Must Have Medical Tests for Women

It's easy to put off going to the doctor. Life gets busy and you feel healthy, right? While you don't want to spend more time in the doctor's office than necessary, certain tests are well-worth the time investment because they will extend the length of your life as well as the quality of your life. The following must have medical tests are ones you won't want to skip.

Tests you'll need once you turn 18
Once you're on your own, make sure you get these medical tests:

  • Annual Physical. It may sound basic, but many people think as long as you feel healthy, you don't need to see the doctor. Establish a relationship with your primary care physician by scheduling an annual physical. Make sure this yearly exam includes a pelvic exam; an all-over skin examination, looking for signs of skin cancer; weight check, as one of the most common signs of other illnesses is unintentional excessive weight loss or gain; blood pressure check, given that it's never too early to watch for signs of heart disease, the number one cause of death for women; and a discussion about your mental health, touching on signs of depression.  Continue to have these annual exams for the rest of your life, using these annual physicals as a springboard for the rest of the annual medical tests mentioned in this article.
  • Twice a year dental exam. You may feel like your teeth are bright and shiny--you may even clean and floss them three times a day-but there's no substitute for your biannual dental appointment for a professional cleaning, check for cavities and gum disease, and visual check for oral cancer.
  • Annual breast exam. While you're in the doctor's office for that annual physical, make sure your doctor does a manual breast exam looking for signs of breast cancer. Ask your doctor to show you how to perform a proper self exam and make sure you perform a self exam monthly.

Tests you'll need starting in your 20s

  • Cholesterol test every five years. When you turn 20, you'll want to ask your doctor to check your cholesterol every 5 years, charting your levels of good and bad cholesterol. The test can be done during your annual physical and consists of having blood drawn. You have to fast the day of the exam, so make sure you tell the physician's office you want this test done when you schedule the exam and follow the instructions carefully, so you don't have to come in again another day. If the test comes back saying you have "high cholesterol", this means your bad cholesterol is too high or your good cholesterol is too low, putting you at risk for heart disease in the future. Your doctor may prescribe certain dietary, exercise, and even prescription drugs for you if your cholesterol is high.
  • STD screening if you're sexually active. Once you have been sexually active with more than one partner, or if your partner has had multiple partners, you should consider an STD screening. It's advised to be screened at the very least for Chlamydia, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), herpes simplex virus, trichomoniasis and AIDS. If you have had any concerning symptoms, such as itchiness, unusual discharge, sores, blisters, or irritation in your genital area, mention this to your doctor. Early detection of STDs can reduce chances of serious consequences. How often you should be tested depends on how many sexual partners you have in any given amount of time, so be open with your doctor at each yearly physical. If you are under age 26 and do not have HPV, you may want to get the HPV vaccine and protect yourself from cervical cancer later on.

Tests you'll need starting in your 40s

  • Diabetes screening every 3 years. When you hit 40, you'll want to ask your doctor to perform a diabetes screening since uncontrolled diabetes takes a toll on your internal organs-especially your heart, kidneys and liver. This test requires you to fast and is done via drawn blood.
  • Annual mammogram. Once you hit 40, you'll want to be more aggressive in your fight against breast cancer, and that includes yearly mammograms. These tests can detect a lump in your breast much smaller than anything you could find on your own in a self exam, giving you the edge against cancer. The test entails allowing an x-ray-like machine clamping sections of your breasts between slides, and although it is somewhat painful, it is a quick and simple way to protect yourself from a life-threatening illness.

Tests you'll need starting in your 50s

  • Glaucoma and cataract screening. You'll want to see the optometrist-whether you've worn glasses or not-when you hit 50, because you'll want to get checked out for glaucoma, a disease involving the optic nerve that is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, and cataracts, the clouding of the clear lens that protects your iris. While both tests may be uncomfortable, they are not painful. Get screened every 2-4 years until you hit age 60; then see your optometrist annually every year thereafter. If you are African American, you'll want to start getting these tests at age 40.
  • Thyroid test every 5 years. If you've noticed significant weight loss or gain or have trouble staying warm, it's time to get the old thyroid checked out. A thyroid test is as simply as drawing blood and is recommended every 5 years after you turn 50, helping your doctor identify either an over or under active thyroid before it becomes a problem. Get this taken care of by your primary physician during your annual physical.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years. Even though this is an uncomfortable test, you'll want to get your full colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter, with a digital rectal exam midway between (every 5 years) to catch signs of colorectal cancer early on. You can get this over with during your annual physical.
  • Stress test every 10 years. Since heart disease is so prevalent among women, it's a good idea to get a stress test once you turn 50 and every 10 years thereafter. A stress test will involve physical exertion (usually on a treadmill) while your heart rate and blood pressure are being monitored. This test can tell your physician a great deal about your susceptibility to heart disease.
  • C-reactive protein test. This test is one more way to detect heart disease early on. The test uses blood from a blood sample to determine how high your c-reactive protein level is in your blood stream. A high level of this protein indicates inflammation in your body, which is either a predictor of a propensity towards heart disease or one sign that heart disease may already be developing. There is no standard recommendation for this test to be done, only that it should be performed on women over age 50 who show signs of possible heart disease.

Tests you'll need starting in your 60s

  • Bone density test. The tests used to measure bone density in your hip bones and spine are DEXA scans and quantitative CT scans. Both of these tests are painless and work much like an x-ray machine, using radiation to capture images of your bones. It is important to note that both tests use less radiation than a traditional x-ray machine. The tests are quick, usually taking less than ten minutes total. You'll want to get this test done every two to three years.
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