Taking charge of your own health is an important step to catching diseases early or to prevent serious health conditions later. There are numerous ways to stay healthy and on top of your health, including talking with your healthcare provider to set up preventive screenings and well-woman visits.
The National Women's Health week website suggests five very simple and straightforward steps to follow:
The basic screenings every woman needs to know about are:
Here's an easy-to-follow interactive screening chart that gives you guidance depending on your age as to what is recommended for each screening, but here are a few guidelines on each from HHS.
Breast cancer. Ask your doctor or nurse if you should have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. Your age, family health, and personal health are all factors.
Cervical cancer. If you're between the ages of 21 and 65 and have ever been sexually active, schedule a Pap smear every one to three years. If you're older than 65 and your last Pap smear was normal, you don't need a Pap smear. If you've had a hysterectomy (your uterus and/or ovaries removed) that wasn't for cancer, you can also skip the Pap smear.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), including chlamydia. STDs can cause a range of problems. They may cause trouble getting pregnant, problems that are passed on to your baby while pregnant, and other health concerns. It's important to be tested regularly. Also, if you're younger than 25 and having sex, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about a chlamydia screening.
Colorectal cancer. Starting at age 50, it's a good idea to have regular colorectal cancer tests. You may want to be tested sooner if you have a family history of colorectal cancer. There are several ways to test for colon cancer; your doctor can help you pick the right one.
Depression. Your emotional health makes a big difference to your physical health. Studies have shown that depression lowers the body's ability to resist all kinds of attacks. If you've felt consistently sad or weary for two weeks or longer, talk to your doctor about being tested for depression.
High blood pressure. The American Heart Association says that nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women. High blood pressure can be a risk for pregnant women and their babies. After age 65, women are actually more likely to have high blood pressure than men. So have your blood pressure checked at least every two years after you turn 18. A normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80; "prehypertension" ("pre-high-blood-pressure") readings range from 120/80 to 139/89. High blood pressure readings begin at 140/90 and can go all the way to emergency levels from there.
Diabetes. It's also called "high blood sugar." By any name, diabetes is behind all kinds of health problems. In fact, it seems like scientists find new links between health problems and diabetes all the time. It can be to blame for heart, brain, eye, nerve, kidney, and foot trouble. If your blood pressure is higher than 135/80, or if you are on medicine for high blood pressure, regular diabetes screenings can help you prevent a host of problems.
High cholesterol. It's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked every year starting around age 20. This is even more important if:
HIV. HIV or AIDS screening is a must if:
Human papillomavirus (often called "genital warts"). The virus that causes these warts has also been linked to cervical cancer. Screening should begin at age 30 and should be done again about every three years after that.
Osteoporosis (weakening or thinning of the bones). Get a screening at age 65 to check your bones' strength. If you're younger than 65 but wondering whether you might have a problem, talk to your doctor.
Obesity. If your body mass index (BMI) number shows that you're overweight or obese, you're at risk for all kinds of issues. To find your BMI, use a BMI Calculator like this one and see where you rank. Generally, a person is overweight if their body mass is between 25 and 29.9. Any number over 30 is considered obese. If your BMI is too high, take action and talk to your healthcare team. The sooner you start, the easier it is to solve!
There are some medicines you can take to prevent health problems. As always, you should ask a healthcare professional first. A few of these include:
Aspirin. It may help prevent strokes. If you're age 55 or older, ask your doctor about it.
Estrogen (Hormone Replacement Therapy). It's been found that estrogen is NOT a safe way to prevent heart disease. In fact, it may increase your risk. Estrogen and Hormone Replacement Therapy may, however, help with the symptoms of menopause. If you're having trouble, talk to your doctor.
Breast cancer medicines. Some studies have shown that taking breast cancer medicines may help prevent cancer from starting in women with family histories of the disease. So if you have a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer, ask your doctor about this.
Immunizations. Even when you've finished school, there are still shots you should get regularly depending on your age and general health. These include:
Click here for a handy online quiz from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help you see which vaccinations you might need.
So why not take some time to get your health in order this month? If you're like many women, there's someone who counts on you. Whether it's by your parents, your spouse, your children, or your job, you're needed. Why not value yourself as much as others value you? Call your health team and make an appointment for a checkup today. It's the first step on what can be a much healthier, happier journey.
For more on women's preventive services, see www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines.
Last updated April 2014
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