With the healthcare system in crisis, tons of red tape and fewer doctors accepting insurance, managing one’s health has become a major challenge. More and more women are skipping key exams simply because getting appointments are a hassle and obtaining coverage isn’t always guaranteed. That said, there are some key tests and exams that every woman must have at various times of her life. If you’re going to put a preventative care plan together for yourself it’s important to know which tests are necessary to maintain optimal health. Dr. Christopher Calapai, a NYC board certified expert in osteopathic medicine specializing in longevity, recommends these tests.
Blood and blood pressure screening: Starting at age 18, every woman needs to have her blood pressure checked at least every two years. Having annual bloodwork done is the way to tell if organs are functioning properly. Doing the basic blood panel between age 18 and 39 is a great start. After age 40 additional testing for things like fibrinogen which impacts blood clotting and C-Reative Protein which looks at inflammation in the body are key tests to consider. “As a longevity specialist, bloodwork tells a detailed story about health patterns and future predictions that can then be addressed and even reversed with early care,” says Dr. Calapai.
Cholesterol screening/lipid profile: Cholesterol is a type of fatty protein in your blood that can build up in your arteries, so knowing how much cholesterol is present is a good predictor of your risk for heart disease. It’s important to start monitoring cholesterol starting at age 20 to establish a history. As women age cholesterol levels tend to rise so having a solid basis of comparison decade to decade is helpful in preventing heart disease down the road, explains Dr. Calapai.
Pap smear: A pap smear is an important test for women to get annually if they are sexually active and over age 21. The test is designed to detect infection, inflammation or cellular abnormalities in the cervix which may lead to cervical cancer. “This is certainly one of those tests that must be done every year. Some women diagnosed with HPV who may have had abnormal results are often monitored even more closely. The more a woman knows about the health of her reproductive organs the better she can integrate foods, vitamins and minerals to keep herself healthy,” advises Dr. Calapai.
Mammograms and breast exams: Women should begin administering monthly self-breast exams monthly as early as age 18. “It’s so important for women to understand that breast tissue changes during the month. They want to do the self-check in their shower or lying down just after their period ends when breasts are less tender, sore or swollen. This is when to feel around for any lumps, pain, tenderness, inflamed skin, and any issues with the nipple such as blockages or discharge. A mammography is an x-ray of the breasts. As of 2017, the American Cancer Society screening guidelines advises women to begin getting annual mammograms by age 45 and then can go to every other year by age 55. This guideline is for a woman of average risk. Women with a family history of breast cancer or with had cystic breasts with benign cysts should obviously have mammograms at an earlier age. “The self-exam is so important because early detection is key. If a woman is in her 20’s or 30’s and feels a lump she can follow through with her doctor for a closer look. When a woman goes in for a pap smear a breast exam is often done as well. However, you can’t hold off and skip the self-exam, cautions Dr. Calapai.
Skin cancer screening: Skin cancer, while less deadly than other kinds of cancers, is the number-one cancer diagnosed among Americans; and one type of skin cancer, melanoma, is deadly. The number of women under age 40 with basal cell carcinoma, one type of skin cancer, has more than doubled in the last 30 years and women under 39 are almost twice as likely to develop melanoma as men.
A skin cancer screening involves a full examination of the skin with focused attention on any moles, skin lesions or any other changes to the skin. It is advised to begin skin cancer screenings at any age and the fairer the complexion the more vigilant one must be. Annual screenings are normal and doctors may recommend twice annually if there are more moles and you’re on hypertension medication. “The skin is the largest organ in the body and a great indicator of overall health. Even if you have darker skin any rash, growth or skin issue should be taken seriously so the underlying cause can be determined quickly,” adds Dr. Calapai.
Eye exam and vision screening: According to the American Optometric Association people with normal, good vision should have their eyes examined every 3 years. For people who needed glasses or contacts at an earlier age an annual exam is recommended. By age 40 those with healthy, strong eyesight will begin to see changes either when driving, reading or watching TV. Women are at a slightly higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common eye health problems. A vision screening tests how well you can see; an eye exam checks for glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinopathy, and other eye diseases. Make sure you're having both kinds of exams. If you have diabetes, you're at much higher risk for eye problems and should be checked more often. “When you get an eye exam and a prescription for glasses is give follow through and get the glasses. It’s amazing how many people put this off which only leads to further eye strain and headaches. Besides, glasses these days are a stylish accessory. There’s no need to compromise eye health for vanity,” says Dr. Calapai.