Are you a woman over the age of 30? You might think that there is no hurry to get a doctor’s appointment just yet; there will be plenty of time later when your schedule clears up a bit. But that is where you go wrong! Most of us keep postponing a trip to the doctor, and that is probably the reason you only find out about major health conditions too late.
Sure, your list of ‘Things to do before I turn 40’ is quickly becoming long. But that is no excuse to put off getting a few basic tests done! Every woman above the age 30 must go through these tests. In fact, surveys have proven that getting regular checkups ensures that you stay away from the doctor’s clinic in the long run. So find out which tests must feature on top of your list, so that you know exactly what to make an appointment for right away!
1. Bone – Mineral Density Test –
As women age their risk for Osteoporosis increases too. This crippling disease that weakens bone affects women 80% more than it affects men, according to National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA. This is why you need to get the bone density test done as soon as you hit 30, to know whether you are at a risk too.
You will need to get the DXA test, which is the Dual-energy-X-ray test, anytime post 30. Do repeat test every 5 years because women lose 30% of their bone mass within 5 years of hitting menopause. Women with lower body weight and bone mass are more at risk. So if you weigh less than 55 kilos, have been a smoker in the past and have also had a series of fractures as an adult, you are more at risk. Also, if you have family history of osteoporosis it only makes sense to be extra cautious.
What to expect from the DXA test? Well, the good news is that the test is non-invasive. An X-ray machine will scan your wrists, hips and spine. If your bone density seems to be low, the doctor will recommend further tests to measure the rate at which you are losing bone mass.
Also, should your DXA reveal you have Osteopenia ( a pre-osteoporosis condition where bone density is low), the doctor will recommend Calcium supplements along with Vitamin D. He or she will also recommend exercises to strengthen your bones. If you are diagnosed with Osteoporosis, your doctor will prescribe medication along with diet recommendations.
2. Mammogram and Clinical Breast Examination –
Both the mammogram and a breast examination can detect signs of breast cancer. According to American Cancer society, almost 97% women who get diagnosed at this early stage have a 100% survival rate with no signs of the cancer coming back for a minimum of 5 years. According to Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian women get affected by breast cancer a decade before their western counterparts! In fact, they have even revealed that breast cancer is the leading cause of mortality in urban women and has long overtaken cervical cancer. Dr Sidharth Sahni, surgical oncologist with Artemis Health Institute and co-founder of Cancer Research Foundation of India, believes that the reasons behind this is the fact that most women don’t have children until they are in their 30s and are leading sedentary lifestyle with poor diet choices.
In fact, most doctors suggest that you should start getting clinical breast examinations in your 20s itself. Since the process is non-invasive, it can be a part of your annual health checkup. After 30, a mammogram done annually is a good idea. Mammogram is nothing but an X-ray of your breasts, where lumps and signs of abnormalities get revealed. It is best to schedule your mammogram right after your period, as this is the time the breasts are least tender.
What to expect? A mammogram is a regular procedure, non invasive in nature and is nothing more than a standard X-ray. If the mammogram picks up signs of abnormalities like lumps, calcium deposits or an abnormally growing mass, the doctor could recommend breast MRI, breast Ultrasound or even a Biopsy to know if the growth is malignant.
3. Pap Smear and complete Gynecological Check-up –
After you are 30, it is a must to go in for a detailed gynecological examination, where your doctor will give you both a breast exam and a pelvic exam. Pap smear is a must, where cervical cells will be collected using a swab to ascertain you are not at risk for cervical cancer. Your doctor might even recommend a HPV test or a Human Pappilloma-virus test to detect if you have strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer in the first place.
“In a majority of cases, it has been observed that cervical cancers could be treated only if they are detected at an early stage. As such, women attaining 30 years of age should make it a habit to go for a Pap smear test every six months”, says Dr Rashmi who owns a private clinic in Patna. “Those in the age bracket of 20-30 should get themselves examined every year. Apart from cancer, the Pap smear test also detects other changes in the cervix like inflammation, infection and unhealthy cervical cells” she further adds. So it is evident that delaying that Pap smear may be a bad choice, considering that cervical cancer is very dangerous and also hard to cure in its final stages.
Once you have hit 30, schedule an annual Pap smear. To make sure that the results are accurate, do not use any vaginal medications like anti-fungal creams or have sex 1-2 days before your appointment. Should you show strains of HPV or have cervical abnormalities, your doctor will recommend the necessary treatment immediately.
4. Heart Health Checkup –
If you are over 30, lead a sedentary lifestyle and seem to be putting on weight every year, it is a must to get a heart health test done. The doctor will test your BP, lipid profile, blood test to check for LDL and HDL and also check total cholesterol levels. You will need to get the cholesterol tests done every 5 year, especially if your cholesterol levels are above 200.
Also, if you have a family history of heart diseases, the doctor will also recommend an hs-CRP or a high sensitivity CRP test to see if there are any inflammations within the heart that can be a cause for concern. However, if your blood pressure levels are normal and lie between 120 – 80, your doctor will suggest you repeat the tests every 2 years. It is only post 45 that doctors suggest you get both cholesterol levels and blood pressure checked annually. For the Lipid profile, you need to fast for 9-12 hours and ideally this test is done early morning, on an empty stomach, so schedule your test accordingly.
5. Thyroid Test and Urinalysis –
After you are 30, doctors advise that you get your blood test done to check the level of TSH or Thyroid stimulating hormone. An underactive thyroid gland can be the reason you have noticed weight gain, dry skin and brittle nails. This is characterized by high TSH levels. However, low TSH levels means you have an overactive thyroid gland which could be the reason for your insomnia, weight loss and fast pulse rate.
You should start screening for Thyroid activity levels at 30, and repeat the test every 5 years, unless you see symptoms of an abnormal thyroid gland activity earlier. Thyroid problems are not permanent in nature and many women notice a few symptoms after having their first baby.
The other test that is just as important is Urinalysis where a sample of your Urine will be tested for any Urinary tract Infections, abnormalities in your kidney like kidney stones or kidney disorders and can even detect Diabetes Type 2.
*This article was also published in HealthViva.com
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