The Healthy Woman’s 7 Essential Screenings
Being in good health means something slightly different to every woman. For some, it’s an issue of fitness and nutrition as they age. For others, it’s managing the risks associated with having a family history of diabetes or osteoporosis. Still others are trying to create balance within a stressful lifestyle too taxing to body and mind.
Regardless of their most pressing health concerns, however, most women truly desire to keep a tight graspon their overall health—especially during and after menopause. While the leading causes of death for women nationwide are still heart disease and cancer, being healthy on a day-to-day basis encompasses a lot more. Thankfully, most of it can be managed with just a handful of timely health screenings.
1. Cervical Cancer Screening
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A woman’s gynecological health is one of the most important indicators of her overall wellness, and screenings related to cervical cancer are especially important. While it is no longer the leading cause of cancer death among women, cervical cancer rates remain high enough to warrant regular screenings.
Unless you have had a full hysterectomy, cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend women between the ages of 30 and 65 get a Pap test and HPV test,in conjunction, every five years. After age 65, if a woman has no history of cervical cancer and is not HIV-positive, she can for ego cervical cancer screening.
2. Diabetes Screening
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Diabetes is a debilitating disease affecting roughly 13 million women across the United States. It can lead to stroke, heart disease, blindness, damage to the nervous system, amputation and even death, and it is both preventable and controllable with changes in diet and exercise.
For women age 45 and older, diabetic screening should take place at least every three years. If risk factors are present, a screening needs to be done yearly. Risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- A family history of diabetes
- Being overweight and/or inactive
- Ethnicity—African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander
- A history of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS
3. Bone Density Test
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As a woman enters perimenopause, the time is right for her and her doctor to begin assessing her risk for osteoporosis. While all women should have a Dual X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan at the age of 65 to assess their bone density, some women may need to undergo screening earlier. Factors contributing to the need for earlier DXA screenings include:
- Being overweight or underweight
- Activity and fitness level
- Smoking and alcohol use history
- Family history
- Nutrition and calcium intake
- Any history of fractures
- Menstrual history
- Endocrine disorders
4. Heart Disease Screening
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The primary cause of death for women in the U.S. continues to be heart disease. For women with a low risk profile, a heart disease screening checking cholesterol and lipids should be obtained every five years, and a glucose test should be obtained every three years. Women with high risk profiles may need to be tested annually.
Women who are at a higher risk for developing heart disease are those who are overweight, have a family history of heart disease, have high cholesterol, are diabetic, smoke and don’t get the recommended amount of exercise.
5. Breast Cancer Screening
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Except for skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer afflicting women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, almost 300,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and 40,000 women die from the disease. Starting at age 40, screening guidelines recommend women should undergo a mammogram every one to two years, depending on their risk assessment.
6. Emotional Wellness
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A woman’s emotional health can be difficult to assess properly when her body is in the throes of menopause. From unpredictable hormone fluctuations to the added stress that aging, infertility and an identity in transition can bring, the change of life can be an emotionally demanding and difficult time.
It’s important for women who are entering perimenopause to talk with their doctors about whether or not their emotional experiences sit within the parameters of normal aging.
7. Colorectal Cancer
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Because detecting colorectal cancer early greatly reduces the mortality rate, women who are at average or low risk for the disease should begin screenings at age 50. African American women should starts screenings at age 45. If a woman’s risk for colorectal cancer is higher, she may need to get screened earlier and more regularly than the official guidelines recommend. Higher risk factors include:
- Personal history of colorectal polyps or cancer
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
- Family history, including genetic mutations
As she gets older, a woman can feel like her health is just one more demanding chore. From breast health to mental health, ensuring she is doing all she can to protect her well-being can feel daunting. Thankfully, these seven screenings—some obtained yearly, some much less often—will see to it that body, heart and mind are as they should be in menopause and beyond.