The Straight, No Chaser Guide to Health Screenings for Women
Typically, this is the time of the year when you start to inventory all the things for which you’re thankful. In the event health or your family comes to mind, you might be interested in preserving your health. This and the previous Straight, No Chaser looks at current health screening recommendations. Whether it’s an ounce of prevention or early detection, you’re much better off knowing what your health status is. Today, let’s focus on women’s health. Women are much more likely to have encountered a physician, so that results in longer life expectancies, but to be clear, here’s what you should be protecting against. Please remember: these recommendations are in effect regardless of “how you feel!”
Health Screening For Women – Ages 40 to 64
Blood Pressure Screening:
- At age 40, you should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you’re seeing a physician at any point during the year, this will be done. Be sure to ask for and document your numbers. If you aren’t seeing a physician, these days local pharmacies and various other opportunities through communities will allow you to stay aware of your blood pressure.
- If you’re getting it checked on your own, remember the following numbers: if the top number (systolic) is above 140 or the lower number is more than 90, you should schedule an appointment with a health care provider.
- Although opinions are evolving about the benefits of breast self-exams in finding cancer or saving lives, it still remains the case that the benefits of early detection without much risk in performing exams render monthly exams harmless. You should discuss this with your physician, and contact him or her immediately if you notice any change in your breasts.
- Cholesterol levels should be checked no less than every 5 years.
Colon Cancer Screening
- All men between 50-75 should be screened along one of these guidelines:
- A stool test for blood every year
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy test every 5 years with a stool test for blood every 3 years
- A colonoscopy at least every 10 years, and perhaps more often with risk factors such as ulcerative colitis, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal adenomas
- Men under 50 years may need screening if a strong family history of colon cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease exists.
- After age 45, all men should be screened every 3 years.
- If your blood pressure is more than 135/80 mm Hg, or you have other risk factors for diabetes, you may be checked at any age.
- If you are overweight, you likely will be screened at younger ages; ask if you should be checked whenever you engage the healthcare system.
- At these ages, you should be visiting the dentist once or twice a year for an exam, cleaning and screening for oral cancer.
- At ages 40-54: an exam every 2-4 years
- At ages 55-64: an exam every 1-3 years
- Exams may be needed more frequently if you have visual difficulties or a significant risk for glaucoma. If you have diabetes, you need an annual eye exam.
Heart Disease Prevention
- At these ages, an examination is needed to quantify your risks for heart disease.
- When you have a physical examination, specifically ask if you should be taking a daily aspirin.
- Influenza: you should get a flu shot every year.
- Shingles (herpes zoster): you may get a shingles vaccine once after age 60.
- Tetanus-diphtheria: you should get a booster ever 10 years, assuming you’ve received the primary vaccine series – if not, you’ll need that first.
Lung Cancer Screening
- You will receive annual screening for lung cancer if between ages 55-80 and you have a 30 “pack-year” smoking history and if you either are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years.
- Ages 40-49: Your physician may or may not choose to have a mammogram performed every 1-2 years.
- Ages 50-75: You should have an exam performed every 1-2 years (frequency based on your risk factors).
- Mammograms may be recommended at earlier ages with strong family histories (e.g. mother or sister) of breast cancer.
- If you are under age 65 and have risk factors for osteoporosis, you should be screened.
- All women over 50 years of age should have a bone density test after a fracture.
Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear
- Women should have a Pap smear every 3 years, unless your physician is performing both a Pap smear and a human papilloma virus (HPV) test. If so, you are likely to be tested every 5 years. If you have had a total hysterectomy you will no longer receive Pap smears in the absence of a previous diagnosis of cervical cancer.
- If you are having high risk sexual activity you should be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea and other considerations at the physician’s discretion.
- Yes, this is a very important and basic screening tool. Every year if not more often with every exam, your height, weight, body mass index (BMI) and vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and respiratory (breathing) rate) should be checked.
- Your annual exam will also assess your risks due to alcohol, tobacco and other illicit drug use, depression, inadequate diet and exercise, and improper use of seat belts and smoke detectors. You should expect to receive a skin exam as part of your physical exam.
If this seems like a lot, well, you’re worth it. You can always print this out and compare notes with your physician; odds are they’ll have all of this covered. The most important thing is to get checked!
Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.
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