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What screening tests should women have?

By By Nadia Haider, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 14 2011 11:16:08 AM CDT
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Amongst the most important things that you can do for your health is to go to regular checkups and get preventive screening tests. These can identify health problems early, when treatment is more successful.

Breast examinations and mammograms:
From the age of 20 onwards, women should perform the self-breast exam at least once a month. Regular self examination will help you understand what is normal. Symptoms such as swelling, mass, dimpling of skin, and discharge from the nipple, should be immediately reported to your health professional. Breast exams by the health professional should be done from the age of 20 at least every three years until the age of 40, and annually after that. Mammograms should be done once every one or two years starting at the age of 40. The mammogram produces images of the inner tissue of the breast to help find out cysts and tumors.

Pelvic exam and the Pap smear test:
From the age of 18, or when sexual activity begins, this examination should be done once a year. The Pap smear is a simple test requiring the health professional to take a small swab to gently scrape the inner cervix and later look for abnormal cells. During a pelvic exam, the health professional looks for any abnormality, internally or externally.

Blood cholesterol and blood pressure tests:
Testing for blood cholesterol should start at the age of 20 and be done every five years or so. This is to see if you have high blood cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. A fasting lipoprotein test is the most accurate and it measures HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (bad cholesterol). A quick blood pressure measurement should be done for women at the age of 20 and older. It only takes a few minutes but can catch one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease -- high blood pressure.

Diabetes:
Checking blood glucose levels is one of the ways to diagnose diabetes. This should start at the age of 45, and then be repeated every three years. Early diagnosis of diabetes can help your health professional set out your treatment guidelines before complications such as eye diseases, kidney diseases etc associated with diabetes set in.

Eye and ear health:
At 40, women should have a baseline test done and then this can be repeated every two years. This should be yearly after the age of 65. It is important to catch disorders such as glaucoma, retinopathy and cataracts when there are more treatment options available. Hearing tests should start at the age of 18 and be done every 10 years and every two years after the age of 50.

Bone mineral density exam:
These measurements find out low bond density, which can cause fractures and could be a sign of osteoporosis. These tests are best for women over the age of 40 who have had a fracture and all women above the age of 65. Women at risk should be tested earlier.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening:
This is for all women who are sexually active. Many of these are symptomless and so testing for them becomes vital. STDs like gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, and HIV can be diagnosed by STD screenings. These are often performed during the annual gynecologic exam.

Colon cancer screening:
This should be done once a year after the age of 50. If there is a family history, the testing for this should be done at a younger age. The fecal occult blood test checks for blood stool to see if there is a problem. Every five years, women above 50 should have a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a procedure that uses a thin flexible lighted tube to examine the rectum and lower colon.Early detection is the best defense. The two people most interested in your health usually include yourself and your health professional. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for examples, ask for further clarification if you don’t understand what is being said and ask for more guidelines.