While all of us – irrespective of our gender – should try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and cultivate healthy habits such as regular exercise, stress management, and following the right diet, self-care is especially non-negotiable for women. No matter how overwhelming and busy our everyday lives get, women should find time to schedule routine health screenings, which are key to detecting a wide array of potential health problems early. By helping you build a complete picture of your health, this can go a long way towards easing present and future worries.
Even if you are symptom free, periodic general health check-ups that assess your existing state of health, are a must. This is because several diseases and conditions often take a long time to develop before the symptoms start to present themselves. Therefore, undergoing various screenings and tests, after consulting your physician and depending on your age and lifestyle, may help you detect a disease early on, prevent complications, and improve overall quality of life.
Apart from assessing your current state of health, regular check-ups can help to identify if you are prone to developing issues in the future, assess your lifestyle or check if you need any vaccinations. However, it is recommended to see the same doctor each time you have a health check, as this helps in tracking your medical history.
Now, if you have never seen a doctor for a general health checkup and are wondering where to start, here are the most important ones to begin with:
Skin cancer checks: Check your skin for any changes every three months and if you notice changes, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Breast cancer checks: This is one of the most important ones for women. Detecting breast cancer early gives you the best chance of survival. Although these are not the only symptoms, be wary of the following changes in your breasts:
- a new lump or lumpiness.
- a change in the size or shape of your breasts.
- a change in the skin of the breast such as redness or dimpling.
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
Cervical cancer screening: The screening for cervical cancer is called a pap smear. This involves
taking a sample of cells from the cervix (mouth of the womb) with a small brush, which are then examined under a microscope to assess for any changes. In some cases additional testing for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is requested on the same sample for further risk assessment. Pap smears are usually performed every 1 to 3 years, depending on the results.
Colon cancer screening: The screening for colon cancer is called sigmoidoscopy, which involves the insertion of a lighted tube and camera into the anus to examine the lower colon. Meanwhile, during a colonoscopy, a longer tube examines the entire colon. Colon cancer screening is recommended from age 45, or earlier if there is a family history of bowel cancer. A sigmoidoscopy is not frequently repeated unless a problem is detected, or if you have a greater risk of colon cancer.
Heart health checks: To make sure that your heart is functioning normally, the doctor will ask you questions about your lifestyle and family history before checking your blood pressure levels.
Weight check: Constantly monitoring and regulating your bodyweight is paramount to avoiding the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Therefore, it is ideal to ask your physician to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement.
Diabetes check: Diabetes screening often includes a fasting blood sugar test. You may be at a high risk of diabetes if you have had a heart attack or stroke before. Some women who have developed gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy) are also found to be at risk. Other risks include polycystic ovary syndrome, medications to treat psychosis and a sedentary lifestyle, especially if you are above 40 years of age.
Although I have only listed a few of the essential screenings, these tests alone don’t undermine the importance of other checks. For instance, vision and hearing checks, bone density checks and dental checkups, among others, are equally important. Since these tests are considered preventive, many insurance plans cover them. So, all you have to do now is to find some time from your busy schedules. Remember, health is wealth, they say.
Dr. Rowena Eadie, Specialist Family Medicine, Valiant Clinic & Hospital
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