The annual check-up is an important part of everyone's health. It's the chance for you and your doctor to be proactive and can often catch health issues before they become big problems. Many people - women in particular - feel they are too busy to take the time for an annual exam. Women are often the caretakers of a family and are very good about scheduling annual check-ups for their children or parents - while letting their own preventative health care take a back seat.
While we feel it is important for everyone to have an annual physical, there are some unique concerns for women. Study after study has shown that women react differently to stress and illness and it is important that they take the time to visit their doctor annually and take control of their health. We've developed the following short list of questions to help you get the most from your annual exam.
Five important questions every women should ask their doctor
1. When do I need a mammogram and pap smear?
While you're in your 40's should have a mammogram every year. Between ages 50 and 74, most doctors switch to every other year. Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you're at higher risk for breast cancer.
Doctors recommend a first pap smear by age 21 and repeat tests every two years after that.
2. When do I need a colonoscopy?
If you're at average risk, screening usually starts at age 50. A colonoscopy is used to screen for other disorders as well.
3. When should I be screened for osteoporosis?
A special type of X-ray can measure bone strength and find osteoporosis before breaks happen. It can also help predict the risk of future breaks. This screening is recommended for all women age 65 and above. If you have risk footraces for osteoporosis, you may need to start sooner.
4. How do I know if I should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases?
If you have symptoms of an STD, you should be tested as soon as possible. Some common symptoms of STDs include sores on the genitals, discharge from the vagina, genital itching, and burning during urination. However, it is quite common for people to have sexually transmitted infections without ever experiencing symptoms.
If you've had sex with another person and did not use a condom, female condom, dental dam, or other barrier, it's a good idea to talk to you doctor about STD testing. Getting tested can put your mind at ease or get you (and your partner) needed treatment.
5. Am I at a healthy weight?
Body Mass Index (BMI) is one number used to asses a person's ideal weight range. (Calculate yours here.) But it is just one number and each person is unique. Ask your doctor if you should be concerned about your weight and if so, healthy strategies to get to the healthiest weight for you.
Have an honest, open discussion with your doctor
Part of your annual exam should be reserved to give you a chance to talk to your doctor. In addition to the above questions, you should also come prepared to discuss any changes or concerns you have about your health.
- A decrease in energy levels or sex drive;
- unusual feeling of exhaustion;
- bloating or change in bathroom habits; or
- feeling sad or depressed often
could be all be signs of larger health issues. Don't be afraid or shy to discuss these things with your doctor. Your honesty will help your doctor best diagnose any issues and help you stay healthy.
A final note about screening tests
Screening tests and blood work are two preventative tools that your doctor will use to monitor your health at each annual check-up. Talk to your doctor about which tests make the most sense for you. Some tests, such as a pap smear or physical breast exam, should be a routine part of every woman's health care. Other tests might be necessary based on your risk factors. Screening tests won't necessarily prevent a disease, but they often find a disease early enough to give you the best chance of overcoming it.