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7 Lifesaving health tests every woman should have

Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author and radio host. Dr. Wider is a medical adviser to Cosmopolitan magazine.

When it comes to taking care of others, we women consistently come through. But when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we often come up short. In fact, many of us fail big-time. Why? It doesn't need to be that way, so here's a list of the most important tests you need to help you stay healthy.

woman with doctor

Why do we do such a great job of taking care of our spouses, our children and our aging parents but drop ourselves to the bottom of the totem pole? No time, no energy... no matter what the excuse is, study after study proves that women who take the time to safeguard their own emotional and physical health take better care of their loved ones, too.

Even if you do take the time to take care of yourself, you may be confused. With all of the recent changes in the health care system, the messages about screening guidelines and prevention have become pretty confusing. In fact, many women I have spoken with have absolutely no clue what regularly scheduled tests they should be getting done for themselves and when they should see a doctor. So here's a list of the Top 7 lifesaving tests women need to stay healthy.

Blood pressure and cholesterol

Ask a roomful of women what disease they fear the most, and 8 out of 10 would tell you breast cancer. While breast cancer screening is important, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in this country. Yearly screening of blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease, is important in the prevention of heart disease.

Pap test

Even though the guidelines have recently changed, the Pap smear is still one of the most successful cancer-screening methods of all time. It is designed to find precancerous changes before they turn into cancer, and the new recommendation is that women should get a Pap smear every three years (instead of annually), starting at age 21.

Mammography

Annual mammography is recommended by the American Cancer Society for women 40 and older. Guidelines may vary depending on a woman's personal or family history of breast cancer and other factors. Some women may need to start earlier or get additional screenings with ultrasound or MRI.

Colonoscopy

If you see Katie Couric, you can thank her for putting this disease on the map for women. Before her televised colonoscopy, colon cancer was largely viewed as a man's disease. The recommendation is that women should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, starting at the age of 50.

Annual skin exam

Skin cancer is on the rise, especially among women. It is far and away the most common cancer among men and women, and melanoma is the most common cancer among young women ages 25-29, partly because that demographic continues to tan in record numbers. Having an annual skin exam done by a dermatologist is vital to detect and prevent skin cancer among women.

Diabetes screening

With the number of overweight and obese people climbing in our country, Type 2 diabetes cases are at an all-time high. Women ages 45 and older, anyone who has risk factors for diabetes and adults with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels should all get their glucose levels checked annually.

Dental exam

Unfortunately, many people ignore their oral health, and recent studies show that more and more people are skipping their dental exams. Believe it or not, your oral health can greatly impact the health of the rest of your body. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day and visiting the dentist one to two times a year is recommended.

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