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Checklist for Women's Health Screenings


Updated June 15, 2010

Health Screening Tests for Women

Body mass index, or BMI, is a simple way to calculate if your weight is posing a health risk. It works for the average person (but not for body-builders and some athletes). To figure out your body mass index (BMI) take your weight(in pounds) divided by your height squared (in inches). Take that number and multiple it by 703 (or just use an online BMI calculator that does the math for you.

People who have a BMI over 25 are probably overweight and can obtain health benefits through losing weight. If your BMI is above 30, then that awful word "obese" applies to you. People with a BMI greater than 25 have an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. The higher your BMI, the greater the increase in risk. Here's the good news: losing weight can reverse and even erase that extra risk. Try these ideas for painless weight loss.

High Cholesterol
Women get it easier than men when it comes to cholesterol screening. Women are advised to get their cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 45 if they are in a high risk group (men need to do this starting at age 35). A woman younger than 45 who smokes, has diabetes, has high blood pressure or has a history of heart disease in her family should talk to her doctor about starting cholesterol tests earlier. These test uses a drop of blood from a simple pinprick or, for more detailed analysis, blood is drawn and sent to the lab. Results are available immediately (unless a more complex cholesterol analysis is being done). Cholesterol tests are offering at community centers, fitness clubs, malls, workplaces, grocery stores, drug stores - almost everywhere. Just look around a bit and you'll find a cholesterol screening near you or just ask your doctor at your next appointment for a "lipid profile" (that is the doctor code word for "cholesterol test").

High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is one of the easiest things to check. It doesn't hurt and doesn't cost anything (usually). You can find free blood pressure devices just sitting out in some drug stores or pharmacies. The USPTF recommends blood pressure screening every two years for people with bp below 120/80 and yearly for people >120/80 and <140/90. But the reality is that your blood pressure should be checked every time you go to the doctor or dentist. If you get your pressure checked outside of your physician's office (say, by using a machine at a drugstore), and your blood pressure is 140/90 or above, make an appointment with your doctor and start working on lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure.

Colon Cancer
Colon cancer screening is fantastic - not because the typical colon cancer test is particularly pleasant - but because of what doctors can do if they see something pre-cancerous. They can just remove it. That's wonderful. In exchange for a few moments of discomfort, your colon cancer risk is reduced to almost nothing. That's a good deal. Women, after age 50, should begin colon cancer screening. Talk to your doctor about which test is right and how often the testing should be done. If you have a history of colon cancer in your family, be sure to bring that up with your doctor to determine if you need screening before age 50.

Women with high cholesterol or high blood pressure should be regularly tested for diabetes. If you catch diabetes early, you may be able to manage it with simple dietary changes which are often the same as those that prevent/reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Skin Cancer
The easiest way to screen for skin cancer is to check out your moles. If you see a change in mole size, shape or color, or a mole starts to itch, hurt or bleed, make an appointment to see your doctor. Don't forget moles in hard-to-see places; using a mirror, or enlisting the help of a partner, can make looking at them easier. You can even take pictures of your moles so you easily determine differences over time. The USPSTF doesn't have a recommendation for norml risk people regarding skin cancer screening, but keeping an eye on your moles isn't a bad thing.

Depression is left off of almost every list of health screenings. It shouldn't be. Depression is a medical condition which reduces the quality of life and can even threaten life. The good news is that depression is often treatable with some combination of therapy and medication.

Depression screening is fairly simple. The biggest sign of depression is feeling down and/or having little interest or pleasure in doing things for 2 weeks of more. If this description fits you, talk to your doctor about a more advanced screening test for depression.

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