Stay up to date on these important screenings
The best way to stay healthy is to avoid getting sick. It seems obvious, but many women don’t get basic health tests that help them avoid major problems. Early detection may prevent illness and even treat conditions you don’t realize you have. Even if you feel fine, get these recommended screenings, and check with your doctor that your vaccinations are up to date.
So what screenings should a woman be getting? These 7 screenings are a good start.
Height, weight, and BMI
Your doctor will check these each year. A high BMI, a measurement of body fat, puts you at risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The good news is even a small weight loss (between 5 and 10 percent of your current weight) will help lower your risk of developing those diseases.
Starting at age 20, every woman needs to have her blood pressure checked at least every two years. If it’s higher than 120/80, talk to your doctor about possible treatment. High blood pressure increases your risk of stroke and heart disease. If your insurance doesn’t cover a blood pressure screening (though most insurance companies do), check into free screenings in your community.
Starting around age 25, women should have a clinical breast exam at least every three years until age 39. Women over age 40 should have a mammogram done annually, according to most experts. One in eight women will get breast cancer, so early detection is your best protection. Get a complete breast exam during your regular doctor visit, and always tell your doctor about changes in your breasts.
Beginning at age 21, or earlier if you are sexually active, women need to have a pelvic exam and Pap smear every two years to check for any abnormalities in the reproductive system. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. Barring any problems, the recommended screening is to get a Pap smear and a HPV test every 3 years.
You’ll have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke when you keep cholesterol low. Women over 20 should check their cholesterol every 5 years. Your doctor may check more often if you have heart disease or other risk factors. Some community health fairs offer quick cholesterol screenings, involving nothing but a finger-prick.
Colon cancer screening tests for women generally start at age 50. If you are under age 50, get a screening test if you have inflammatory bowel disease, or a family history of colon cancer or polyps. Unless a problem is found, a flexible sigmoidoscopy needs to be repeated every 5 to 10 years and a colonoscopy only every 10 years.
Test your blood sugar levels if your blood pressure is higher than 140/90, your BMI is 25 or higher (23 or higher if you’re Asian American) and you have other risk factors for diabetes. Women should get a blood glucose test every three years starting at age 45. Complications from diabetes put you at risk of damaging your heart, nerves, kidneys, eyes, feet, and more.
Go to healthfinder.gov/myhealthfinder to find out which screenings you need. Enter your gender and age to get a customized list.