Women are constantly juggling and multi-tasking to ensure a balance between work and home. You may often have a huge to-do list, which invariably includes everything other than your regular health check-up.
You should know that women are predisposed to a number of health conditions as they grow older. Regular screening ensures an early diagnosis, if an underlying health issue exists. Consider it to be similar to the regular maintenance check you do for your car so as to make sure it runs smoothly.
There are a bunch of tests that can detect some of the medical conditions early. Being proactive regarding your health can prevent several health problems and spare you the trouble, time, and money you would require for extensive treatment later.
Here is a list of routine medical screening tests that you must opt for once you are over 35 years of age.
1. Pelvic Examination And Pap Smear
After the age of 30, it is always advisable that you visit your gynaecologist periodically and have a complete pelvic examination and a Pap smear test done. Cervical cancer is a leading and preventable cause of death amongst Indian women.
Cervical cancer can be prevented through HPV vaccine. With respect to vaccination, the earlier the better, which is why the Indian Academy of Paediatrics Committee on Immunisation (IAPCOI) recommends HPV vaccine under its “special situation vaccines/optional vaccines” for girls below the age of 14 years, given as a two-dose regimen, six months apart and for those who are 15 years and older, the vaccine is given in a three-dose regimen.
However, despite being vaccinated, a Pap smear test is advised for all women above the age of 21 years or within 3 years of being sexually active.
Note: Before going in for a Pap smear, avoid having sexual intercourse or using vaginal medications one or two days prior to your appointment.
In addition to this, a complete pelvic examination should also be done to look for lumps, growths, warts and any abnormal discharges.
2. Complete Breast Examination With a Mammogram
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in India despite being easily identifiable. It is recommended that every woman should regularly undergo breast cancer screening.
As the risk of breast cancer increases with age, every woman above the age of 40 years should have an annual mammogram done. The earlier this dreaded disease is discovered, the higher are the chances of recovery.
A mammogram is a specialised X-ray of the breast tissue and is usually a digital one. This is recommended for all women above the age of 40 years, or earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer.
Complete breast self-examination should be done every month (self-test) along with a yearly examination by an expert. Breasts are examined for pain, tenderness, lump, the position of the nipple, or any discharge. When in doubt, it is always better to seek professional help.
3. Bone Mineral Density Test
Osteoporosis is a common degenerative condition of the bones in women, where vital minerals like calcium leach from the bones, making them weak and brittle. This condition affects 80% of women and aggravates dramatically after a woman achieves menopause.
Osteoporosis occurs due to declining levels of the female sex hormone estrogen, which plays a vital role in bone homeostasis (formation and protection of bones) in women.
The bone mineral density test, i.e. the DEXA scan, involves a specialised X-ray which screens your spine, hips, and wrists while you are lying flat on a table. It measures your bone strength and assesses your risk of fracture. This test is usually recommended once a woman has achieved menopause or has had a fracture.
However, nowadays many women have very low bone density and are unaware of it which is why it is best to get it done once every 5 years after the age of 35 years.
4. Thyroid Test
Many women complain of unexplained weight gain, hair loss, brittle nails, and exhaustion. A common reason for this is an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. This gland secretes hormones T3, T4 and TSH and is responsible for controlling the metabolism of the body.
Any alterations (either more or less hormone production) can produce serious changes in the body. Women are more prone to this due to the major hormonal changes during pregnancy, delivery, lactation, and menopause. It is recommended to get this test done once in 5 years after the age of 35 years.
5. Screening For Diabetes And Hypertension
Medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension have become increasingly common and are being detected at a much younger age than before. These conditions can have a tremendous impact with long-term complications, on a woman’s health through different phases of their lives (pregnancy, post-partum and lactation, and menopause).
Blood pressure is measured through a sphygmomanometer and blood glucose through a 2-hour glucose tolerance test (OGT) that determines your body’s ability to metabolise glucose. This is usually done after taking a sugary drink with prior fasting of 9 to 10 hours.
These tests are recommended if you are overweight or have other risk factors such as heart disease, hormonal imbalance, or a strong family history of diabetes, hypertension, or stroke.
6. Check Cholesterol Levels
This test checks for good and bad cholesterol along with triglycerides and total cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a fat molecule, which if present in higher levels can get accumulated in the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke with age.
This test requires fasting for 12 hours without any water or food. This is advised after the age of 30 years and should be done once in 5 years if previous test results were in the normal range.
However, in case of high cholesterol levels or women who have risk factors (such as a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, stroke, etc.), regular screenings, i.e., once in 6 months, are needed.
7. Check Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient needed for bone growth and maintenance. In addition, it also protects your body from diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Vitamin D seems to play a role in improving your immune system.
The most important source of vitamin D is exposure to the sun. Fatty fishes and fortified dairy products are also good sources. Nowadays, women hardly have any exposure to the sun and are usually deficient in this vitamin.
Secondly, as you age, the tendency to synthesise this vitamin decreases. There is no specific age for testing, but you can consult your physician, especially if you are noticing pain in your limbs, get repeated fractures, or have low bone density.
Take care of yourself and make your health a priority.