Time to shine the spotlight on the 10 Must-Have health tests for all women (even if you think you’re perfectly healthy), in addition to your annual visit to your primary doctor.
Scheduling routine health screenings, which can detect potential problems early, however, is a habit we must adapt. It could save our lives.
I’ve had many patients who diligently went for their screenings, and it changed the course of their lives.
Many of them have been diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stages and were able to undergo surgery, without losing their breasts, with an excellent medical prognosis.
So here are the 10 must-have health tests for all women
1. Blood Pressure Screening
The new guidelines set by the American Heart Association (AHA) have reclassified blood pressure categories this way: (systolic is the top number and diastolic is the bottom number on a blood pressure reading).
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
- Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
The AHA also recommends that you should have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years, starting at age 20 if you do not have a pre-existing condition.
➡ For adults age 40 or older, African-Americans, or for those with conditions like obesity that put them at increased risk for hypertension, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends an annual screening.
2. Cholesterol Check
This is a tool used to assess your risk of developing heart disease or stroke. If you’re age 20 or older, you should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years, according to the National Institutes of Health.
High cholesterol usually has no symptoms, so this is an important test. If you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes or a heart or lung condition it should be checked more regularly, as recommended by your doctor.
➡ Your total cholesterol levels should ideally be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl); a borderline high reading is between 200 and 239 mg/dl.
If you are at risk for heart disease or stroke, make a plan with your doctor for how often you should have this blood test.
3. Pap Smears
➡ During the Pap smear, your doctor uses a speculum to widen the vaginal canal, takes cells from the cervix with a small brush, and examines those cells for changes that may lead to cervical cancer.
If you’re 30 or older, you can have the test every five years if you combine it with a screen for HPV, which is an STD that can lead to cervical cancer.
➡ The American Cancer Society, recommends that women should have annual screenings at age 45-55, and then switch to a biannual (twice a year) mammogram from age 55 and up.
If you have a family history of the disease, are age 55 or older, or have other concerns, talk to your doctor about starting annual screening earlier.
5. Bone Density Screening
➡ Those with risk factors for osteoporosis, such fractures or low body weight, should be screened earlier.
For this test, called a DEXA scan, you lie on a table while a low-dose X-ray machine captures images of your bones. The frequency of this screening varies depending on bone density and other risk factors.
6. Blood Glucose Tests (blood sugar)
As recommended by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases a fasting plasma glucose test reading of 100 mg/dl or higher indicates that you may be pre-diabetic
➡ A reading greater than 126 mg/dl indicates Diabetes.
If you are obese, have a family history of diabetes or are of a race or ethnicity that’s at particular risk, you may want to start earlier and get screened more often. Your doctor can help you strategize.
7. Colon Cancer Screening
➡ A sigmoidoscopy, in which a lighted tube and camera are inserted in the anus to examine the lower colon, or
➡ A colonoscopy, in which a longer tube examines the entire colon.
Unless a problem is found or you have a greater risk of colon cancer, a sigmoidoscopy is repeated every 5 years, and a colonoscopy every 10 years.
8. Body Mass Index (BMI)
➡ While there are no hard and fast guidelines for how often your doctor should take this measurement, it’s an important number.
➡ Your BMI indicates whether you are obese, a condition that raises your risk of serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
9. Skin Examination
➡ Carefully inspect the skin all over your body, looking for any new moles or changes to existing moles, which can be early signs of skin cancer.
If you are at increased risk for skin cancer or have a family history of it, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends you talk to your doctor or dermatologist about how often you should have an in-office exam.
10. Dental Checkup
Through regular dental checkups, which involve cleaning and examining the teeth, along with X-rays, you can spot early signs of decay and any other problems. Also, read about the connection between Diabetes and dental problems by clicking this link.
Because these tests are considered preventive, many insurance plans cover them. But while they’re vital for your health, they can also be expensive — so check with your insurance company before making appointments, and check to see whether your community offers any of these tests for free.