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Women: Go-To Health Guidelines at Any Age


Women's Health GuidelinesIt’s National Women’s Health Week, and in honor of mothers, sisters, aunts, wives and daughters everywhere, we want to give you the tools you need to keep your health in check no matter what your age.

Part of good health is leading a healthy lifestyle before disease strikes, and preventive screenings play an important role in this. Certain conditions can be detected in the early stages, before symptoms are present, and in some cases this means you can make lifestyle changes to stop the condition from progressing, or even reverse it entirely. Preventive screenings, along with sound nutrition and exercise, can thereby empower you to take charge of your health.

What are the Most Important Health Screenings for Women?

The following are among the most important screenings you should be aware of. In the next section we highlight which tests are recommended for you, depending on your age.

  • Blood Pressure: If your blood pressure (the force of blood pushing against your blood vessels) stays high over time (known as hypertension) this increases your risk of:
    • Stroke
    • Heart attack
    • Kidney problems
    • Heart failure
    • Eye problems

A blood pressure reading is the only way to know for certain if your levels are in the healthy range, as most people with high blood pressure feel no symptoms. If your readings are above normal, you may need medication to help bring it down, but you can also prevent and control high blood pressure by not smoking or chewing tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and limiting processed foods, especially those high in sodium, in your diet.

  • Pap Smear (Cervical Cancer Screening): A pap smear looks for precancerous cells in your cervix that might turn into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent and treat when caught early, which is why pap smears are so important.
  • Bone Mineral Density Test: This test uses an x-ray or CT scan to determine the mineral density of your bones. This helps you estimate bone strength, which can help determine if you have, or are at risk for, osteoporosis. In order to promote bone health and strength throughout your life, lifestyle changes such as weight-bearing exercise, dietary changes and supplements, such as calcium and vitamin D, will help to promote bone health and strengthen bone forming functions in the body.
  • Cholesterol: Your cholesterol levels, and particularly your levels of good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, can give you some insight into your heart disease risk. If your levels are abnormal, diet and exercise changes can often reduce cholesterol as effectively as a statin cholesterol-lowering drug.
  • Mammogram (Breast Cancer Screening): Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women. A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts that is used to help detect cancer in its early stages, before a lump can be felt. Because all x-rays expose you to radiation, there has been some concern that regular mammograms may actually increase your risk of radiation-induced cancer. This is a real risk, albeit most likely a relatively small one, so it’s up to you to discuss with your doctor and weigh your options.
  • Updated guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend that women in their 40s should NOT get routine mammograms, which is a departure from other health agencies, which typically recommend screening begin at age 40.
  • Colorectal Cancer Screening (Colonoscopy): While it’s estimated that over 103,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012, and over 49,000 died from the disease in 2011, the majority of these diagnoses and deaths are preventable with lifestyle changes and proper screening.1 Although colon cancer is often labeled as a “man’s” disease, the risk for men is only slightly higher than in women, so this is important for women too!

    Because colon cancer almost always begins as a polyp, if the polyp is detected early enough during screening it can be removed to prevent the cancer from spreading, or even before it turns into cancer at all. Regular screening is recommended starting at age 50, as more than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases occur in those aged 50 and older.

Keep in mind that you don’t need all of these screenings every year. Which screenings should you consider at your next doctor’s visit? This depends largely on your age.

In Your 20s and 30s...

You may not think health screenings are necessary at this age, but this is a crucial time to monitor your health. Lifestyle changes made now can have a significant impact on your risk of disease later on. From ages 18-39, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following preventive screenings:

  • Blood pressure: Every 2 years if you have normal readings, once a year if your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, and once a year if you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 (readings of 140/90 or higher should be discussed with your physician for possible treatment).
  • Diabetes (blood glucose or A1c test): Discuss with your doctor whether screening is necessary.
  • Hearing screening: Every 10 years.
  • Pap smear: A Pap test is recommended every 3 years if you are 21 or older, have had vaginal sex, and have a cervix.
  • Cholesterol: This test is recommended starting at age 20 if you are at increased risk for heart disease (such as being overweight, family history of the disease, etc.).

During these years of your life, be sure your diet contains food-based sources of calcium and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Consuming healthy nutrients now will help keep your bones strong later in life. If you’re planning to become pregnant, also be sure to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, which provide folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent serious birth defects. Once you reach your mid-to-late 30s, keep in mind that your metabolism may begin to slow down. This means you may need to eat slightly less (about 100 fewer calories a day) or exercise more to keep your weight steady.

In Your 40s...

  • Blood pressure: Every 2 years if you have normal readings, once a year if your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, and once a year if you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 (readings of 140/90 or higher should be discussed with your physician for possible treatment).
  • Diabetes (blood glucose or A1c test): Start at age 45, then every three years.
  • Eye and ear health: A comprehensive “baseline” exam for vision and hearing should be done at age 40, then again every 2-4 years or as your doctor recommends.
  • Hearing screening: Every 10 years.
  • Pap smear: A Pap test is recommended every 3 years if you have had vaginal sex and have a cervix.
  • Cholesterol: This test is recommended if you are at increased risk for heart disease (such as being overweight, family history of the disease, etc.).
  • Mammogram: If you are at an increased risk of breast cancer, discuss with your doctor whether a mammogram is right for you.

In your 40s, muscle mass slowly begins to deteriorate. To prevent age-related muscle loss, be sure your exercise program includes strength training (at least twice a week) and weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or aerobics (about 5 times a week).

In Your 50s and Early 60s...

  • Blood pressure: Every 2 years if you have normal readings, once a year if your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, and once a year if you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 (readings of 140/90 or higher should be discussed with your physician for possible treatment).
  • Bone mineral density test: If you’re at an increased risk of osteoporosis, ask your doctor whether a bone mineral density test is necessary.
  • Diabetes (blood glucose or A1c test): Every three years.
  • Eye and ear health: Get checked every 2-4 years until age 55, then get checked every 1-3 years or as your doctor recommends.
  • Hearing screening: Every 3 years.
  • Pap smear: A Pap test is recommended every 3 years if you have had vaginal sex and have a cervix.
  • Cholesterol: This test is recommended if you are at increased risk for heart disease (such as being overweight, family history of the disease, etc.).
  • Mammogram: Get screened every 2 years.
  • Colorectal cancer screening: Get screened starting at age 50.

As you age, your body becomes less able to produce vitamin D from the sun, so make sure you’re receiving adequate amounts through a combination of sun exposure and supplementation. Along with benefits to support your heart health, vitamin D is essential in helping your body properly absorb calcium into your bones. Regular exercise during this time may also help to relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.

Age 65 and Over...

  • Blood pressure: Every 2 years if you have normal readings, once a year if your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, and once a year if you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 (readings of 140/90 or higher should be discussed with your physician for possible treatment).
  • Bone mineral density test: Get tested at least once at age 65 or older.
  • Diabetes (blood glucose or A1c test): Every three years.
  • Eye and ear health: Get checked every 1-2 years.
  • Hearing screening: Every 3 years.
  • Pap smear: Ask your doctor whether this test is necessary.
  • Cholesterol: This test is recommended if you are at increased risk for heart disease (such as being overweight, family history of the disease, etc.).
  • Mammogram: Get screened every 2 years through age 74; 75 and over ask your doctor if it’s necessary.
  • Colorectal cancer screening: Get screened through age 75.

Proper diet and regular exercise are essential now more than ever. While your body will tend to hold on to fat more readily now as muscle deteriorates, you can significantly impact this by exercising regularly and eating right and including more sources of healthy protein. Aerobic activity, strength training, flexibility exercises and stretching can help you prevent bone loss and build your muscle mass. It can also make you less prone to fractures, chronic disease and pain, while boosting your balance, strength and state of mind.

Other Health Screenings to Consider

Regardless of your age, there are some other health screenings that women should consider depending on their individual circumstances. These include:

  • STDs: If you are sexually active, you should consider getting regular testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis. This is particularly important if you’re pregnant or you have multiple sex partners or unprotected sex.
  • Depression: A depression screening, which can be conducted online or at a screening center in your area, involves a series of questions designed to evaluate your mental health and determine if you are at risk of depression. You may want to attend a depression screening if you’ve noticed symptoms of depression that interfere with your daily routine, such as persistent sad mood, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, unexplained change in appetite, thoughts of death or suicide or changes in your sleeping patterns. Keep in mind that a depression screening is not a professional diagnosis; if depressive symptoms are detected, you will be referred to a doctor or other mental health professional for further evaluation.

No matter what stage of life you’re in right now, taking steps to lead a healthy lifestyle will help you prevent disease and stay well. As your health needs change over the years, appropriate screenings can provide a window to what’s going on inside your body, giving you opportunity to make healthy changes before disease develops.

Related Blog Posts:

Hope for Adult Woman Who Struggle with Acne
New Studies Help Clear Up Confusion About Mammograms


Sources:
1. American Cancer Society, Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2013.