Well woman

Heal thyself Constantly juggling work-life schedules, women often end up overlooking their health. This Women’s Day, it’s time women ponder over how they can better their health and lives, writes Dr Ramesh K N

Life is full of surprises, but not all of them are good ones. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared to treat some of them, if they affect your quality of life. Here are some things that as a woman, you absolutely have to get yourself tested for at different times to live a healthy, undisturbed life.

Pap smears

Any woman, regardless of sexual history, has to start getting pap smears after they turn 21. In this test, you’ll be checked for signs of cervical cancer or Human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV has several types and not all of them are cancerous in nature, but HPV 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cancers in both men and women, so it’s best to keep a check on that. Even if you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship, getting pap smears are necessary as the cancerous cells can remain dormant for a bit before becoming active.

Once you’ve done three pap smears, all negative, you can negotiate a more infrequent schedule for check-ups. Also, Hypothyroidism needs to be tested after 20 years now (recommended). Because its incidence is probably on par with diabetes and it’s important for fertility and female well-being.

Cholesterol test

Every three or four years, it’s best to get a cholesterol test to check your risk of getting coronary heart disease. The test will check your cholesterol levels and triglycerides. This test has to be done frequently as the risk grows once you enter your 40s. The ideal cholesterol level should be lesser than 200 milligrams per deciliter.

Skin cancer check up

The younger you are, the rarer the chances of getting skin cancer. However, once you enter your 20s, it is wise to check your skin regularly for any suspicious moles, regular sunburns, extremely sensitive skin as they may be indicators for being vulnerable to skin cancer.

Bi-annual check-ups should suffice, if you have experienced the aforementioned. Otherwise, consult your doctor on the frequency and necessity of this screening.

Women should have mammograms to screen for breast cancer. You can talk about how often you need to go with your doctor in your 40s, but when you enter your 50s, it becomes an annual affair as the risk is tremendously high.

Breast examination

Starting in your 40s, you should have an annual breast exam with your doctor. The doctor will manually check your breasts to see if there any rashes or lump that weren’t there before. They might also check if there’s any discharge from the nipples and if there’s pain in any region.

To make things easier, check your breasts every now and then, so you’ll be the first to notice if there are any changes.

The mammogram also involves getting an x-ray of the breasts to identify any problems that the doctor may not be able to decipher from manual checking. If you’ve had a family history with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about the frequency of your check-ups and start getting checked earlier.

Diabetes test

If diabetes runs in the family, if you’re obese, or if you lead a very sedentary lifestyle, then it is suggested that you get checked once every three years for type 1 diabetes, starting in your 40s.

Gestational diabetes occurs in pregnant women, regardless of whether they have a family history of the same. Though it disappears post-pregnancy, it slightly increases the chances of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. If the reading shows 100 milligrams per decilitre, then that is indicative of pre-diabetes, the purgatory stage wherein you can, with right consultation and lifestyle changes, reverse the situation in time. A reading more than 126 milligrams per decilitre is indicative of diabetes.

Bone density test

Women above the age of 65 should get a bone density test to check for osteoporosis. If you’ve had fractures, or low bone weight, joint problems, you should get checked earlier. Consult your doctor on how often you should get screened based on your situation.

 

(The author is consultant physician & geriatrician, Fortis Hospitals)

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