Beware: 5 serious health issues that hit young women + how to overcome them

by Hallie Levin Sklar



A lot of young women are in a state of denial — they don’t think they are going to get an STD, get pregnant, or become sick

As a group, young women are generally healthy. That’s good news, but there is a downside: It gives otherwise savvy 20- and 30-something chicks a false sense of security. And complacency can lead to trouble.

According to medical experts Cosmo spoke to, young women these days are becoming lax about their health and taking potentially dangerous risks, like eating badly, engaging in unsafe sex, and overloading themselves with work and social responsibilities. And they’re developing serious issues because of it.

“A lot of young women are in a state of denial — they don’t think they are going to get an STD, get pregnant, or become sick. But I’m seeing these scenarios all the time,” explains Suzanne Trupin, professor of ob/gyn at the University of Illinois.

To help make sure you’re not jeopardizing your body, we’ve put together a list of the top five most pressing health crises young women face. Here’s why they are so dangerous, symptoms to be on alert for, plus what you can do to protect yourself.


“More so than ever before, young women today are overspent — they have busy careers, a hectic social life, plus an onslaught of cell, e-mail, and instant messages,” explains Susan Kornstein, MD, professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They don’t realize it isn’t normal to live in chaos.” No wonder increasing numbers of young female patients are suffering from stress overload: extreme anxiety, severe fatigue, and insomnia due to elevated adrenaline levels and from not being able to shut off their brain at night.

Chicks seem to be more susceptible to stress than men are. “Women worry more than men do — about how they look, if they’ll find someone to date or marry, if they’ll make enough to support themselves,” explains Gail Erlick Robinson, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. “Men assume all these things will happen, so they don’t feel the effects of the extra anxiety.”

Scaling back your schedule and working in some solo time to chill. “It’ll help you recharge your batteries and greatly decrease anxiety,” says Dr. Kornstein.

An even simpler de-stressor is to unplug yourself for an hour or two a day. Even the busiest person can live without cell-phone access, text messages, and her Facebook feed for a short while. “When your gadgets aren’t on, you won’t be so ‘on’ either, and it’ll do wonders for your stress level,” Dr. Kornstein adds.


At least 4 percent of women suffer from clinical eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Yet millions more have under-the-radar food issues that fall into the recently coined category of disordered eating: unhealthy, erratic food habits that can cause vitamin deficiencies and lowered immunity and may morph into a full-blown, potentially deadly illness. Some disordered eaters cut out entire food groups — such as dairy or cooked food — as a way to slash calories. Some skip meals so they have more calories to expend on alcohol (i.e., drunk-orexia), while others count every calorie and set a daily limit that’s barely enough to sustain vital body functions.

“I see a lot of young women who I call chronically restricted eaters; they’re determined to keep their calorie intake just above 1,000 daily, which is the cutoff for anorexia,” explains Pamela Peeke, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Body for Life for Women. “But after a couple weeks, they give in and eat everything in sight. The next day, they’re back to restricting again.”

What drives a woman toward this kind of obsessive eating? True, it’s a way to try to stay thin. But there’s usually a deeper component, which is believed to be rooted in a desire for control in our high-pressure culture.

“Many young women think that if they keep their eating habits regulated, everything else will fall into place — if they fit into their skinny jeans, they’ve achieved some order and perfection,” explains Cynthia Bulik, PhD, eating-disorders specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Runaway Eating.

Determining if your erratic eating habits are a serious disorder. If food dominates your thoughts and you’ve developed anxieties about meals that interfere with relationships, you likely have a problem.

Consider what’s behind your behavior: Is it really the calories you’ve consumed…or the uncertainty you feel in your work or love life? If it’s the latter, a counselor can help you find a healthier way to deal. In the meantime, take baby steps toward relaxing your food rules-say, by adding back one type of food that you’ve cut out.


A 2008 study found that half of all sexually active women ages 18 to 44 don’t use contraception regularly, and 27 percent of those women use birth control incorrectly. The result, of course, is often an unplanned pregnancy, 42 percent of which end in abortion.

So why are so many chicks using contraception inconsistently? “Many young, single women don’t have sex frequently, so they assume there’s no real reason to use protection if their chances of pregnancy are so small,” explains Jennifer Frost, senior researcher at the Guttmacher Institute and the author of the study. Pamela Berens, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas at Houston, agrees: “A lot of my patients assume pregnancy won’t happen to them, especially if they’re not having sex around ovulation. But there’s no safe time to have unprotected sex.”

Frost also found that half the women who didn’t use birth control regularly were going through a life change, like a bad breakup or job loss. And 40 percent of the women said they were just plain unhappy with their birth-control method. “I have patients who stop taking the Pill because they think it’s caused weight gain or spotting, but they don’t tell me this so I can help them find a better method,” says Dr. Berens.


Using birth control correctly and consistently each time you have sex — it’s that simple. If you’re unsatisfied with your contraception method, talk to your gyno about other options that may better match your lifestyle. If you hate having to remember to take the Pill every day, ask your gyno about going on the patch, which you change once a week, or the ring, which requires only monthly upkeep. Or if you are monogamous and don’t want kids for several years, consider getting an IUD, which is inserted once by your gyno and lasts up to five years.


One in four females ages 14 to 19 has or once had a sexually transmitted disease, according to a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. And women under 24 have the highest chlamydia odds, contracting this bacterial STD at three times the rate guys in the same age-group do. That’s scary news, since chlamydia often has no signs and can lead to infertility.

What’s more, genital-herpes diagnoses are increasing. In 2006, there were 371,000 physicians’ visits for this viral STD, up from 266,000 in 2005. Overall, an estimated 20 percent of women have been diagnosed with genital herpes. “It’s mainly due to unprotected oral sex; if a guy has oral herpes, he can transmit it to a woman’s genital area,” explains Peter Leone, MD, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And human papillomavirus (HPV) is so rampant, one gyno Cosmo spoke to dubbed it the common cold of the vagina, since 80 percent of women can expect to get it at some point. (Luckily, most strains of HPV are harmless, but some cause genital warts and others, cervical cancer.)

Telling your guy he has to wrap one on before any bodily contact is made. Also, get tested for chlamydia at least once a year or after having unsafe sex.

Realistically, most chicks aren’t going to put a piece of latex between their V zone and their guy’s mouth before engaging in oral. But you can cut your risk of contracting genital herpes by giving his mouth a quick once-over for any sores or marks.


Twenty percent of all females can expect to deal with this mood disorder at some point in their lives. One common time when it emerges: your 20s.

“As they leave college and enter the workforce, many women feel alone and without a strong support network, which is very tough and frightening,” explains New York City psychologist Ellen McGrath, PhD, former chair of the American Psychological Association’s National Task Force on Women and Depression. “There is so much uncertainty about so many things — your job, your love life, your finances — that it’s easy to feel hopeless and pessimistic about the future.” Biology may be to blame as well: Estrogen fluctuates so much during your cycle, it causes your moods to go up and down.

Knowing the signs. If you recognize any of these, seek help from a counselor. In the meantime, stay connected to friends and family. And steer clear of pessimistic thinking. Forcing yourself to look at the bright side of life will become a habit.

  • Feeling so down in the dumps, you can’t function
  • Missing school or work
  • Skipping out on seeing friends
  • Feeling as if you’re in a hole you can’t get out of
  • Noticing a change in your eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Having trouble focusing and concentrating
  • Realizing your sex drive has sunk


Read this article in Cosmopolitan


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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