Ladies: Get Started on the Path to Your Best Possible Health

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Single, married, a mother or not: if you’re a female, you have unique health and wellness needs. Here’s what you can do to get on – and stay on – the path to your best possible health.

The Basics and Beyond

Start with an annual health exam by a gynecologist, physician assistant (PA), certified nurse practitioner (CNP) in gynecology, or certified nurse midwife (CNM).  Women should begin having annual gynecologic exams at age 18, or younger if sexually active.

Your annual gynecologic exam will starts with the basics – height, weight and blood pressure. These routine measurements can give an indication of your overall health and wellness. Usually a medical assistant will take these measurements and ask about your general health.

Your women’s health provider will ask you more in-depth questions about your health, especially any changes you have noticed in your body, and talk with you about any concerns. Next, he or she will perform several types of health screenings. Screenings are tests that can detect diseases early, before any symptoms occur.

Women’s health experts recommend these screenings as part of a well-woman gynecologic visit:  

  • Breast exam – This is a physical examination of the breasts for detecting breast cancer. Women younger than 35 should have a breast exam every three years; annually for women 35 and older.
  • Pelvic exam – This is an internal exam that evaluates the health of the internal reproductive organs (vagina, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus). You need one annually.
  • Pap test - A Pap test can detect cervical cancer or changes in the cervix that could develop into cancer. The doctor or CNP will collect cells from your cervix to be examined under a microscope. Women should have their first Pap test at age 21. Women between 21 and 65 with normal Pap tests need to have one every three years or, starting at age 30, every five years with an HPV test.
  • HPV test – Another lab test that is performed on cells collected from the cervix, it detects the virus that causes cervical cancer. Start HPV testing at age 30. If your Pap test is normal, the HPV test is negative and you do not have any other risk factors for cervical cancer, you do not need another Pap test for five years. Most women can stop HPV testing at age 65.
  • Skin check – Your health care provider will examine any moles that look abnormal and may refer you to a dermatologist for further testing to check for skin cancer.
  • Routine blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes – Your health care provider may take a blood sample to run these tests if you have not had them done recently. It’s important to detect these problems before you have symptoms so they can be treated.

Other Preventive Choices

Beyond your annual gynecologic visit, there are some other important steps you can take to protect your health.

  • HPV vaccine – This vaccine protects against many forms of the HPV virus that cause cervical cancer. It is recommended for women younger than 26.
  • Mammogram (breast x-ray) – You need an annual mammogram starting at age 40 until your doctor tells you that you no longer need to be screened for breast cancer. Your women’s health provider can write a prescription for a mammogram.
  • Bone density testing  This is a type of special x-ray that measures the strength of your bones.  Medicare covers the test for women starting at age 65 and then every two years. Most insurance plans cover the test for younger women who are at risk for osteoporosis.
  • Colonoscopy  This is a test to detect colon and rectal cancer. New guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend starting this test between ages 45 and 50.  The good news is you only have to repeat it every 10 years if it is normal.  If you have a family history of colon cancer or the screening finds polyps, you’ll have to repeat it more frequently.

Alan Rosenwasser, MD, is Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UH Portage Medical Center.

RELATED LINKS

UH offers online self-scheduling for select UH physicians and specialties, including primary care. Or use our easy online tool to find a doctor and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.

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