It takes more than just an apple a day to keep the doctor away. There’s a lot of advice that doctors want you to know to help you stay healthy. Here are the top seven facts doctors want women to know about their bodies from head to toe.
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Family medical history is important
It’s likely that your doctor has asked you questions about your family history in previous checkups, and if you haven’t had the answers, now is the time to get them. While knowing what your parents and even your extended family have had won’t predict your medical future, it can help you and your doctor be on the lookout for specific things. To cover your bases, find out about the health issues of both your parents — pay attention to things like high blood pressure and cholesterol, any cancer or chronic illnesses, and if applicable know the cause of death for your grandparents and parents, along with the age they died, recommends Dr. Yael Varnado, the anesthesiologist and wellness advocate behind askdoctorv.com. In this case knowledge truly is power.
The three numbers you should know by heart
Cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI) — those are the three things that women of all ages should keep their eyes on. High cholesterol and blood pressure can both be affected by your family history (another good reason to talk to your parents now), and knowing about them when you are young can help you learn to control them through diet and exercise. As for your BMI, it’s the measure used by doctors to tell if you are overweight or obese. Keep an eye on all three to promote overall health.
Cramps and spotting between periods could be telling you something
For many women, cramps are a normal (if unpleasant) part of their monthly period, but sometimes they can be a sign of something out of the ordinary. For most teens and women in their early 20s, cramps are due to an excess of the hormone prostaglandin. However, in older women cramps can be a sign of fibroids, polyps or endometriosis, according to Dr. David Ghozland, a board-certified OB-GYN at Marina Del Rey Hospital. Dr. Ghozland also advises women to see their doctors if they begin to experience spotting between periods unexpectedly; it is likely due to hormonal changes but could be the sign of something more serious.
Chest pains aren’t the only sign of a heart attack
Heart attacks are different for women than they are for men. Instead of severe chest pains, there can be other warning signs, according to cardiovascular specialists and authors of Beat the Heart Attack Gene, Dr. Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen, ARNP. Women should be on the lookout for less severe pains in the upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw or arms. It has also been reported that many women experienced extreme fatigue or anxiety in the weeks leading up to a heart attack. While this doesn’t mean you should run to the ER every time you’re stressed and have tension in your shoulders, it does mean you should pay attention to what’s normal for your body and don’t ignore how you feel.
Skin cancer shows up in unexpected places
Your face likely gets the most sun exposure, but it’s not the only place that skin cancer can show up. There are many places that women forget to check — like your scalp, back of the neck, and even the bottom of your feet — all places that are often exposed but not protected by sunscreen, according to Dr. Kenneth Mark, a certified cosmetic dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at the New York University Department of Dermatology. In addition to seeing a dermatologist regularly, the best way to detect skin cancer early is to pay attention to the texture of your skin (on your whole body) and make note of any irregularities. And of course, the best protection is to wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily.
Eye strain is more common than you think
You aren’t just straining your eyes by squinting when it’s time to update your contact lens prescription. Everything from the lighting in your office to the position of your computer to spending an afternoon curled up with a book can cause your eyes to work overtime, according to Dr. Jim Sheedy, optometrist and director of the Vision Performance Institute. When it comes to lighting, the culprit is actually overly bright light in your peripheral vision. Check the lighting in your home office by holding your hand up like a visor to block the lamp or overhead lighting. If you feel an immediate relief, find a way to tone down the light source. As for your computer, make sure your screen is positioned directly in front of you and that the top of the screen is at eye level. Plus, don’t forget to take breaks. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. It’s even more important for women to follow this rule as they are prone to dry eyes around menopause.
Allergies cause more than just sneezing
Think you don’t need to be tested for allergies because you don’t start sneezing more often come spring or fall? Think again. Knowing both your food and environmental allergens can have a huge impact on your life. Allergies can cause fatigue, headaches, digestive issues, and even joint pain in addition to the common seasonal allergy symptoms like sneezing and watery eyes, according to Dr. Susanne Bennett, author of The 7-Day Allergy Makeover. Dr. Bennett recommends allergy tests if you have any of these symptoms. You can see a specialist for a skin test, which works best for seasonal or chemical allergies. To test for food allergies, the best way to find out what might be causing problems is through an elimination diet.
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