By Kristin Hermanson, MD
Life for most women is incredibly busy. From dropping the kids off at practice to planning weekly meals, picking up groceries and paying the bills, keeping up with the hustle and bustle of life can be exhausting. Perhaps now is the time to make a decision to schedule a visit to the doctor and think about your own health.
It’s important to make an annual appointment. More than just a physical exam, your visit each year gives your doctor a chance to provide key education and information relevant to your long-term health and wellness. Everyone’s health history is different, so it is essential to talk to your physician or nurse practitioner, about when you should have your check-ups, screenings and immunizations.
Some of the most common tests your doctor may suggest are:
- Weight: Your Body Mass Index (BMI) can be calculated to screen for obesity.
- Cholesterol: Your cholesterol should be checked annually starting at age 45. Start even earlier if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease runs in your family or you smoke.
- Blood Pressure: Have your blood pressure checked by a health professional at least every two years. Blood pressure is considered high if it is 140/90 or higher.
- Mammogram: Mammography tests for breast cancer. Patients with an average risk for breast cancer should begin scheduling mammograms yearly at age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need to be tested earlier.
- Pap Smear: This tests for cervical cancer. From age 21 until age 65, you should have a pap smear every one to three years.
- Colorectal Cancer Screening: Talk to your doctor about his test started at age 50 to determine which test is right for you. You may need to be tested earlier if you have a family history of this disease.
- Diabetes: You should be checked if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol or if your doctor identifies other risk factors that make screening necessary, such as a family history of the disease, sedentary lifestyle or a past diagnosis of gestational diabetes while pregnant.
- Sexually transmitted infections: Schedule a test if you are 25 or younger and sexually active. If you’re older, talk to your doctor about being tested.
- HIV: The CDC recommends that all adults be screened for HIV at least once in their lives. Have a test to screen for HIV infection if you: Have had unprotected sex with multiple partners, are being treated for other sexually transmitted diseases, are pregnant, have used or now use injection drugs or had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985.
- Bone Density Screening: At age 65, women should begin testing for bone density to screen for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). If you are between 60 and 64 and weigh 155 pounds or less, talk to your doctor about this test.
- Skin/Mole Exam: Once a year, have your doctor or nurse practitioner inspect your skin and any moles for evidence of skin cancer.
- Depression: Your emotional health is as important as your physical health. If you feel “down,” sad, or hopeless for more than two weeks or lose interest or pleasure in doing things, you may be depressed. Talk to your doctor about being screened for depression.
In addition, your doctor may offer you vaccines that can both protect your health and your ability to keep up with your hectic family schedule. Talk to your physician about the following vaccines for yourself, or your family:
- Influenza vaccine: All healthy women should receive the influenza vaccine in the fall of each year.
- Tetanus-Diptheria Booster Vaccine: Women should have the Tetanus-Diptheria booster every ten years.
- HPV Vaccine: The Human Papilloma Viris vaccination should be given to females between the ages of 9 and 26. It is best to administer this series of vaccinations before a woman becomes sexually active. The vaccination is provided in a series of three shots over the course of six months.
- Meningococcal Vaccine: This vaccination is appropriate for children at their pre-adolescent check-up all the way through college. Anyone with an increased risk of contact with the meningitis virus, specifically those living in college dormitories, should be vaccinated.
By making your appointment with your physician and taking the time to talk about any health concerns during that visit, the two of you can work together to keep you healthy.