May 8th through the 14th is National Women’s Health Week, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. The week was created to encourage women of all ages to improve their physical and mental health, as well as lower their risks of such diseases as diabetes and cancer. It also raises awareness of the benefits of physical exercise and eating a nutritious diet, as well as avoiding risky behaviors, such as excessive alcohol use or not wearing a seatbelt. Most importantly, it emphasizes the importance of regular health checkups and preventive screenings. Amongst the recommended checkups and screenings:
A hearing test. You should consider a hearing test if you have difficulty making out other people’s voices, experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or if it always feels as though your ears are clogged. A typical hearing test, called an audiogram, uses different frequencies of sound to gauge the ear’s reaction to them. If your audiogram results are normal, you should only need to be retested every two to five years. However, if some damage is present, further testing may be done to see if a hearing aid is needed. In the meantime, protect your hearing by listening to music at a reasonable volume, wearing earplugs if you’re going to be exposed to excessively loud noises and seeing a doctor if you suffer from frequent ear infections.
Bone mineral density test. Especially important for women over the age of 60, a bone mineral density test is a noninvasive examination that looks for signs of osteoporosis, a deteriorative disease that can turn bones brittle and fragile. If test results show early signs of osteoporosis, you will likely be instructed to take calcium supplements and vitamin D, as well as get regular exercise. Even if you’re nowhere near 60 yet, why not start now? Extra calcium and vitamin D is beneficial to all women, and regular exercise is vital for good health for pretty much everyone!
Breast exam and mammogram. Breast cancer has a highly successful survival rate of 97% after five years, but this is only possible through early detection. Though breast cancer is very rare in women under the age of 40, they should still get breast examinations once a year, to check for any unusual growths or tissue changes. After age 40, women should get a mammogram once a year as well, after age 35 if there’s a family history of the disease. Home examinations should be performed as well, with any lumps or peculiarities reported to your doctor right away.
Colonoscopy. While it certainly can’t be described as a non-invasive procedure, a colonoscopy is an invaluable weapon in the fight against colorectal cancer. Like breast cancer, with early detection colorectal cancer has an over 90% survival rate past five years. A colonoscopy, which involves the insertion of a tiny video camera into the large intestine, can spot the beginning signs of cancer long before a person may notice that there’s something wrong. It’s also used to diagnose such inflammatory bowel diseases as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Doctors recommend that all women get a colonoscopy at age 50, sooner if there’s a family history of colorectal cancer or if you have inflammatory bowel disease. If no abnormalities are present, a second colonoscopy will not likely be necessary for at least another ten years. Your risk of colorectal cancer is lowered by eating a high fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed meats.
Eye exam. Catch vision problems early! Even if your vision is good, an eye exam is recommended by age 40, to look for signs of glaucoma or macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that can gradually lead to blindness. Go sooner if glaucoma runs in your family or if you have diabetes, which can cause vision complications.
Dental exam. Either because we fear the possibility of pain or because most dental insurance plans offer inadequate coverage, far too many of us ignore our teeth until a real problem, such as an open cavity or broken tooth, occurs. Dental health is not something to take lightly, as gum disease can become a very serious problem, leading to tooth loss and infections and abscesses in the jaw. See your dentist every six months for a cleaning and basic examination, and lower your risk of gum diseases and oral cancers by maintaining good dental hygiene and avoiding cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
Heart health and blood pressure. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and it’s never too soon to make sure you’re not exhibiting any signs of problems in the future. During your annual checkup, get your blood pressure checked to make sure it’s within a healthy range (usually around 120/80) and have your doctor listen to your heart with a stethoscope to check for any murmurs or irregularities in the heartbeat. If you’ve been experiencing chest pains or getting easily short of breath, see your doctor right away, so that he may perform a stress test to determine if you’re at risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol screening. High cholesterol can increase your chances of a heart attack and stroke, so it’s a wise idea to get screened for it every five years in your twenties, and then annually after age 45. A cholesterol screening measures the total lipids in your blood, distinguishing between “good” cholesterol and “bad.” A healthy total cholesterol number is under 200, and can be maintained by a diet low in saturated fats, as well as regular exercise. High cholesterol can be treated with dietary changes, weight loss and possibly prescription cholesterol medication.
Pap smear. Like a colonoscopy, pelvic exams are no fun but they are necessary for women. Even if you’re not sexually active, a pelvic exam with a pap smear is recommended every two years to check for abnormalities. Pap smears can be used to diagnose such illnesses as cervical cancer and human papilloma virus (HPV), and are recommended annually if you have multiple sexual partners, are HIV-positive, or already have a sexually transmitted disease.
Diabetes screening. Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the American population, with more than one million new cases diagnosed each year. If you are overweight, exhibiting the symptoms of diabetes or if there’s a family history of it, see your doctor so that he or she can perform a blood glucose test. You may be required to fast for eight hours beforehand, and a blood glucose level of equal to or greater than 126 mg/dL usually indicates diabetes. Diabetes can be controlled with a diet low in sugar and carbohydrates, and by maintaining a healthy weight.
Even just one of these tests is a good start to ensure good health. Celebrate National Women’s Health Week by taking care of yourself!
Medex Supply Blogger