood leaks into the brain causing damage and tissue to die.

How significantly you are effected after a stroke is dependent on many things, including

  • How soon you were able to seek treatment
  • The type of stroke
  • Your general health pre-stroke
  • The part of the brain affected and the amount of tissue damaged

The Australian Stroke Foundation (ASF) report that more women than men are dying of stroke every year. ASF outline some of the reasons for this in a media release they released called – Stroke hits women hardest

In summary:

Other than their longer life expectancy, research shows women have an increased burden of major stroke risk factors including;

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Obesity

Stroke also increases the risk of dementia. This is particularly relevant to women, given their greater lifetime stroke risk. ‘An integrated health check is the best way for women to understand their risk of having a stroke by taking into account all of these risk factors, instead of each one individually’


Women may report symptoms not often associated with strokes in men. These can include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • General weakness

Because these symptoms are unique to women it may be difficult to immediately connect them to stroke. This can delay treatment, which may hinder recovery.

If you’re a woman and unsure whether your symptoms are that of a stroke, you should still call your local emergency services. Once paramedics arrive on the scene, they can assess your symptoms and begin treatment, if needed.

Odd behaviours, such as sudden drowsiness, can also indicate a stroke. Clinicians call these symptoms ‘altered mental status’. These symptoms include:

  • Unresponsiveness
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Sudden behavioural change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination

Learn how to recognise the signs of someone having a stroke.

It is important that as soon as you suspect you are, or someone you know is, having a stroke to call emergency 000. In the acute stages of stroke, the sooner the blood clot can be dissolved or the bleed stopped, the better outcomes for recovery and the less severe the effects to your function.

A search on the Stroke Society of Australia website show that the hospitals within the Newcastle region that have Acute Stroke Units and can administer the tPA drug used to break up clots for suitable patients include:

  • The John Hunter Hospital
  • The Mater Hospital

With the next closest stroke unit located at Gosford Hospital

Important – while you wait for the ambulance.
  • If the person is conscious lay them down on their side with their head slightly raised and supported
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink. Loosen any restrictive clothing that could cause breathing difficulties. If weakness is obvious in any limb, support it and avoid pulling on it when moving the person
  • If they are unconscious, check their breathing and pulse and put them on their side. If they do not have a pulse or are not breathing start CPR straight away

How to perform CPR – Chart

It is important that as soon as you suspect you or someone you know is having a stroke to call emergency 000. In the acute stages of stroke, the sooner the blood clot can be dissolved or the bleed stopped, the better outcomes for recovery and the less severe the effects to your function. According to the Brain Foundation, for thrombolysis treatments to work you must receive it within 4.5 hours of the onset of stroke and it is not suitable for all patients. Click here to read more:

A search on the Stroke Society of Australia website show that the hospitals within the Newcastle region that have Acute Stroke Units and can administer the tPA drug (Thrombolysis) used to break up clots for suitable patients include:

  • The John Hunter Hospital
  • The Mater Hospital
  • Gosford Hospital is the next closest


A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) happens when the blood supply to your brain is blocked temporarily. The signs are the same as for a stroke, but they disappear within a short time. Often, they are only present for a few minutes.

There can be other signs, such as:

  • Numbness, clumsiness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg on one or both sides
  • Dizziness (in particular ‘head spins’), loss of balance or an unexplained fall
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Headache, usually severe and sudden
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nausea or vomiting

A TIA is a warning that you may have a stroke in the future and is an opportunity to act to prevent this happening. With investigation and treatment, the risk of stroke following a TIA can be reduced by up to 80 percent. You must consult your doctor if you experience any symptoms of a TIA.

Information, Resources and References

Stroke Recovery Units NSW: The Stroke recovery units in Newcastle include the John Hunter Hospital, the Mater Hospital, and Belmont Private Hospital (Note, according to the Stroke Foundation – Belmont Hospital does not provide Thrombolysis treatment).

Stroke Recovery Association NSW – Stroke Club locations

Stroke Recovery Clubs are a meeting place for people to share their knowledge and experiences of Stroke. They provide an opportunity for group activities, speech practice, exercises, and outings. Clubs are an excellent source of companionship for all those affected by Stroke including family and carers. NEWCASTLE Meeting day/time: 1st Thursday of month 10am – 12 noon. For information about how to make contact – call 1300 650 594

Newcastle Conversation and Aphasia Group

Maitland Matters Coffee Group

Conservatorium Brainwaves Stroke Choir Newcastle

Find out what your stroke risk is

Preventing a Stroke

The Stroke Foundation also have extensive information fact sheets on Stroke Recovery Information:

EnableMe is a free online resource that brings together stroke information, videos, tools and conversation with other survivors and carers.

Call Strokeline to talk to a health professional for free information and advice. 1800 787 653.

Stroke Recovery Association of NSW provides a wealth of information about what happens after stroke, the health team and the treatments as well as stroke recovery support groups.

Brain Foundation

Vascular Dementia Fact Sheet


Chronic Respiratory Diseases

Chronic respiratory diseases are chronic diseases of the airways and other parts of the lung. Some of the most common include:

According the Australian Lung Foundation, women have a higher incidence of lower chronic respiratory diseases (CLRDs) than men. It is proposed that women may be more susceptible due to ‘smaller lungs and airways and possibly more sensitive airways’ CLRD is an umbrella term for diseases of the lung. We will focus on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which is the most common cause of CLRDs. You will find information on the other types of chronic respiratory diseases listed above by clicking on the links provided.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

Signs and Symptoms of COPD can be broken up into 3 categories.

  1. Mild COPD

You may;

  • Need to cough up mucus each morning
  • Experience shortness of breath, coughing or coughing up mucus in the winter months or after a cold
  • Be more out of breath than usual after exertion
  1. Moderate COPD

You may;

  • Cough more and cough up mucus
  • Often feel very puffed or out of breath if you exert yourself or walk quickly
  • Have trouble working or doing chores because you get out of breath
  • Take several weeks to recover from a cold or chest infection
  1. Severe COPD

You may;

  • Be short of breath during normal daily activities, such as; dressing, showering, gardening
  • Find it hard to walk upstairs or across the room without getting very out of breath
  • Get tired easily
  • Not be able to continue to work or do chores around your home
  • Experience an increase in coughing and coughing up mucus
  • Get chest infections more often
  • Take several weeks to recover from a cold or chest infection

It is important to note that increased breathlessness and coughing is NOT a normal part of ageing. If you experience any of the above symptoms you should advise your GP and commence treatment. COPD can often be mistaken for lack of fitness, normal ageing or asthma symptoms.

Unsure? Why not complete the ‘Check in with your Lungs’ checklist by the Lung Foundation Australia.

COPD can lead to other health complications such as:

COPD can be diagnosed by doing a simple spirometry test arranged by your GP. Although there is no cure for COPD – “an early diagnosis and appropriate therapy can positively influence the disease’s course by slowing its progression, relieving symptoms and reducing the incidence and intensity of ‘flare-ups” or exacerbations. Early diagnosis can reduce the morbidity and mortality of the disease, and therefore increase your quality of life and sense of wellbeing. (Primary Care Respiratory Journal)

For more information on COPD and treatment/therapy options, please go to the links below. If you are experiencing difficulties with daily tasks secondary to shortness of breath, Shelly, our Community Occupational Therapist would be happy to help you. You can contact her on [email protected]

Information, Resources and References

Speak to your GP about what supports and rehabilitation programs you can be referred to. Belmont District Hospital, the John Hunter Hospital and the Newcastle Community Health Centre provide pulmonary rehabilitation programs.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation NSW . Contact Number 1800 654 301

  • The John Hunter Hospital phone: 4921 3000
  • Newcastle Community Health Centre Phone: 4016 4530
  • Belmont district hospital phone: 4923 2000

Call 1800 654 301 to locate the nearest Patient Support Groups

Lung Foundation Australia: has extensive information on COPD and many other lung conditions.

National Asthma Organisation – Asthma & Older Adults

Lung Foundation Australia – Inhaler device techniques

Lung Foundation ‘COPD Fact SHEET’

The Lung Foundation – COPD The Basics Booklet

The Lung Foundation – Better Living with COPD – A patient Guide

COPD Online Patient Education Program

Lung Foundation Australia – information and Support Centre

Phone 1800 654 301 free-call

Emailing [email protected]

Asthma & Respiratory Foundation New Zealand

Cancer of Trachea, Bonchus, Lung

While tobacco smoking is the largest single cause of lung cancer, people who have never smoked can be diagnosed with lung cancer. The risk of developing lung cancer decreases in people who stop smoking, but they are still at higher risk than people who have never smoked.

Other risk factors include environmental factors such as pollution, occupational exposure such as chemicals and asbestos, age, family history and previous lung diseases.

According to Lung Cancer Australia, the risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer in Australia by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men and 1 in 22 for women.


There are two main types of lung cancer

  1. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for around 80% of cases. There are also sub-types of non-small cell lung cancer, the most common are:

  • Adenocarcinoma – begin in mucus-producing cells and makes up about 40% of lung cancers. While this type of lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed in current or former smokers, it is also the most common lung cancer in non-smokers and more common in women
  • Squamous cell (epidermoid) carcinoma – commonly develops in the larger airways of the lung such as the trachea
  • Large cell undifferentiated carcinoma – can appear in any part of the lung and are not clearly squamous cell or adenocarcinoma
  1. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Small cell lung cancer usually begins in the middle of the lungs and spreads more quickly than non-small cell lung cancer. It accounts for between 15 and 20% of lung cancers.


According to the Cancer Council , symptoms of lung cancer may include:

  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing or spitting up blood
  • A new cough that does not go away
  • Recurring bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

There is currently no routine screening test for lung cancer in Australia. Individuals at ‘high risk” are currently identified as adults aged 55 to 80 years who have a smoking history of ’30 pack-years’ and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

Speak to your GP if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Information, Resources and References

According to the Lung Cancer Foundation website the closest support group is located at Mardi and is run from Wyong Hospital in the Green room of the Health Services Building. A meeting is held every 2nd Thursday of the month at 10am to 12pm for educational sessions. They also provide 4 social activities per year. For contact details of all groups, call Lung Foundation Australia 1800 654 301.

Breast Cancer (Malignant Neoplasm of Breast)

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow in an uncontrolled way.

Risk Factors:

While the causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, there are a number of factors associated with the risk of developing the disease. Some of the risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Being a woman
  • Increasing age
  • Having a strong family history of breast cancer
  • Having a personal history of breast cancer, DCIS or LCIS a number of hormonal factors, child-bearing history, personal and lifestyle factors

The symptoms of breast cancer depend on where the tumour is in the breast, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing.

Some people have no symptoms and the cancer is found during a screening mammogram or a physical examination by a doctor.

If you do have symptoms, they could include:

  • New lumps or thickening in the breast or under the arm
  • Nipple sores
  • Nipple discharge or turning in
  • Skin of the breast dimpling
  • Rash or red swollen breasts

See your GP straight away if you detect any changes in your breasts.

Screening for breast cancer

Women aged between 50 and 74 have access to free screening mammograms every two years via the BreastScreen Australia Program

Women aged 40-49 and 75 and over are also able to access free mammograms, however do not receive an invitation to attend.

It is recommended that women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, aged between 40 and 49 or over 75 discuss options with their GP, or contact BreastScreen Australia on 13 20 50.

Information, Resources and References


According to Diabetes Australia, Diabetes is a serious complex condition which can affect the entire body.

The bad news is that diabetes requires daily self-care and if complications develop, diabetes can have a significant impact on quality of life and can reduce life expectancy.

The good news is that while there is currently no cure for diabetes, you can live an enjoyable life by learning about the condition and effectively managing it.

There are different types of diabetes and ALL types are complex and serious. The three main types of diabetes are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Because Type 2 diabetes is associated with preventative lifestyle risk factors, we are going to focus on this type of diabetes.


Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas:

Type 2 Diabetes – A snapshot:
  • Is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors
  • Has strong genetic and family related risk factors
  • Usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years’ old but is commonly diagnosed at a later age
  • Is often progressive, so over time, oral medications and/or insulin injections (in addition to lifestyle changes) may be necessary
  • Some people with type 2 diabetes do not experience symptoms
  • Sometimes signs are dismissed as part of ‘getting older’ so make sure you have regular medical check ups

Check your risk of getting diabetes

What are the symptoms?
  • Being excessively thirsty
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Always feeling hungry
  • Having cuts that heal slowly
  • Itching, skin infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Gradually putting on weight
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Leg cramps

Diabetes Management:

If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes it is essential that you treat it as the serious and complex medical condition it is.

You need to manage your condition as directed by your doctor/diabetic specialist to keep your blood glucose levels as close to the target range (between 4-6 mmol/L on fasting).

Only through managing your Type 2 diabetes will you reduce the risk of developing short term or long term complications.

Complications of Type 2 diabetes are the same as those who have a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. According to Diabetes Australia:

  • People with diabetes are up to 4 times more likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of preventable blindness in Australia
  • Kidney failure is 3 times more common in people with diabetes
  • Amputations are 15 times more common in people with diabetes. (see foot care below)
  • More than 30 per cent of people with diabetes experience depression, anxiety and distress
  • Early diagnosis, optimal treatment and effective ongoing support and management reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications

It can’t be emphasised enough that the most important thing you can do if you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes is to take some time to look at the resources provided below and learn as much as you can about diabetes and how to manage it. This knowledge will help you minimise or even prevent potential complications of the disease.

It is also important to stress that for many, lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and exercise can result in less reliance on medication.

Foot Care & Diabetes

Diabetes Australia report that it is essential for those who have a diagnosis of Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes to take care of your feet every day.

It is common for diabetes to cause damage to the nerves of your feet, affect your blood circulation and increase risk of infection. This greatly increases your risk of developing foot ulcers and which, if resistant to healing because of the effects of diabetes, can lead to subsequent amputation.

The damage and risk of ulcers, infection and amputation is more likely if:

  • You have had diabetes for a long time
  • You don’t manage your diabetes and glucose levels are too high for extended periods of time
  • You continue to smoke
  • You are inactive

Nerve and circulation damage to your feet impedes pain and sensation. You may not be aware that your feet are wounded or toenails have become ingrown and infected. This condition is referred to as Diabetic Neuropathy. You have to check your feet every day! As soon as you see any damage, redness, swelling, bruising or cuts, infection or ingrown nails – arrange to get them treated that day!

If you aren’t already, it is in your best interest to have regular podiatry appointments with a podiatrist that specialises in Diabetic foot health. Please educate yourself on the complications and management of diabetes on foot care. Go to Diabetes Australia – Foot-Care.

Information, Resources and References


Colon & Rectal Cancer

Bowel Cancer Australia report that most bowel cancers start as benign, non-threatening growths – called polyps – on the wall or lining of the bowel.

In more advanced cases, the cancerous tumour can spread beyond the bowel to other organs.

Risk Factors:

  • Being 50+ (increases rise of bowel cancer ‘sharply and progressively’)
  • Family History
  • Poor diet
  • Poor fibre intake
  • Inactivity

Go to Bowel Cancer Australia – Risk Factors to find out more on risk factors and prevention.

You need to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer, many of which are indicative of other medical conditions or a change in diet or medications.

Bowel Cancer Symptoms

Note: In the early stages there could be no symptoms. Early diagnoses equals best treatment outcomes. That is why it is important to have the recommended bowel screening tests, which is 1-2 a year, from the age of 50 onwards.

Common symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • A recent, persistent change in bowel habit, (looser, diarrhoea, constipation, change in frequency)
  • A change in appearance of bowel movements (narrower or mucus in stool)
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding (NEVER IGNORE -SEE GP IMMEDIATELY)
  • Frequent gas pain, cramps
  • A feeling that the bowel has not emptied completely
  • Unexplained anaemia (low red blood count – tiredness/weakness/weight-loss)
  • Rectal/anal pain or a lump in the rectum/anus
  • Abdominal pain or swelling (lump or mass in your tummy)

If symptoms persist for two or more weeks you need to speak to your doctor without delay. 90% of cases are successfully treated with early intervention.

Information, Resources and References

Heart Failure

According to Heart Research Australia Heart failure is a gradual decline in the heart’s ability to pump and circulate enough blood through the body.

Heart failure does not usually have a single cause. The same lifestyle risk factors that can cause a heart attack or stroke will increase your risk of heart failure. For those that experience the following conditions your risk of heart failure will also increase, especially if not properly managed and ‘at risk” lifestyle choices are not modified;

Sometimes, anaemia (a lack of oxygenated red blood cells) or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can also lead to heart failure.

In most cases, heart failure is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured.


If your heart muscle is not pumping as efficiently as normal, you may experience:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the ankles
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue

Chronic heart failure can cause fluid build-up and you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Breathlessness
  • Swollen ankles, legs or stomach
  • Weight gain
  • Losing your appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing

If you experience any of the above symptoms or if you have heart failure, and have new symptoms or your symptoms get worse, make sure you tell your doctor or health practitioner immediately.

Information, Resources and References

Diseases of Urinary System

Renal (kidney) disease impacts the ability of the kidneys to clear waste and excess fluid from the body.

Occurrence of kidney failure is increasing in women who are 50 years and older and approximately 40% of women with diabetes will develop CKD, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other complications of diabetes.

Kidney disease in women can include:

  • acute kidney injury (AKI), a sudden, temporary, and sometimes fatal loss of kidney function
  • chronic kidney disease (CKD), a progressive form of the disease that causes reduced kidney function over a period of time. (CKD can lead to end-stage renal disease)
  • end state renal disease (ESRD), in which there is total and permanent kidney failure

According to a report from the National Centre of Biotechnology Information (NCBI):

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients often suffer from cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease (and are 2-3 times more likely to have a heart attack)
  • Altered kidney function is often found in patients with hypertensive and ischemic heart disease (an increased risks of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality)
  • Approximately 30 percent of patients with diabetes have diabetic nephropathy, with higher rates found in some ethnic populations

Types of age-related kidney disease

Older people are more at risk of some kidney and urinary tract diseases. These include:

  • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation or swelling of the kidneys) caused by conditions such as
    • Urinary tract infections (if left untreated, a urinary tract infection may spread into the kidneys)
    • Urinary incontinence– this is uncontrolled leaking of urine from the bladder, which can increase the risk of urinary tract infections
  • Renovascular disease – fatty deposits, cholesterol, calcium and other substances are deposited in the inner lining of the arteries, causing narrowing or blockage of the renal artery. This is the most common cause of kidney failure in the elderly
  • High blood pressure– if left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and loss of vision
  • Hereditary kidney diseases – including polycystic kidney disease

Symptoms of kidney disease

It is not uncommon for people to lose up to 90 per cent of their kidney function before getting any symptoms. That is why kidney disease is sometimes referred to as a silent disease‘.

You may experience signs that indicate reduced kidney function such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in the amount and number of times urine is passed
  • Changes in the appearance of your urine (for example, frothy or foaming urine)
  • Blood in your urine
  • Puffiness in your legs, ankles or around your eyes
  • Pain in your kidney area
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Lack of concentration
  • Itching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bad breath and a metallic taste in your mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Pins and needles in your fingers or toes

What to do – prevention:

  • Manage your diabetes and control sugar levels
  • Control high blood pressure and have regular GP check-ups
  • Have a kidney health check(blood test, urine test and blood pressure check) at least every 2 years, 1 year if a diabetic or hypertensive
  • Treat urinary tract infections immediately
  • Control blood cholesterol levels with diet and medications if necessary
  • Drink plenty of water and choose foods that are low in sugar, fat and salt, but high in fibre. Stick to moderate serving sizes
  • Do not smoke
  • Drink alcohol in moderation only
  • Maintain at a healthy weight
  • Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes a day

The first person to see if you experience any of the above symptoms or suspect a kidney/bladder infection is your GP. Lasting damage can occur if kidney infections such as a UTI are left untreated.


A UTI is caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract.

The different types of urinary tract infections include:

  1. Urethritis– infection of the urethra
  2. Cystitis– infection of the bladder
  3. Pyelonephritis– infection of the kidneys
Risk Factors:
  • Women – Nearly one in three women will have a urinary tract infection needing treatment before the age of 24
  • Men with prostate problems – An enlarged prostate gland can cause the bladder to only partially empty, raising the risk of infection
  • Older people – Some medications and problems with incontinence put older people in a higher risk group
  • People with urinary catheters – People who are critically ill and others who can’t empty their own bladder are at risk of infection
  • People with diabetes – Changes to the immune system make a person with diabetes more vulnerable to infection
  • Stinging or burning when passing urine
  • Passing very small amounts of urine
  • Feeling the need or ‘urge’ to pass urine frequently
  • Feeling that the bladder is still full after passing urine
  • Smelly, cloudy, dark or bloody urine
  • Pain low down in the abdomen or in the lower back or sides
  • Feeling unwell with nausea and fever
  • In the elderly it can cause confusion

If untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney infection, so it’s important to visit your doctor for early management.

NOTE: The Elderly may present with a UTI differently because:

  • They may not exhibit any of the hallmark signs listed above because their immune systems are unable to mount a significant response to the infection
  • They may be unable to express their discomfort to their caregivers
  • Their bodies respond differently to infection, so it is important to look for different signs and symptoms
  • Symptom of their UTIs are mistaken for the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease

According to the National Institutes of health (NIH), indicators of infection in seniors include:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Other unusual behavioural changes
  • Poor motor skills or loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Falling

Sometimes these are the only symptoms that present in the elderly, so if you are a carer or suspect an elderly person may be experiencing a UTI because of changes in their mental state or behaviour it is important to take them to see their GP straight away for treatment.

Information, Resources and References

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