Staying healthy includes a lot more than eating right, exercising and getting adequate sleep. Along with taking care of your mental health, it is vital to get appropriate screening tests, which are used to detect potential health problems when they’re still treatable. Timely health check-ups can help prevent or catch diseases and conditions that can have a multitude of adverse effects on your body. And women, especially, need such tests and screenings that change with age to keep a tab on their health.
On World Health Day, TC46 brings you 10 crucial check-ups and tests women need to get done periodically to maintain a healthy body and mind. The best way to fight health problems is to prevent them!
1. Pelvic Exam & Pap Smear
Regardless of sexual history, getting a pelvic exam and pap smear post the age of 21 is a must. Along with regular visits to the Gynaecologist, it is important to get these tests done regularly. The Pap smear looks for signs of cervical cancer. Your doctor may let you have smears more infrequently after three consecutive normal Pap tests. This interval can also be extended in older women with a negative HPV test. For sexually active women, you can get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) based on individual risk factors and age recommendations.
2. Mammogram & Breast Examination
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It’s a screening tool used to detect and diagnose breast cancer. Along with regular clinical exams and monthly breast self-examinations, mammograms are a key element in the early diagnosis of breast cancer.
Ideally, you should get a mammography done every two years. Images from a mammogram can help find calcifications, or calcium deposits, in your breasts. Most calcifications aren’t a sign of cancer. The test can also find cysts, fluid-filled sacs that may come and go normally during some women’s menstrual cycles, and any cancerous or noncancerous lumps. Monthly self-examination of your breasts, done about 5 days after your period starts, is a good practice. These examinations done in the comfort of your home can help determine whether there are any changes that need medical attention.
3. Anaemia Test
Women are at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia because of blood loss from their periods and higher blood supply demand during pregnancy. WHO estimates that 40% of pregnant women worldwide are anaemic. Anaemia is a condition in which the number of Red Blood Cells (RBC) or the Haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal. Haemoglobin is made of four subunits and can bind up to four oxygen molecules. The oxygen-carrying capacity of Haemoglobin determines how much oxygen is carried in the blood. Low Haemoglobin decreases the capacity of blood to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is important to know you root cause of anaemia to efficiently treat it. Unusual exhaustion and dizziness indicate anaemia.
4. Blood Pressure Screening
Blood pressure is the result of circulating blood exerting pressure against the walls of your arteries. This pressure is very important because it allows the blood to flow through the arteries and deliver nutrients to all the organs of your body. Optimal blood pressure is a reading of lower than 120/80. When your blood pressure numbers are consistently greater than 135/85, you’re considered to have high blood pressure or hypertension. Because high blood pressure can lead to other complications, it should be checked every two years if it’s 120/80 or under. If it’s higher, your doctor may recommend having it checked more often. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should also be screened for diabetes.
5. Cholesterol Check
Women aged 20 and older should get a baseline screening for cholesterol levels and triglycerides if they are at risk for coronary heart disease. Experts recommend women get checked every four to six years, starting at age 20. This screening is important for decreasing your risk of heart disease and is a very simple blood test. The ideal level is below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for total cholesterol. After age 45, screening for cholesterol becomes important, as heart disease risk increases with age.
6. Vitamin Deficiency Check
Research suggests that Indian women are deficient in Vitamin D and B12. To lead a healthy life, it is important for you to check the status of your vitamins and take corrective action. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 for women who are planning for a pregnancy or are pregnant could result in serious consequences. Vitamin D is extremely critical to bone health and calcium absorption. Experts recommend all women get their vitamin levels checked.
7. Diabetes Test
If you are at high risk of diabetes, you may need to be screened for prediabetes and diabetes every three years starting in your 40s. The range of normal test results can vary, but generally, a test result of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes or diabetes. If your blood pressure is over 135/80 or you have high cholesterol levels your doctor may screen you for type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes risk factors include:
- Physical inactivity
- Severe obesity
- Having a first-degree relative with diabetes
8. Bone Density Test
Women should start getting screened for osteoporosis with a bone density test at age 65. Women with risk factors for osteoporosis, such as having a slender frame or a fractured bone, should be screened earlier. For this test, you lie on the table while a scanning machine takes X-ray images of certain bones in your body. Healthy bones show a T-score (the measurement used to describe your bone density) of -1 or higher. The frequency of this health screening varies from woman to woman based on bone density and risk factors.
9. Colon Cancer Screening
It is ideal to begin screening at age 50 and is typically performed once in five or ten years depending on the technique used. There are multiple screening tests for Colon Cancer, one of the traditional kind is called sigmoidoscopy, a procedure in which a lighted tube along with a camera are inserted through the anus to look at the lower part of the colon. While on the other hand, a colonoscopy involves a longer tube to examine the entire colon. With normal results, a flexible sigmoidoscopy needs to be repeated every 5 to 10 years and a colonoscopy only every 10 years. The non-invasive virtual colonoscopy is another option. People with a greater risk of colon cancer may need earlier or more frequent cancer screening tests.
10. Depression Assesment
Over 90 million Indians, or 7.5% of the country’s population of 1.3 billion, suffer from some form of mental disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And women suffer from some specific mental health issues that need attention, diagnosis and care. It’s absolutely normal to have mood swings and suffer from bouts of depression from time to time, especially if you are going through a rough phase. However, a clinical diagnosis from a professional therapist is always recommended to get the correct diagnosis.
Depression symptoms may range from mild to severe, and they include:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble in sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity or slowed movements and speech
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Getting checked early can help you stop diseases like cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis in the very beginning when they’re easier to treat. Screening tests can spot illnesses even before you have symptoms. In India, where most women don’t take their health seriously, a careful head-to-toe assessment becomes a crucial part of your life. Connect with your doctor, book your appointments and stay happy, healthy and safe!