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Written by Tonia Poteat, MMSc, PA-C, MPH, PhD.
Did you know that lesbians have some special health risk factors? Smoking and obesity are the biggest risk factors for heart disease among lesbians. Heart disease, cancer, depression, and anxiety are common health problems in the lesbian community. You and your health care provider can work together to lower your risks. Start by asking about these top ten health concerns.
Lesbians are more likely to have risk factors for breast cancer, but they’re less likely to be screened. This means they’re less likely to be diagnosed early, when the disease is most curable. Check with your health care provider to make sure you’re on track with breast cancer screenings.
Depression and anxiety
Dealing with discrimination can cause chronic stress. This can be made worse if you need to hide your orientation, or if you’ve lost emotional support because of it. This constant stress can lead to depression and anxiety. Talk to your health care provider about your feelings - help is available.
Heart disease is the number one leading killer of women. And smoking and obesity are the biggest heart disease risk factors for lesbians. Talk to your health provider about getting yearly screenings for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Your health care provider can also offer tips on quitting smoking, getting more exercise, and controlling your weight.
Lesbians are at greater risk for certain types of gynecological cancers. Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests can find cancers early and give you the best chance of being cured. Ask your health care provider if you’re due for cancer screening.
Lesbians are more likely to be overweight or obese than straight women. Being overweight or obese puts you at risk of heart disease, cancers, and premature death. Talk to your health care provider about healthy living, including eating right and getting regular exercise.
Lesbians use tobacco at higher rates than straight women. Tobacco use puts you at risk of cancers, heart disease, and emphysema. These are three major causes of death among women. Talk to your health care provider about ways to cut back or quit.
Heavy drinking and binge drinking are common among lesbians. More than one drink per day can raise your risk of cancer, liver disease, and other health problems. Ask your health care provider for help if you’re concerned about your drinking.
Lesbians may use drugs more often than straight women. This may be a way of coping with stress from homophobia, sexism, or discrimination. If you’re using drugs, talk to your health care provider. You can get help with quitting and learn healthy ways to cope and reduce stress.
Intimate partner violence
Violence is not just a straight couple problem. Some lesbians deal with relationship violence. If you’re experiencing violence, your health care provider can help. Counselors and shelters are there for you, too.
Lesbians can get the same sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as straight women. Lesbian partners can transmit STIs by skin-to-skin contact, mucous membrane contact, vaginal fluids, and menstrual blood. Ask your health care provider about whether you need STI screening, and how often.