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Preventive Health Issues

Nowhere is the axiom "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" more relevant than to our health care.  The most important preventive measures are eating well; maintaining a normal weight; exercising; and avoiding destructive behaviors like smoking, drug abuse and alcohol abuse.  In addition to this, however, your doctor can offer some important screening and diagnostic tests that can have a major impact on your health.  These are summarized below for women at different points in the lifecycle.

It is important to note that these are general recommendations only; they will vary significantly based upon your personal medical history, your family history and other risk factors.  Only your health care provider can give you specific recommendations for what's best for you.  The most important advice we can give you is that the number one "test" for each adult is an annual physical exam.

For women of all ages, the annual physical should include a blood pressure measurement, a clinical breast examination, and an internal or "pelvic" exam.  During the pelvic exam, your physician will also perform a Pap test and certain tests for various sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) as indicated.  Be sure to inform your physician of any concerns you have about your risks for infection.

For women 18--35, it is also important to discuss your vaccination status with your doctor.  There are newer vaccines available now that you may have missed, particularly for chicken pox and hepatitis.  Ask your doctor if you need these shots.  Now is also a good time to have your cholesterol level tested.  Based upon these results, your doctor will tell you when you need to be tested again.

Women who are considering pregnancy-or who are already pregnant-have special health and testing needs.  Ideally, mention this to your doctor prior to becoming pregnant to identify any individual concerns.  Generally, you will need to know your blood type, your vaccination history-particularly for rubella, and your blood count.  During pregnancy, in addition to tests of fetal well-being, physicians also screen for diabetes, STD's, and a cervical infection called Strep B.

The age of 35 represents an important transitional time for women and their health.  This is a good time to have certain "baseline" tests:  a mammogram, a bone density (if you are at risk for osteoporosis), an electrocardiogram (EKG), and an occult stool test which is an important screening test for colon cancer.  Based upon the result of these and other tests, your physician will give you specific recommendations regarding future testing needs.

For women over age 35 but still premenopause, it's important to have regular cholesterol screening, regular mammograms (usually every 2 years after age 40), diabetes screening (age 45), and to begin thinking about whether you will consider hormone therapy for menopause.  For many women, this decision involves many factors and a lot of research:  this research should start with your physician. 

For post menopausal women, annual physical exams with pelvic exams and PAP smears are critically important.  In addition, you will need annual mammograms and regular bone density testing, cardiograms, and cholesterol screening.  At age 65, women and men should have a blood test for thyroid function called an FSH level.  This is also the age to consider regular vaccines for flu and pneumonia.

Created: 10/10/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

 The most important preventive measures are eating well; maintaining a normal weight; exercising; and avoiding destructive behaviors like smoking, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. 

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