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May 11 is National Women’s Checkup Day!

Attention Ladies: Put Yourself and Your Health First

written by Holly Collins

As women we often put the needs of our children and other family members ahead of our own. We give up sleep to care for a sick child; we give up the last piece of cake because someone else wants it; and we often put off seeing the family physician because we’re too busy with our job and family responsibilities.

National Women’s Checkup Day was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to remind women across the country to make appointments with their doctors. During National Women’s Health Week, May 10-16, women are encouraged to discuss with their doctor which medical tests are right for them, when they should have them, and how often. Maintaining regular check-ups is one of the many habits that can improve a woman’s health.

According to HHS, women now have access to 22 different preventive services required to be covered without a copay, including well-woman visits (annual physical) and assorted cancer screenings—all of which have been deemed key to preventing and effectively treating future health problems.

Now that you’re ready to make an appointment, learn what tests you should consider and how often each should be performed.

Every Month

Breast self-exam:
 Check your breasts for unusual lumps or bumps monthly to stay on top of any changes. The best time to do perform an examination is a few days after your period ends.

Skin self-exam: The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that women check out their bodies once a month for any new or unusual spots or marks. Remember your ABCDEs: Asymmetry, border irregularity, uneven color, diameter bigger than 6mm, and evolving shape and size.

Once a Year

Full physical exam: This annual check-up should include a height and weight check, a blood pressure screening, a clinical breast exam, and any blood tests your doctor deems necessary. These may include tests for blood sugar, blood count, hormone levels, and other markers.

Pap smear: If you’ve had three consecutive normal pap smears, are in a mutually monogamous relationship, and have no other risk factors, you could technically go three years between screenings. However, most doctors still suggest women see their gynecologist once a year and get a pap smear while they’re there. Your pap tests for any changes or abnormalities in the cells in your cervix, which is a way to screen for cervical cancer.

Pelvic exam:
 Even if you aren’t getting an annual pap smear, it’s important to visit your OB/GYN annually for a routine pelvic exam, where she’ll feel around for your uterus and ovaries. This is a way to check for fibroids, cysts, or any pain or swelling that might indicate infection.

Other STD tests: It’s recommended that sexually active women get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea annually until age 25. After age 25, you should still get tested regularly for a range of STDs. Of course, it’s also a smart idea to get tested before you have a new sexual partner or if you have any usual symptoms.

Eye exam: The American Optometric Association recommends eye exams at least once every two years, though annual exams are suggested for anyone with current vision problems (those of you who wear glasses or contacts).

Hearing exam: The standard for getting an audiogram, which checks your hearing at a variety of pitches and intensity levels, is once a year starting at age 50. If you blast your iPod at full volume, you may want one sooner.

Depression screening: Simple questions from your doctor at your annual physical can rule out depression—a condition that affects one in four women at some point in their lives. Your doctor asks a series of questions about sleep troubles, irritability, and loss of interest in favorite activities. If you’re concerned about your mood, ask your doctor for this screening.

Every Other Year

Skin cancer screening: Did you often have sunburns as a kid? Several sunburns as a child can dramatically increase your risk of melanoma. Skin cancer is a huge issue for women, so see a dermatologist before your biennial appointment if you notice any suspicious marks.

HPV test: At age 30, women should start getting an HPV test with their pap every five years after age 30. Prior to age 30, you should not be getting tested regularly for HPV unless you have an abnormal pap, since strains of the disease are so common in younger woman and they typically go away on their own.

Cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood count: Your doctor will want to check these markers at least once in your 20s and once in your 30s, though some physicians give a guideline of testing them once every five years.

Thyroid test: Starting at age 35, it’s recommended that your thyroid levels are checked via a blood test. The test should be performed every five years after that.

Colonoscopy: This test should come at your 50th birthday unless family history warrants an earlier screening. If you have a close relative with colon cancer, your screening should begin much earlier.

Diabetes screening: Routine diabetes screenings (a blood sugar test) should begin at age 50 and should be done once every three years.

Mammograms: You’ll want to start scheduling annual mammograms at age 40, though your doctor may recommended screening earlier if you have a family history.

Did You Know…?

Under the Affordable Care Act, well-woman visits are considered preventive and are covered by most health plans at no cost. During your well-woman visit, you can receive many screenings free of charge, such as screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, cervical cancer, and more. And if your health care provider says you need more than one well-woman visit in a year, the additional visits are also covered. Check your individual policy for further information.

The team at Coastal Carolina Health Care (CCHC) is ready to listen to any health concerns you may have and apply their clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care across the spectrum—from general health and wellbeing to complex illnesses that may require ongoing, long-term care. If you have questions, call (252) 633-4111 to learn more and to make an appointment with one of our highly-skilled physicians.

Keywords: Women’s health, health screenings, CCHC, diabetes screening, mammogram, colonoscopy, well visits, cholesterol, skin cancer, HPV test, annual physical, breast exam, pap smear, eye exam, hearing screening, thyroid, blood pressure, National Women’s Checkup Day, medical tests