Make prevention your priority with this checkup checklist

Healthy cooking for good health

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.

Five basics for a healthy future

The National Women's Health week website suggests five very simple and straightforward steps toward taking control of your health:

  • Get regular checkups and screenings from a healthcare professional.
  • Get active.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.
  • Avoid unhealthy behaviors like smoking, or not wearing a seatbelt or bicycle helmet.

There are several important screenings every woman needs to know and discuss with a health professional:

  • Bone health
  • Breast health
  • Colorectal health
  • Diabetes
  • Heart health
  • Reproductive health
  • Sexual health

The following is a list of different diseases and health issues that may pose problems for women at various stages in life. A health care professional can assess your family and health history to best determine when to test for each potential health threat.

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 abouta 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.

Several environmental and health issues may result in a higher risk of illness and many can be prevented with a change of habit or by adding exercise. These risk factors include:

  • You use tobacco
  • You are overweight
  • You have diabetes or high blood pressure
  • You have a personal history of heart disease
  • You have a personal history of blocked arteries
  • A man in your family had a heart attack before age 50 or a woman in your family had a heart attack before age 60.

HIV. HIV or AIDS screening is a must if:

  • You've had sex with more than one partner without using a condom
  • You've injected drugs
  • You're being treated for a sexually transmitted disease
  • You've had a blood transfusion between 1975 and 1985
  • You have, or have had, a sex partner who is bisexual, injects drugs, or has HIV
  • You exchange sex for money or drugs, or if you have a sex partner who does
  • You have any other reason to worry you might be infected.

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.

An aspirin a day

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:

  • A flu shot (get one every year)

A pneumonia shot if you're 65 or older

  • A shingles or whooping cough shot if your doctor says you need one
  • Other vaccinations like MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) and Tdap (Tetanus-Diptheria-Pertussis), or Tdap boosters.

You're worth it!

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. 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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