10 Health Checks every Woman should Prioritise
- Blood pressure screening
Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure typically doesn’t cause any symptoms but has a devastating effect on your health. A blood pressure screening should be done annually from age 18. A normal reading is below 120/80 mm Hg.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.
Unfortunately, high blood pressure can happen without feeling any abnormal symptoms. Moderate or severe headaches, anxiety, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, palpitations, or feeling of pulsations in the neck are some signs of high blood pressure.
- Cholesterol check
A cholesterol check assesses your risk of developing heart disease or a stroke.
The test should be done every five years from around the age of 20. However, if you have a history of cardiovascular disease in your family, you should have it done more regularly.
Normal cholesterol levels should be less than 5 mmol/l. If it’s higher, make a plan to see your doctor.
High cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. It’s mainly caused by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol. It can also run in families.
- Blood glucose
Having your blood glucose checked is essential to detect the risk for diabetes. Women aged 45 and older should get a blood glucose test every three years.
A fasting plasma glucose reading of 6.1 – 6.9 mmol/l and higher may indicate that you’re prediabetic, while anything over ≥ 7 mmol/l indicates diabetes.
Blood sugar, or glucose, is the main sugar found in your blood. It comes from the food you eat, and is your body’s main source of energy. Your blood carries glucose to all of your body’s cells to use for energy.
Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar levels are too high. Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause serious problems. Even if you don’t have diabetes, sometimes you may have problems with blood sugar that is too low or too high. Keeping a regular schedule of eating, activity, and taking any medicines you need can help.
It’s recommended that HIV/AIDS tests be taken at least once a year, given the high rate of the disease in South Africa.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). There is currently no effective cure. Once people get HIV, they have it for life. But with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.
HIV is caused by a virus. It can spread through sexual contact, illicit injection drug use or sharing needles, contact with infected blood, or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. HIV destroys CD4 T cells — white blood cells that play a large role in helping your body fight disease.
- Pap smear
A pap smear is recommended every three years, starting from the age of 25 to 65.
A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women. A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina. Detecting cervical cancer early with a Pap smear gives you a greater chance at a cure. Women should have testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) with their Pap smear. HPV is the cause of cervical cancer.
Mammograms are used to screen for breast cancer and should be done annually from age 40.
As you age, your risk for breast cancer increases. Women should start annual screenings at age 40 and can then switch to biannual screenings at age 55.
However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, then talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier.
You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. You will feel some pressure. The steps are repeated to make a side view of the breast. The other breast will be X-rayed in the same way.
Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for most women. Some women find it painful. A mammogram takes only a few moments, though, and the discomfort is over soon. What you feel depends on the skill of the technologist, the size of your breasts, and how much they need to be pressed. Your breasts may be more sensitive if you are about to get or have your period. A doctor with special training, called a radiologist, will read the mammogram. He or she will look at the X-ray for early signs of breast cancer or other problems.
Learning how to do self-examinations at home is also important. These allow you to check for bumps, lumps or any changes in your breasts.
- Bone density
As we get older, our bones start to weaken. This is where a bone density test comes into play.
The test screens for osteoporosis (a disease that weakens the bones) and is recommended for women from age 65 and men over the age of 70, but those with risk factors, like fractures or low body weight, should be screened earlier.
The test is conducted with a low-dose X-ray machine to capture images of your bones.
A T score of -1 to +1 is considered normal bone density. A T score of -1 to -2.5 indicates osteopenia (low bone density). A T score of -2.5 or lower is bone density low enough to be categorized as osteoporosis.
The frequency of the test varies depending on bone density, but your doctor will be able to advise you on how often you should have it done.
- Colon screening
It may not be a screening that you particularly look forward to, but colon screenings are important.
The colon should be scanned for cancer from age 50 and then repeated every 10 years after that, depending on an individual’s risk factors.
It can be done in hospital by way of a sigmoidoscopy where a lighted tube and camera are inserted in the anus to examine the lower colon.
A colonoscopy involves a longer tube that examines the entire colon. Your doctor will advise on how often it should be done.
- Skin checks
With 20 000 cases reported annually, skin cancer has become one of the most common forms of cancer in South Africa.
Self-examinations should be done monthly at home to check for any new moles or changes to existing moles.
Mole mapping uses high-resolution photographs to take an inventory of all lesions on your body. Lesions are any type of change to skin that used to be normal and healthy. Lesions can be both cancerous (malignant) and non-cancerous (benign).
Mole mapping pictures provide a way to track changes on your skin if you have a large number of unusual moles or if you have a history of skin cancer.
Because it shows a history of changes to your skin over time, mole mapping can also help dermatologists diagnose melanoma and skin cancer earlier.
Contact your GP or dermatologist immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary.
- Dental checks
Make sure you visit your dentist at least once a year to prevent or treat plaque build-up, cavities and gum disease.
Source: Distributed by Meropa Communications