Illness isn't the only reason to see a doctor. In fact, preventive
care while you're healthy can help reduce your risk of getting sick
to begin with.
Regular screenings can help you avoid some of the biggest threats to women's
health—including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Screenings
can also detect diseases in early stages, when treatment is often most
The general guidelines that follow apply to most healthy women. All women
should talk to a doctor about a personal schedule for regular health screenings.
Depending on your age, overall health and risk factors, your doctor may
also recommend tests for additional health problems, such as vision and
Blood pressure is the force exerted on your blood vessel walls during and
between heartbeats. It can be measured in a few seconds with an inflatable arm cuff.
If your blood pressure is high, you may be at risk for stroke, heart disease
and kidney disease. Because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms,
you probably won't know you have it unless you're getting screened.
According to the
American Heart Association (AHA), everyone should have his or her blood pressure checked by a health
professional at least every two years. If it's high it should be checked
Lifestyle changes, medications or both can help lower blood pressure.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance in the blood. To check cholesterol
levels, a small sample of blood is taken and sent to a lab. A high level
of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for heart disease and
According to the AHA, everyone age 20 and older should have a cholesterol
test every four to six years. The test should measure total cholesterol;
low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol; high-density lipoprotein
(HDL), or good cholesterol; and triglycerides (blood fats).
If you don't fast, only total cholesterol and HDL will be usable. Lifestyle
changes, medication or both can help lower cholesterol and the risks of
heart disease and stroke.
Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the lower opening of the uterus.
This cancer can be found early by using a test for the human papillomavirus
(HPV) or a Pap test. HPV is the most important risk factor for cervical
cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
For both tests, your doctor brushes some cells off of your cervix and vagina
to check for signs of early cancer or precancer. Before the Pap test was
introduced, cancer of the cervix was one of the most common causes of
cancer death in women.
The ACS recommends cervical cancer screening for all women starting at age 25.
Women ages 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test every 5 years. If primary
HPV testing is not available, screening is recommended with either a test
that combines an HPV test with a Pap test every 5 years or a Pap test
alone every 3 years.
Women older than 65 may safely stop testing if they meet certain criteria.
Mammograms, a specialized x-ray of the breast, help detect breast cancer
at an early stage, when tumors are too small to feel and treatment is
The ACS recommends yearly mammograms for women ages 45 to 54 and every
other year for women age 55 and older.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer
in American women, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Screening can find this cancer early or help prevent it by finding
growths that would have become cancer.
Colorectal cancer screening should start at age 45, according to the ACS.
Your doctor may recommend a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy,
virtual colonoscopy, stool DNA test or some combination of these tests.
You may need to start screening earlier if you have colorectal cancer risk factors.
Osteoporosis, which thins and weakens the bones, affects millions of women
and eventually leads to a broken bone for half of women over age 50, according to the
National Institute on Aging (NIA). Some of these fractures lead to permanent disability or death.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that women ages 65 and older have routine screenings
for osteoporosis. Screening is also recommended for younger women at high
risk for fractures, according to the USPSTF. Risk factors include smoking,
excessive alcohol use, low body weight and a parental history of hip fracture.
According to the NIA, the best test of bone density is DXA (dual-energy
x-ray absorptiometry) scanning. This specialized x-ray shows how dense
your bones are.
If your bones are becoming weak, lifestyle changes, medications or both
can help prevent, slow or reverse bone loss.
A blood sugar test can detect the earliest stages of diabetes, a chronic
disease that can have life-threatening consequences without proper treatment.
Diabetes affects more than 34 million Americans, according to CDC.
American Diabetes Association recommends that women begin testing at age 45 and be screened about every
Women younger than 45 may need to be tested if they're overweight or
have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol,
high triglycerides (a type of fat in the bloodstream), a history of diabetes
during pregnancy or a family history of diabetes.
Lifestyle changes, medications or both can help hold off diabetes or its
Depression affects 1 in 8 U.S. women at some point in life. Screening for
this serious, treatable disease should be a part of everyone's regular
healthcare, according to
Mental Health America (MHA).
The screening includes education about depression and a few simple questions
If you've been feeling sad or hopeless and have lost interest or pleasure
in doing things for more than two weeks straight, talk to your doctor.
In more than 80% of cases, treatment helps, reports MHA.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, according to the ACS. Regular
screening can detect it early, when it can almost always be cured.
According to the
Skin Cancer Foundation, the best way to detect these cancers early is with monthly skin self-exams
and yearly skin exams done by a doctor.
These exams seek out moles or growths that are larger around than a pencil
eraser, have irregular borders, are asymmetrical or have color variations.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
STIs are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States.
They affect people of all backgrounds and incomes. Many STIs don't
have symptoms. And especially in women, symptoms may be mistaken for something
else, such as a urinary tract infection or yeast infection.
Some of these diseases can lead to infertility, cancer or death. STI tests
often require a blood sample, urine sample or vaginal swab. Talk to your
healthcare provider to find out if you should be tested.
For your health
No two women or their healthcare needs are exactly the same. Ask your doctor
about the screening schedule that's best for you.