Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death in women of all ages in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news? You can improve your chances of staying healthy and happy by staying on top of a few important medical screenings, in addition to having regular check-ups with your primary care and ob/gyn physicians.
“Screening tests are a prescription for prevention and for empowerment, giving women the opportunity to be in charge of their health,” says Stephen Russell, MD, UAB assistant professor of internal medicine. “When you get the suggested health screenings, they not only provide you knowledge, but also the opportunity to act on that knowledge.”
Which Screenings Do You Need?
Follow the guide below, based on your age, to see which screenings you should have.
- Age 20: The CDC recommends that women begin getting screened for blood pressure, cervical cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases starting around age 20, or as otherwise advised by their doctors.
- Age 40: At UAB, breast cancer screenings are recommended starting at age 40. “Studies have shown that annual mammograms can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74 and may detect breast cancer up to two years earlier than in a physical exam,” says Breast Clinic Coordinator for the Lynne Cohen and Norma Livingston Preventive Care Program for Women’s Cancers Julie Whatley, CRNP.
- Age 50: Colon cancer screening is recommended beginning at age 50, because “the rate of colon cancer starts to rise at age 50,” says Director of the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology Charles Wilcox, MD.
- Age 65: The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women 65 years old and older should have a bone mineral density test to determine their osteoporosis risk.
The Importance of Heart Health Screenings
With heart disease being the leading cause of death in women, American Heart Association president Donna Arnett, PhD, chair of the UAB Department of Epidemiology, says heart health screenings are of dire importance.
“There are things that are going to have an effect on your heart health that are observable: height and weight, smoking status, physical activity levels and diet,” Arnett explains. “Then there are the things we need measurements for: cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure. If any of these are out of whack they are mostly silent symptoms, so it’s really important to have measurements done by your health-care provider.”
Arnett says having a clear understanding of your family’s health history also goes hand in hand with heart screenings.“Knowing that you have early onset cardiovascular disease in your family, or that you’ve had more than one family member with cardiovascular disease or stroke, helps you and your physician know that you have to be more aggressive with controlling your own personal risk through both lifestyle choices and screenings,” Arnett says.
Finding Silent Symptoms
Russell adds that many screenings can find the silent symptoms that are crushing your chances for good health.
“We’re taking women who feel healthy and confirming they are healthy, or we are getting the chance to intervene much sooner if they have a condition,” Russell says. “Once you have visible symptoms the disease process is more advanced, and we know it’s easier to treat if you catch it early.
“Women’s health screenings are like insurance for your car – when you need it most and don’t have it you are in trouble,” Russell adds. “But if you have the insurance of having had those screenings and know where you stand, then you can rest easier.”