It’s the power of prevention.
As women, it’s easy to lose track of our own well-being while keeping track of loved ones. We tend to spouses, children and aging parents and for some a demanding career is a priority. Most days we race against the clock to accomplish an exhausting to-do list, from running errands and transporting kids to meeting work deadlines and keeping a household on schedule.
But as a certified nurse midwife, I suggest to patients the most critical schedule to keep is one that will help ensure a happy and healthy life—which includes getting checked early to prevent disease.
It’s even more important if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant to keep on top of your health—especially if you have conditions that would make a pregnancy high risk. Many factors help determine women who are in the high-risk group, including diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, kidney disease or epilepsy or if you are over the age of 35.
Getting the appropriate screening tests each year for your age is as essential as making time for family and friends. The tests can help detect early signs of diseases like cancer, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other conditions.
The screening tests you need depend on your age, family history, personal health history and other lifestyle and risk factors. Many deadly diseases can be prevented—take action now to care for you. A one-hour visit to your healthcare provider annually can ultimately lead to a lifetime full of good health.
FACT: The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better your chance of a cure.
- If you’re in your 20s or 30s, your healthcare provider will perform a breast exam as part of your regular check-up every one to three years
- Once you hit age 40-50, have a mammogram every 1-2 years —a low-dose X-ray that can find a lump before you can feel it.
FACT: With regular Pap smears, cervical cancer is easier to prevent.
- Pap smears find abnormal cells on the cervix, which can be removed before they ever turn into cancer.
- Pap smears should be done every 3 years between the ages of 21-30, and every 3-5 years from age 30-65 if combined with a test for HPV, the virus that causes most cervical cancer.
FACT: With screening colonoscopies, colon cancer is easier to prevent.
- Colonoscopies can detect precancerous polyps and remove them before they have a chance to develop into cancer.
- Starting at age 50, have a colonoscopy every 10 years to reduce your risk of colon cancer.
FACT: High blood pressure can cause life-threatening heart attack or stroke and as a woman ages—and especially if she is overweight—her risk of high blood pressure increases,
- Blood pressure readings include two numbers. The first (systolic) is the pressure of your blood when your heart beats. The second (diastolic) is the pressure between beats.
- Normal adult blood pressure is below 120/80. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is 140/90 or above.
FACT: Heart attack is the number one killer of women, so early screening of cholesterol and blood pressure is critical.
- High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking can cause plaque to clog your arteries.
- Plaque can build up, silently, for many years without symptoms, eventually causing a heart attack or stroke.
- Prior to a cholesterol test, fast for 8 hours. Then you’ll take a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fat).
FACT: One-third of Americans with diabetes don’t know they have the disease that can cause heart or kidney disease and stroke.
- Diabetes is tested by a simple blood test, and fasting for eight hours is required. A blood sugar level of 100-125 may show pre-diabetes; 126 or higher may mean diabetes.
- Diabetes—especially when found early—can be controlled with diet, exercise, weight loss, and medication.
FACT: Osteoporosis is a state when a person’s bones are weak and fragile.
- After menopause, women start to lose more bone mass.
- The first symptom is often a painful break after even a minor fall, blow, or sudden twist.
- Starting at age 65, a special type of X-ray called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) can measure bone strength and find osteoporosis before breaks happen. It can also help predict the risk of future breaks.
FACT: Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S.—one in five will get it at some point during their lives. Be vigilant!
- Get a good skin check yearly, and in between, be aware of moles that may have changed, or any differences in the texture or quality of your skin.
- The best prevention for skin cancer is to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure with sunscreen, and to avoid the use of tanning beds, which are associated with melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.