Most women take better care of other people than they do of themselves, especially if they’re moms. If you’re one of them, you probably only visit the doctor when something doesn’t feel right or only when your job requires you to. We all know that the earlier we identify any potential health problems, the better our lives will be.
But if you are totally healthy, it gives you a reassurance about a whole list of things you don’t need to worry about—and just in case you aren’t as healthy as you think you are, it helps to know early on so it’s easier to do something about it. Many illnesses, after all, only get worse when left untreated. So, here is a list of health screenings you should take—by the decade:
In Your 20s
It’s easy to dismiss health concerns when you’re in your 20s because you enjoy general youth and vitality. It’s also the decade in which you start pursuing your dreams in life—finishing college, starting your career, moving up the ladder at work. All that can distract you from monitoring your health, but you should still set aside time for regular checks with your doctor.
Complete Physical Test
Get a complete physical test, which includes height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and many more, once every five years. By the time you reach 40, start getting a yearly physical exam. Make sure you get checks on your cholesterol, liver/kidney function, and blood sugar as well.
Women aged 21 and older, esp0ecially those who are sexually active, should have a Pap smear once every three years to check for abnormalities in the reproductive system. If you get consecutive normal Pap test, do it once every five years once you hit the age of 30. Your doctor may also screen you for sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
A breast self-exam is fast and free, so you don’t have any excuses not to do it. Use a mirror to check your breasts for lumps, pulls, dents, and odd colors. Keep in mind that both breasts should look the same, especially around the nipple. Next, feel your breasts for lumps or a thickened hard area that does not move like the rest of the breast.
A urinalysis checks for any presence of urinary tract infection, which is common to women of all ages. Remember that when left untreated, UTIs may lead to adverse symptoms in pregnancies.
In your 30s
You’re probably going to be a bit more health conscious once you hit 30. By now, you’re feeling the effects of chronic stress and fatigue from long hours at work, and maybe you know some people who’ve experienced preventable illnesses or other health issues where early diagnosis is a big factor.
In your 30s, make sure to have your glucose levels checked, so the doctor can intervene before a high blood sugar level becomes a full-blown case of diabetes. Get tested every three years until you turn 50, when you should have it checked annually.
HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and most sexually active women get this infection at some point. Starting age 30, you become more prone to this infection, because as you age, your immune system becomes less robust. Take this together with your Pap smear.
In your 40s and Beyond
By now you probably know about most, if not all, of the tests you should be taking, and how often. But what can work against you is a kind of superstitious don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy when it comes to bad news regarding your health. Too many women fear going to the doctor because it will confirm their suspicion that something is not right. The problem is, if it’s an illness where early detection is key, putting things off could be a fatal decision. So make sure to get regular checkups and to see someone once you are feeling poorly.
Around age 40, women should get a screening for cholesterol levels and triglycerides if they are at risk for coronary heart disease. Also, at this age, a cholesterol test is very much important, because heart disease risk increases with age.
By age 40, you should have a mammogram at least once a year. An x-ray of your breasts through this type of screening can detect early signs of breast cancer. Schedule your mammogram right after your period, because that’s when the breasts are least tender.
Are you keeping up with these essential health tests? If the answer is no, start taking control of your health ASAP—better to be proactive now than regretful later on.
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Dyan is a 25-year-old writer with a sense of humor of a prepubescent male. On weekends, she hibernates.