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Women often endure health issues in silence, especially if the problem is embarrassing, affects only them and doesn't pose a serious health risk. Yet issues that appear minor and personal can have a major impact on a woman's quality of life -- and ultimately on the lives of those around her.
"It's natural for women to want to avoid talking about certain deeply personal health problems, such as heavy periods, digestive problems or incontinence," said Dr. Jessica Shepherd, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology and Director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, University of Illinois College of Medicine.
"But talking about a problem can lead to effective treatment. Many health issues that seem to be merely inconvenient can actually have a pervasive impact on a woman's personal and professional life."
Here are three common health issues that women tend to discount as "minor," and avoid talking about.
Yet each of these issues can deeply affect not only a woman's physical health, but her mental, personal and professional well-being as well.
• Incontinence -- Defined as the involuntary release of urine from the bladder, incontinence affects 25 million Americans, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Seventy-five to 80 percent of them are women, the National Association for Continence estimates.
Women may remain silent about their problem thinking incontinence is a normal part of aging (it's not) or that it only affects sufferers on a personal level.
Yet a study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that incontinence affects a person's quality of life, disrupting social, sexual, interpersonal and even professional functioning.
From bladder training to medications, treatments can help. The first step is to talk to your doctor about the problem.
• Heavy periods -- About 10 million women experience heavy periods that require hourly changes of pads or tampons even at night, bleeding that lasts a week or longer, and that restrict their daily activities.
While menstrual problems may seem deeply personal to a woman -- and not something she wants to think affects others -- heavy periods can profoundly affect a woman personally and professionally.
Women with heavier periods miss work 28 percent more than other women, a study of the National Health Interview Survey reveals.
And 83.5 percent of women in a United Kingdom study said if their heavy periods persisted over the next five years, they would be unhappy -- making the issue a mental health concern, too.
Consulting with their doctors can help women decide on a treatment for their heavy periods. Oral contraceptives and hysterectomies have been traditional options for severe cases.
An alternative, NovaSure, is a non-surgical, non-hormonal treatment that can be done in a doctor's office with a single five-minute procedure.
For more than 90 percent of women, NovaSure can dramatically reduce or even eliminate menstrual bleeding. Visit ChangeTheCycle.com and Facebook.com/Changethecycle to learn more about the procedure.
• Digestive health -- From chronic constipation to irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux to severe gas, digestive disorders affect millions of American women, according to the National Institutes of Health.
While occasional irritation is normal and happens to virtually everyone, problems that continue for long periods can indicate more serious health issues.
And even when there's no serious underlying problem, the symptoms of digestive issues can hinder a woman's lifestyle. A digestive issue that causes a woman to spend extended periods in the rest room, for example, may interfere with her work performance.
Severe chronic gas may make a woman avoid social situations, especially ones in which she'll be meeting new people.
It's important to find out if your digestive problems are relatively innocuous or indicate a more serious issue, so talk to your doctor.
"No matter how embarrassing a health issue is, or how personal you think it is, if it's impacting your quality of life it's definitely worth discussing with your doctor," Shepherd said.
"Women should also seek information and support from organizations, groups and websites that address their specific issue. Suffering in silence is no way to treat a health problem."