No matter your current health status, if you’re a woman, you’re going to need to undergo some standard testing regularly, to make sure that any changes in your health are identified early, when they can best be treated; undergoing regular health tests and screenings also makes sure you stay healthy if you already are.
There are several tests women should undergo regularly, both to prevent disease and catch diseases early enough that treatment can be provided to effect the best cure. Let’s take a look at the top ones.
Testing for a proper weight and body mass index
If you are overweight or obese, this can contribute to or even cause a number of other health factors in and of itself, so maintaining a normal weight is going to help you forestall or prevent health problems you might otherwise have. Ideally, most women should opt for a body mass index of under 25; your doctor can help you determine what your own best body mass index is. (In certain cases, very muscular or athletic women are going to have body mass indexes of over 25, but still will be perfectly healthy and of a good weight, so have your doctor help you determine what your own best body mass index should be based upon your own lifestyle and body type.)
If you are age 45 or over, you should be getting your cholesterol checked regularly. If you have diabetes, if you have high blood pressure, if you smoke, or if you have heart disease, you should probably get your cholesterol checked earlier than that. This is a simple test that requires just a simple pinprick of blood.
High blood pressure
Known as the “silent killer,” high blood pressure is so deadly because it’s usually asymptomatic. Get your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor and/or by going to one of many free locations available, such as your local pharmacy or drugstore.
You are at risk for diabetes if you are significantly overweight or obese. In addition, if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you should also be tested for diabetes regularly. Caught early, type 2 diabetes may be able to be controlled with dietary changes and in some cases medications. If necessary, insulin injections can also be given to control blood sugar. (Type 1 diabetes is caused by the destruction of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, and must always be controlled with insulin injections.) Left uncontrolled, though, diabetes is deadly.
Beginning at about age 40, you should have a mammogram every one to two years. If your family has a history of breast cancer, your doctor may advise you to take mammograms earlier. Breast self exams, too, may be used to check for lumps or any changes in breast tissue. Report any changes to your doctor to have them checked out further.
Between the ages of about 21 and 65, you should get a Pap smear every one to three years if you’ve ever been sexually active.
Colon cancer is one of those cancers that can be completely cured with little to no discomfort if caught early. Doctors can remove precancerous lesions or polyps right away, and nothing further should need to be done. By contrast, colon cancer can be deadly if not caught early enough, and treatment is devastatingly unpleasant even if you can be cured. For most people, having regular screening tests after the age of 50 is enough, but if you have a history of colon cancer in your family, ask your doctor if you should start screening before that age.
If you’re a so called “Ssun worshiper,” you are at particularly high risk for skin cancer. Make sure your doctor checks out any moles or spots you have at every checkup for changes, and report any changes you see. If a mole begins to bleed, itch or hurt, make sure you see your doctor right away. Caught early, skin cancer is one of the most curable types, but once it spreads, it can be difficult to cure and may even be deadly.
And to help prevent skin cancer, use sunscreen when you are out in the sun and avoid being a “sun worshiper.” If an appeal to vanity works for you, you should know that sun exposure also causes wrinkles and sagging skin at an early age, too. So stay out of the sun or use sunscreen to both look and feel better.
Not just something you can “snap out of,” depression is a major medical condition that can certainly impact your life negatively, and even threaten it. If you have depression, don’t simply ignore it. Talk to your doctor and seek treatment; in the vast majority of cases, depression can be treated with talk therapy and/or medication.
Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV
If you are sexually active and nonmonogamous (or your partner is), make sure you get checked often for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Many sexually transmitted diseases are curable, and therapies for even incurable diseases like HIV have greatly improved. If you must be sexually active, and you and/or your partner are not monogamous, make sure you use barrier protection like condoms. This can at least help prevent the acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases, but will not entirely prevent it even so. Remember that the only safe sex is monogamous sex between two partners who are not infected with a sexually transmitted disease, or abstinence.
You can get osteoporosis if you’ve reached menopause, especially if you are at risk; osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones, and can occur more often in small boned women, women who smoke, and women with a family history of osteoporosis. Talk with your doctor about getting a bone density test if you are at risk or if you are approaching menopause. New medications on the market can help rebuild bone density even if you’ve already lost it. And if you’re not yet menopausal, you can help ensure bone health by doing weight-bearing exercise and following a good nutritious diet, including one that has enough vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.