As women mature and age, our health needs change, as do our preventative care requirements. In each decade, we need different medical check-up list that control for certain risks associated with our age. Here’s a list of the top preventative women’s health priorities for our 20s, 30s and 40s.
The 20s’ health check-up checklist
All young women in their 20s should have periodic medical check-ups, besides taking care of their health through a balanced diet, physical activity and healthy habits.
You should have a complete medical check-up every two years, which includes a thorough discussion of your medical history and that of your immediate family.
- Pap test and pelvic exam: Women should have yearly Pap smears starting either at age 18 or when they become sexually active—whichever comes first. By the time you hit 20, you should be having routine annual pelvic exams and Pap tests.
- Breast exam: Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. While your chances of getting breast cancer in your 20s are less than 1 in 1,000, ask your doctor whether you should have a breast exam, and if so, how often.
- Skin check: Anyone at any age can develop skin cancer. In addition to your doctor doing a thorough skin check, you can also do a skin check yourself. Remember the ABCDE rule when looking at skin growths: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolving. If anything seems out of the ordinary or alarming, contact your doctor.
- Dental check-ups: Visit your dentist for preventive check-ups and routine cleanings.
- Eye exams: You should have your eyes examined every one to two years. Optometrists check for other things besides how good your vision is—like signs of glaucoma or other eye diseases.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol: Your blood pressure will be checked any time you go in for a routine health care visit, and you should get a cholesterol work-up every few years.
- Immunizations: Get shots to protect you from measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) if you’ve never had the vaccinations before. The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is recommended for anyone whose last Tdap shots were more than 10 years ago. Get a meningitis and hepatitis A and B vaccination if you are considering travelling out of the U.S. If you never had chickenpox as a youngster, you should get vaccinated against it now. If you’re unsure whether you did, go ahead and get the vaccination, just in case. Hold off if you’re pregnant (or hope to be within several weeks of vaccination).
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Condoms can’t fully protect you from HPV, and though it is a silent, symptomless virus, it can put you at increased risk of cervical cancer. The three-dose vaccination provides a means of protection.
The 30s’ health check-up list
- AIDS test: If you have an active sex life, doctors recommend having an AIDS test once a year.
- Chlamydia: Chlamydia, a bacterial infection, is the most frequently diagnosed STD. In the 2008, there were 1,210,523 cases reported in the U.S. alone. It is treatable, but if it is not cured, it can lead to serious complications like infertility.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol: You’re not at too great a risk of elevated levels now, especially if you’re following healthy heart habits like exercising regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and not smoking. But still you need to test your levels.
- Pap test and pelvic exam: By now you should be having routine annual pelvic exams and Pap tests.
- Breast exam: Your doctor may do an exam when you go in for your annual Pap test and pelvic exam. You should also become familiar with doing a breast self-exam, so you know what’s normal for you.
- Skin check. The same routine as in your 20s.
- Dental check-ups: The frequency of visits will really depend on your needs, though most dentists recommend a check-up and cleaning at least once or twice a year.
- Eye exams: If you have a family history of vision problems, your optometrist will let you know if you need eye exams and check-ups more frequently than once a year.
- Immunizations: Each year get the influenza vaccine. The flu shot is especially important if you have medical conditions that put you at risk of complications from the flu, like pneumonia.
The 40s’ health check-up list
According to the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), recommendations for preventative health care for women in their 40s are as follows:
- Mammograms: Almost every North American medical organization supports mammography screening every one to two years, beginning at age 40.
- Pap smears: After three or more normal/negative results, your doctor may recommend that you have Pap smears every three years instead of every year.
- Diabetes screening: A lot of women get diabetes in middle-age or older, but its rates are rising in younger women, too. Hispanic women are two to four times more likely to develop diabetes than white women. If you are at average risk for diabetes, you should be getting tested for type 2 diabetes every three years beginning at age 45.
- Blood pressure: If your blood pressure is less than 130/80, you should be screened every two years. If it’s higher than that, or if you have high cholesterol levels or diabetes, you should be screened more frequently.
- Cholesterol testing: Women aged 45 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked every one to five years with a simple blood test that measures total cholesterol.
- Thyroid testing: This blood test checks your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level for signs of thyroid problems. You should be screened for thyroid dysfunction beginning at age 35, and again every five years.
- Eye exams: The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that you have your vision checked every two to four years between ages 40 and 64.
- Skin check: A skin exam should be part of a routine cancer-related health checkup.
Whether you are in your 20s, 30s or 40s, preventing medical problems is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. Visiting your family doctor or specialist a few times a year is not a hardship, and it can quite literally save your life!