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
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.