A patient’s blood pressure is checked during a women’s health fair. Lesbian women are at higher risks of heart disease, obesity, cancer and smoking, all of which can affect heart health. Photo Credit: Jen Rynda/Fort Meade (U.S. Army)
A patient’s blood pressure is checked during a women’s health fair. Lesbian women are at higher risks of heart disease, obesity, cancer and smoking, all of which can affect heart health.
Photo Credit: Jen Rynda/Fort Meade (U.S. Army)

Every community has its own sets of strengths and challenges. This is not a surprise to those of us in a minority group, whether our minority status is based on culture, race, gender or sexuality. Luckily, our society is now at a point in time where specific research is available to help guide the wellness of many minority groups. This wellness series offers opportunities for awareness, insight and education for the LGBT community. This month, we explore Lesbian Health.

Lesbian health and wellness issues differ from the larger population. Awareness and education are key elements to preventing problems with illness, substance abuse or violence. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself with this information and be brave enough to share it with your friends, family or health providers.

Lesbians and Heart Disease — Factors that raise women’s risk for heart disease include physical inactivity, obesity, and smoking — all of which have been found to be more prevalent among lesbians than other women. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking can reduce your risks for heart disease and other serious health problems.

Lesbians and Cancer — Lesbians are at significantly higher risk for developing breast cancer than heterosexual women. Risk factors for breast cancer among lesbians include fewer full-term pregnancies, fewer mammograms and/or clinical breast exams and being overweight. Traditionally, lesbians and bisexual women have been less likely to bear children and, as a result, may not fully benefit from hormones released during pregnancy and breastfeeding. These hormones are believed to protect women against different types of cancers. Also, lesbians are less likely to visit a doctor or nurse for routine screenings than heterosexual women. Schedule your routine exams to be proactive about your wellness.

Lesbians and Fitness — Some research has indicated that adult lesbians are not sufficiently physically active. Some barriers to participating in exercise identified by one study included being too tired, not having a physical activity partner, finding a lack of lesbian-focused physical activity groups and lacking same-sex family memberships to fitness facilities. Lesbians also tend to possess somewhat different attitudes about beauty than do heterosexual women. As a result, lesbians’ current weight, and perceptions of being overweight, may not necessarily contribute to their likelihood of engaging in frequent exercise.

Lesbians & Obesity — Some groups of lesbian women are more likely to be overweight and obese than females of other sexual orientations. Specifically, higher prevalence rates of obesity have been found among lesbians who are: African-American; live in rural or urban areas; have lower levels of education; and are from a low socioeconomic status. Routine health assessments are an easy way determine and maintain a healthy weight status over time.

Lesbians, Injury and Violence — Lesbian women and gay men report experiencing harassment or physical violence from family members due to their sexual orientation. When compared with straight adults (17.5 percent), a significantly higher percentage of lesbian or gay adults (56.4 percent) and bisexual adults (47.4 percent) report experiencing intimate partner violence. It is okay to seek help if you’ve experienced domestic violence and/or victimization.

Lesbians and Mental Health — Many factors affect the mental and emotional health of lesbian women. For example, a research study found that adverse, punitive and traumatic reactions from parents and caregivers in response to their children’s sexual orientation were closely correlated with poor mental health and an increase in substance use. Mental health and medical health are correlated. Don’t be afraid to ask for information about mental wellness topics when consulting with your medical doctor.

Lesbians and substance abuse — Studies have found that lesbians are between 1.5 and 2 times more likely to smoke than heterosexual women and are significantly more likely to drink heavily than heterosexual women. Among lesbians, younger women are more likely to smoke than older women, while “butch” lesbians are much more likely to smoke and use marijuana than young “femme” lesbians. The difference between the two age groups may be explained, in part, by younger women being more likely to socialize in bar settings. Call the Center for Prevention Services’ Drug Line for information on treatment or cessation: 1.704.375.DRUG (3784). : :

— Portions based on “Top Health Issues for LGBT Populations Information & Resource Kit” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

[poll id=”38″]