It’s a story as old as it is true: women are often so busy taking care of others, they don’t prioritize looking after themselves. But it’s important to make the time for regular health screenings. These routine visits to your doctor to detect potential problems early are key to avoiding more serious health issues down the road.
Just like regular exercise, stress management and choosing nutritious foods are all vital to promoting good health, women need to view regular health screenings as no different to regular maintenance of the vehicle they drive. The best cure for any problem is prevention. The following five health screenings are key to maintaining good health and for detecting diseases in their earliest stages.
- Bone density test
The US Preventive Task Force recommends all women aged 65 and older get screened for osteoporosis with a bone density test. Any women with risk factors for osteoporosis, such previous fracture or low body weight, should be screened at a younger age. For this painless test, called a DEXA scan, a woman lies on a table while a low-dose machine captures images of her bones. The results of the test helps a doctor make recommendations about what a woman can do to reduce her chance of breaking a bone.
- Heart screening
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, yet few women do much to take action to prevent it. There are five tests to help assess a woman’s heart health: blood pressure, HDL or “good” cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose.
Blood pressure should be taken at least twice a year and should be around 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower. A reading at or above 130/80 mm Hg is considered elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk for hypertension.
Total cholesterol levels, which include HDL, LDL and triglycerides, are important indicators of a woman’s risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Blood glucose is measured by a blood test called the Hemoglobin A1C. This test gives a picture of a person’s average blood glucose (blood sugar) control for the past two to three months, indicating whether a person has diabetes, or is at risk of it. For people without diabetes, the normal range for the hemoglobin A1C test is between 4 percent and 5.6 percent. Hemoglobin A1C levels between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent indicate increased risk of diabetes, and levels of 6.5 percent or higher indicate diabetes.
One out of eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. An important part of breast health is to have regular screenings of the breasts to catch breast cancer at its earliest stage possible. A mammogram is a screening test for breast cancer involving compressing the breast between plates for x-rays images to be captured. A woman should ask her doctor at what age to begin mammograms depending on her family history and other health factors.
- Pelvic exam/pap smear
All women starting at age 21 and until age 65 should have a pap smear with their gynecologist every three years, if not more frequently depending on her doctor’s recommendation and her individual health status. Pap smears are done to help detect early signs of cervical cancer. A pelvic exam is a yearly examination of a woman’s genital system and is a way for doctors to look for signs of illness in certain organs in a woman’s body. The exam looks at the vulva, vagina, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes, along with the bladder and rectum.
- Skin exam
Years of spending too much time in the sun can show up decades later with both nonmelanoma and malignant melanoma skin cancers. Skin exams are fast, easy and an effective way to detection any issues early. Women should examine their own skin at home on a monthly basis, carefully looking for new moles or changes to existing moles, any of which could be signs of skin cancer. A yearly in-office exam by a dermatologist is also recommended.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical contributor for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com, davidsamadiwiki, davidsamadibio and Facebook