Health Screenings for Women
Prevention is key to living long and living well. Getting regular check-ups and preventive screening tests are among the most important things you can do for yourself. Unfortunately, not all experts are in agreement about exactly which tests are required and how often they should be done. The following table offers a reasonable summary of current advice, although space limitations don’t allow us to indicate the source of each of the recommendations. Take time to review these guidelines for screening tests. Use the chart below to remind yourself of when you need to see your doctor based on your personal health profile. Make an appointment today!
|Blood Pressure Measurement||Every one to two years|
|Breast Exams||Annual exam by a physician. physician – after age 40. Less frequent exams may suffice for younger women. Some still recommend monthly self examination even though evidence of its effectiveness is lacking.|
|Mammography||Every one to two years after age 40; see your doctor for your personal risk needs assessment|
|Cholesterol Levels||Every five years after age 18|
|Pelvic Exams/Pap Smears||Every one to three years after age 18, or when sexually active|
|Rectal Exams||Annually after age 50; earlier if you have inflammatory bowel disease or a first-degree relative with colon cancer|
|Blood Sugar Levels||Varies depending on family history and risk factors for diabetes|
|Skin Exams||Annual mole checks; check yourself periodically for suspicious growths or changes.|
|Dental Exams||Twice a year for checkup and cleaning|
|HIV Test||If you had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985; have injected illegal drugs, had multiple sex partners, or had sex with a man who had sex with a man.|
|Tests for Sexually Transmitted Disease||If you have had multiple sexual partners or any sexually transmitted disease; recommended for all pregnant women at their first prenatal visit|
|Eye Exams||Every one to two years; yearly if you have diabetes or a family history of eye diseases|
What to Expect With Preventive Screenings
Your provider will wrap a rubber cuff around your upper arm and inflate it. He or she will slowly release the air from the cuff, listening to the pulse beats in your arm with a stethoscope to measure your "systolic" and "diastolic" blood pressure levels. These levels correspond to the pressure when your heart contracts and when it relaxes.
Your provider will look at your breasts for dimples, inverted nipples, or lumps. Then, he or she will manually examine your breasts using a circular motion, checking for lumps. Remember: You should also check your own breasts monthly.
The day of the exam you should not wear powder, cream, or deodorant on your upper body. If you experience breast tenderness before your period, you may want to schedule the test at a point in your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less sensitive. You will undress from the waist up. Your breasts will be pressed between plates and x-rays will be taken.
Since your blood travels throughout the body, blood samples can offer a wide range of information about your health. Usually blood is drawn from your arm with a needle connected to a tube. Less often, a finger prick test will collect drops of blood. Common blood tests are used to measure the levels of cholesterol, triglycerides (a form of fat), blood sugar, thyroid hormones, or other chemicals in your body. A test of your complete blood count (CBC) can indicate if you have anemia (low red blood cells), have an infection (high white blood cells), or a serious illness like leukemia. Some diseases, like hepatitis, syphilis, and AIDS, can also be detected through specifically ordered blood tests.
Pelvic exam and Pap test
During the pelvic exam, you lie on your back with knees bent and feet in stirrups. The doctor or nurse will feel your pelvic organs and use an instrument called a speculum to look inside your vagina at your cervix. He or she will also scrape a few cells from the cervix that will be sent to a lab to check for signs of cancer, disease, or infection.
These important exams screen for colorectal cancers—the third leading cancer killer of American women—and other possible problems in your digestive tract such as an ulcer or infection. Usually recommended after age 50, the most common are: fecal occult blood (looks for blood in a stool sample), flexible sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy (both inspect the colon with a light on the end of a flexible tube inserted through your rectum as you lie on your side, lightly sedated).
An analysis of a urine sample can indicate possible problems such as diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems, or bacterial infection. Other than during pregnancy, there are few reasons to have a urine examination for the purpose of health screening (as opposed to diagnosis). If a urinanalysis is indicated for you, you will be asked to urinate in a special container.
Your dermatologist will examine your whole body, looking for suspicious moles that have uneven borders, more than one color, are asymmetrical shape, or are a size larger than a pencil eraser. The American Cancer Society recommends that you do a self-check of your skin monthly. Report any suspicious looking, new, or changing moles to your doctor.
Tests will depend on your age, medical history, and date of your last exam. You may need to read letters on a chart in the distance or at reading distance. You may get eye drops to numb your eye or dilate your pupil, to test for glaucoma and check your retina. Your ophthalmologist may test how your eye moves and responds to light.
Lab Tests Online
National Women's Health Information Center
The Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
The National Women's Health Information Center. Available at: http://www.4women.gov/.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Jeff Andrews, MD, FRCSC, FACOG
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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