Top 10 Things Women Can Do to Stay on Top of Their Health
Too many women have a bad habit of only going to the doctor when something is wrong. Women who are wives, mothers, and leaders at work are accustomed to putting others first and prioritize their health after all their other tasks are completed.
Even if you haven’t been to the doctor in years, it’s never too late to take control of your health. Here are some of the easiest ways for you to get your health back on track.
1. Learn how to do a breast self-exam
According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, “Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.” The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women do a self-exam once a month.
In addition to serving as a way to detect lumps, it helps a woman become more familiar with the feel of her breasts, so she’s better able to detect if there are any internal changes like masses or growths that could be cancerous. Self-exams should only take a few minutes. Generally, you’re feeling for abnormal lumps or knots, and looking for puckering skin, swelling, or unusual discharge from the nipples.
2. Go for mammograms on a regular basis
In addition to doing breast self-exams on a monthly basis, women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every one to two years. This procedure takes an x-ray photo of the breast tissue and is able to detect lumps and unusual masses that are much smaller than what can be felt on a self-exam.
Mammograms have a bad reputation because many women find them painful and awkward. To make the mammogram experience slightly more pleasant, do not schedule it in the week before your period when breasts are generally more sensitive and tender.
3. Get regular Pap tests
Another regular test that has a bad reputation but represents a major breakthrough in women’s health is the Pap test. This screening involves a doctor or nurse inserting a speculum into the cervix and using a stick or soft brush to collect cells from the outside of your cervix. These cells are sent for testing and your doctor will be able to tell within one to three weeks whether there any abnormal cell masses or growths that could be a precursor to cervical cancer.
This test was pioneered in the 1940s and since then cases of cervical cancer have dropped by more than 50 percent worldwide. It’s generally recommended that women aged 21 to 65 get a Pap test every three years.
4. Make sure your vaccines are kept up to date
Many women assume that their important vaccines were all administered when they were children. While it is true that the bulk of vaccines are given while children are still young, there are certain vaccines like the tetanus-diptheria (TdAP) vaccine that require boosters every 10 years or so. You should also be getting a flu shot every year, to protect you from that year’s strain of flu.
If you’re at risk for recurring conditions like pneumonia, your doctor may choose to give you a vaccine, but it’s not routine.
5. Do a blood pressure screening every two years
Typically, your doctor will check your blood pressure as part of your yearly well-visit.
They’re looking for two numbers — the top number (systolic) should be between 120 and 139 and the bottom number (diastolic) should be between 80 and 89. If either of your two numbers comes up higher or lower, your doctor may want to monitor you more regularly.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, many pharmacies have blood pressure readers that you can use on a more regular basis without scheduling a doctor’s appointment. High blood pressure can lead to a whole host of ongoing health problems like heart disease, kidney failure, heart attacks, or strokes.
6. Schedule a well-visit at the doctor once a year, even if you don’t feel sick
It’s important to visit your doctor on a regular basis, even if you don’t feel sick. Generally, your doctor determines how often they’d like to see you, which can range from every few weeks to every year. If you haven’t been to your family doctor in at least a year, consider scheduling an appointment now. There are lots of yearly screenings that are hard to keep track of on your own.
If you’re heading to the doctor for the first time in a while, spend a few moments in the days leading up to your appointment reflecting on your health and whether there’s anything you want to bring up with your doctor.
7. Regularly check your skin for signs of skin cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. It’s often hard to tell when a mole or spot goes from benign to abnormal or cancerous because it happens so slowly.
Most doctors recommend checking out your own skin once a month and looking for spots that follow the ABCDE rule. They’re Asymmetrical, they have an irregular Border, they’re made up of different Colors, they’re larger than ¼-inch in Diameter, or they’re Evolving. Not all skin cancers or carcinomas will follow this description exactly, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the landscape of your skin and ensure that your spots aren’t changing or growing in any way.
If you notice any unusual spots, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
8. Visit the dentist
There is so much evidence out there that regular dental screenings have a hugely positive impact on our health. Most dentists recommend a cleaning every six months. During that visit, they’ll clean your teeth of plaque, but also check out your teeth, lips, gums, and mouth for any signs of disease.
There are tons of diseases like diabetes, oral cancer, leukemia, heart disease, and kidney disease that can be detected by dentists early on because of the symptoms that affect the inside of our mouth. Simple things like bad breath and jaw pain are symptoms of much larger problems. If they’re caught early, it’s much more likely that they’ll be able to be treated effectively.
9. Get a colonoscopy
In March 2000, news anchor Katie Couric volunteered to get a colonoscopy live on television in order to raise awareness of the fact that women can also get colorectal cancer. Many women ignore this vital screening because they’re under the mistaken assumption that only men can develop colon or rectal cancer. After Couric’s public screening, American doctors reported that they were performing 20 percent more colonoscopies than usual.
It’s recommended that women over the age of 50 who are at some risk for developing colorectal cancer should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. Having a colonoscopy isn’t the most pleasant feeling, but it’s a necessary procedure that can help catch colorectal cancer while it’s still treatable.
10. Undergo genetic testing
If you have a family history of breast cancer or chronic diseases, you may want to undergo genetic testing to figure out whether you’re at risk of developing the same conditions. Many people turn to commercial tests like 23andme or Ancestry, but the truth is the answers that you get from these tests aren’t as straightforward as they seem on paper.
If you’re really worried about your health, it’s a much better idea to get a referral to a genetic counselor, who can spend time creating a legitimate family medical profile and will only test for conditions that actually pose a risk. Then, they’ll be able to discuss the results of these tests with you and help make recommendations for continuing care with your family doctor.