Being a woman today often means keeping track of schedules and deadlines. With so much to do, and so little time to do it, we often bypass our own needs to attend to the needs of others in our lives. Honoring ourselves and being vigilant about our health is central to being able to fulfill our responsibilities, strengthen our relationships, serve our communities and achieve our personal goals and life’s mission. Getting regular checkups, preventive screening tests and immunizations are among the most important things we can do for ourselves in our quest to stay healthy. In honor of Women’s Health Care Month, we present you with 12 health screenings every woman needs. Depending on your personal risk factors and family medical history, your primary care physician (PCP) may recommend additional or more frequent screenings.
Clinical breast exam (CBE)
A CBE is a simple physical exam performed by a trained health professional to identify changes and abnormalities in the breast. Susan G. Komen for the Cure recommends that all women, beginning at age 20, should get a CBE every three years, then every year after age 40. Women should make this part of their yearly physical.
Although there has been some recent debate concerning screening guidelines for women, breast cancer organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute all recommend that beginning at age 40, all women “of average risk” should get a mammogram every one to two years. Some women with a family history of cancer and increased risk for developing breast cancer might need to start even earlier. Women should speak with their doctor or health care provider about their risk, and when and what screening is best for them.
To protect against heart disease and other chronic illnesses, it’s important to monitor your cholesterol levels. Women should have their cholesterol checked at least every five years starting at about age 20. This can be done through a simple blood test either at your doctor’s office, a lab with your doctor’s orders or through a community health screening event. The ideal level is below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for total cholesterol.
Starting at age 18, every woman needs her blood pressure checked every two years. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called the “silent killer,” because if unchecked, it can lead to heart attack and stroke. Ideal blood pressure for women is less than 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). You should have your blood pressure checked as part of a yearly physical. You can also monitor your blood pressure away from the doctor’s office, too. Many pharmacies and grocery stores now have blood pressure monitoring machines, and local screenings may also be available in your local community through health fairs and community health events.
Women should get a blood glucose test every three years starting at age 45 to test for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Before age 45, you may need to have your blood glucose levels tested if you have symptoms of diabetes or several risk factors. Your blood sample can be taken and tested at your doctor’s office or a lab. The range of normal test results can vary, but generally a test result of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Body Mass Index
Body weight is only half the story in terms of determining excess weight or obesity. Body mass index (BMI) is a more accurate measurement and calculates body fat based on your height and weight. The higher the BMI the more at-risk you are for developing certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. A BMI of less than 25 and a waist circumference below 35 inches is desirable for overall health.