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Health Information Women's Health Takes Center Stage

It doesn’t matter if you’re from Venus or Mars, most of us agree men and women are different, whether we’re talking about emotions or physical health.

“Women have different needs than men do,” says Kathleen Weber, MD, MS, an internist at Rush. “A woman’s body is truly distinct from a man’s, and it’s an understanding of these differences that offers valuable clues to improved treatments and better outcomes for a wide range of diseases that affect women,” says Weber. In fact, caring for women often requires tailored approaches by physicians, along with specialized treatment.

At Rush, specialists throughout the Medical Center keep the unique health needs of women in mind, recognizing that illnesses often affect women differently than men.

Heart disease

You never see a TV show or movie in which a woman has a heart attack, do you? It’s usually a balding, overweight, middle-aged guy.

But heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. All told, more than one-third of all deaths among U.S. women are due to heart disease, reports the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research.

Generally, women tend to develop heart disease later than their male peers, about 10 years later. The risk rises substantially after menopause. Women also tend to have different heart attack symptoms than do men. These include mild chest pain, rather than the more severe pain experienced by men; shortness of breath; unexplained anxiety or weakness; palpitations, cold sweat or paleness.

“Women’s heart attack symptoms are frequently ignored, overlooked or written off as stress, even by heart specialists,” says Annabelle Volgman, MD, cardiologist. “We have cardiologists specializing in how heart disease affects women — and manifests in women — specifically, so we can provide better care.”

Rush offers recently developed heart medications and surgical procedures. Often, treatment methods stem from Rush’s own innovative research, such as the use of new approaches to open blocked arteries.

Rush’s program for women also emphasizes prevention, providing comprehensive heart risk assessment. Using the results, doctors and nurses can advise women on how to reduce their risks for heart problems.

Urinary incontinence

It’s a condition you might not want to mention, but many women have it. And help is available.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 13 million Americans experience loss of bladder control. And women are affected twice as often as men. Differences in their anatomy and factors such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause put women at higher risk.

The most common type of urinary incontinence in women is stress incontinence, which causes small amounts of urine to leak when coughing, sneezing or exercising.

Rush’s program for abdominal and pelvic health brings together specialists from many areas to provide top-quality care. These experts include urologists, obstetrician/gynecologists, general surgeons and physical therapists. According to Bruce Rosenzweig, MD, director of urogynecology at Rush, available treatments range from medications and biofeedback to electrical stimulation of the pelvic muscles. If less invasive treatments aren’t effective, Rush also offers a variety of surgical procedures through its urogynecology and pelvic reconstruction surgery program.

Knee injuries

Experts aren’t certain why, but women are at greater risk for one type of knee injury than are men.

Rates of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are much higher in women athletes than in men, says Weber, director of women’s sports medicine at Rush.

“A lot of studies are being conducted right now to determine the reasons for this,” says Weber. “Women tend to use their quadriceps over their hamstring muscles, which could be a contributing factor. When you jump up and use your quadriceps to take the impact of the return to the ground, you land in an upright position, rather than in a squat. A squat is much healthier for your knees.”

It is this kind of approach—taking a look at the entire woman and how she moves—that differentiates the women’s sports medicine program at Rush. This is one of the few sports medicine programs in the nation devoted exclusively to women.

“Our team also evaluates factors such as the way you stand and move, the shoes you wear and how your foot strikes the ground,” Weber says. “By helping you identify things you can change, we might be able to prevent another injury in the future.”

Gynecologic cancer

A woman’s reproductive system is both unique and multifaceted. And, unfortunately, it’s the complexity of this system that makes women vulnerable to some of the most deadly forms of cancer. Cancer of the reproductive organs is diagnosed in more than 80,000 U.S.women each year, according to the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (GCF), with an estimated 23,000 women losing their lives from this group of diseases in 2003.

These cancers can affect the cervix, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and the ovaries. Early detection and treatment are critical to survival. However, cervical cancer is the only one of these diseases that has an early detection test: the Pap smear. This is just one reason why effective treatments and the search for better diagnostic tools are vital to women’s health.

As a principal member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecology Oncology group, Rush provides cutting-edge therapies not available at other facilities.

Among these treatments is the use of thin radiation beams to more precisely target irregularly shaped tumors. The technique was pioneered by Jacob Rotmensch, MD, director of gynecologic oncology at Rush.

Rush also has contributed much to the knowledge and understanding of gynecologic cancers. Genetic research programs under the direction of Lydia Usha, MD, have led to better identification of women at high risk for ovarian cancer. And Rush researchers have developed a special vitamin regimen that makes radiation treatment more tolerable.

“We’re approaching these diseases from a variety of angles, including trying to understand their causes,” says Rotmensch. “A lot of work still needs to be done, but we’re getting closer each day.”



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