Part of maintaining a healthy body is making sure you are up to date with important health screenings. Prioritizing your physical and mental health has never been more important, yet over the past few years, many women have put off taking care of their general health and wellness needs.
In a renewed effort to encourage women to take steps to improve their health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health is sharing screening guidelines and offering suggestions to improving overall wellness for women. According to Annmarie Vilkins, D.O., an OB/GYN at Henry Ford Health, there are some key screenings all women should get:
1. For Breast Cancer – Mammogram: A mammogram is an x-ray image of breast tissue. These images can detect early signs of breast cancer. All women should start getting mammograms annually by age 50, but many start earlier around age 40. You may need a scan before 40 if you are at a greater risk for breast cancer. Talk with your doctor to decide when you should start getting your annual mammograms.
2. For Osteoporosis – Bone Density Test: As you get older, your bones can start to weaken and become more fragile. A bone density test uses a special x-ray machine to scan different parts of your body to determine the strength and thickness of your bones. Based on your results, your doctor will determine a treatment plan that is right for you. You should get a bone density test at age 65--or earlier if you have additional risk factors for osteoporosis. Talk with your doctor to determine when you should get a bone density test.
3. For High Blood Pressure – Blood Pressure Measurement: If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to many other health issues, such as heart disease. Get your blood pressure levels checked regularly. That means every 3 to 5 years from ages 18 to 39, and yearly starting at age 40. If you are younger than 40 and have additional risk factors, however, you should get it checked yearly. If you do have high blood pressure, there are many ways to lower it.
4. For Colorectal Cancer – Colonoscopy: Colorectal cancers affect areas of the colon, rectum and anus. Checking the health of your colon can help identify any issues. Starting at age 45, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years for people with an average risk of colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The ACS recently lowered the age for beginning colonoscopies (it used to be age 50) due to a rise of colon cancer in younger adults. Talk with your doctor to see what’s right for you and make sure your insurance covers this treatment before age 50.
In this procedure, the doctor uses a a small camera to evaluate the inside of your colon. This screening can prevent colon cancer if pre-cancerous cells are identified and removed. Here are a few ways to prep for an upcoming appointment.
5. For Diabetes – Risk Assessment Test: Diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to break down sugar. Too much sugar can lead to many health complications. If you are overweight, start screenings between ages 35 to 70. Other factors that may contribute to this condition and affect how often you should be tested are:
- A preexisting health condition (like high cholesterol)
- A history of diabetes or gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant)
- Possible signs of the condition
6. For Heart Health – Cholesterol Screening: Like blood pressure, high levels of bad cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease. Have your cholesterol levels checked starting at age 40 or sooner if you have additional risk factors. Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify for a medication called statin to decrease your risk of developing heart disease. You can improve your cholesterol levels by eating a heart-healthy diet, becoming more physically active and quitting smoking.
7. For Cervical Cancer – Pap Test/HPV Test: The best screening test for cervical cancer is a pap smear. During this test, cells from the cervix are examined for abnormalities. Screening starts at age 21, and if you are over the age of 30, your doctor will also test the cells for HPV, which is the virus that leads to pre-cervical cancer and cervical cancer. Your doctor can check this during your routine gynecology appointment and tell you how often you should have this test.
8. For HIV – HIV Screening: HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight infections and diseases. Knowing if you have HIV is also important to prevent the spread of the virus. Your doctor can help you determine how often you should be tested based on your risk level. Once you have HIV, it never goes away. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage this illness.
9. For STDs/STIs – Routine Screenings: If you are under the age of 25 and sexually active or if you have multiple sex partners, it is important to be checked regularly for sexually transmitted diseases or infections. Many STDs or STIs are treatable. However, it is best to detect them quickly to prevent a case from worsening or transmitting them to a partner.
Being open about symptoms or your family history of a certain condition can help your doctor identify health issues as soon as possible. Remember that certain lifestyle habits can make you more susceptible to different medical conditions and may require additional screenings. For example, if you are a life-long smoker, you may need to talk to your doctor about a lung cancer screening.
Keeping up with your body is important. Be sure to get your annual checkups and necessary health screenings and talk to your doctor regularly about any health concerns or questions you might have.
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Annmarie Vilkins, D.O., is an obstetrician and gynecologist and a fellowship-trained minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon at Henry Ford Health, specializing in fibroids, endometriosis and pelvic pain. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center--New Center One in Detroit.