Taking care of your health means regular check ups with the doctor. And if you're a woman, there are certain things you need to keep in mind at each stage in life.
Keeping track of your health should start at age 18, with a visit to your gynecologist. That visit is for a health check and pelvic exam, a visual and manual check done by the doctor. A pap smear to test for cervical cancer isn't necessary until age 21, and that's a new guideline to fall in line with research on the Human Papilloma Virus. "Now we know, because of the natural history of HPV, that we need to wait three years. Because some people will actually clear that virus, and then all the problems with paps are gone," said Dr. Mary Schneider. You'll also want to discuss vaccinations with your OBGYN, and if should get the HPV shot if you haven't been sexually active. "Because then you won't get the HPV to start with. We still recommend it in sexually active women, though. Even if they've tested positive for HPV already," said Dr. Schneider.
After age 25, the focus changes slightly. It's more about a healthy lifestyle in case you should want children, and to avoid hypertension, stroke, diabetes and other diseases down the road. "We find that a lot of the diseases that come on in middle-age are often times related to your lifestyle when you were younger," said Dr. Kevin Hamburger. And if you've had a normal pap smear, guidelines say you can start getting fewer of them. "Used to be every year, now we're saying if you get three normals in a row, you can start to space them out 2 or 3 years," said Dr. Hamburger. And there's another test you need to make sure you get done to establish a baseline. "They do recommend you have one screening mammogram between ages 35 and 40," said Dr. Hamburger.
After age 40, health care maintenance moves more toward menopause. "We don't consider people menopausal until they haven't had menstrual periods for a full year," said Carole Dwyer. But women can still have menopausal symptoms for 15 years before its actual onset. And once it does start, it can weaken your bones. "Within the first 2-5 years is the greatest amount of bone loss that occurs and you want to make sure that you're leading a healthy lifestyle," said Dwyer. That's why a bone density scan is recommended at that point. You should also be having a doctor perform a yearly pelvic exams to check for ovarian cancer. "The peak incidence of ovarian cancer can be in the 40s and 50s," said Dwyer.
In every stage of life, women should always be doing breast self-exams, and exercising and eating right. And make sure you get those regular exams and screenings. To help out, Siouxland Women's Health is holding free screenings this Tuesday for National Women's Health Week. The screenings include height, weight, blood pressure, BMI, glucose and hemoglobin. You do not need an appointment, you can just show up between 8am and 4pm on Tuesday at Siouxland Women's Health.
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