Throughout a woman’s life, there are many health concerns she should keep in mind. Often, these concerns change with age. One of the best practices in maintaining good health is getting recommended screenings to detect any illness early so it can be treated more easily. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a guide to well-woman care based on age. We will look at an overview of some of the important screenings every woman should get throughout her life when she should get them, and how often. And because September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, we will end by touching on some of the screenings you should get to improve and maintain sexual health.
Women should get their cholesterol tested regularly starting at age 20 if they are at increased risk of heart disease due to family history or other illnesses that might be linked to heart disease or high cholesterol. Because it varies on individual health, your doctor can talk to you about how often you should be tested.
Your blood pressure is probably taken at the beginning of most doctor’s appointments. But if not, it should be tested regularly. If you have normal blood pressure lower than 120/80, then you can get tested every 2 years. If you have blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89, then a test once a year is necessary. If your blood pressure is any higher than that, you should discuss a treatment plan with your doctor.
Doctors recommend women of all ages to do monthly self-exams to detect any lumps or changes in breast tissue. Beginning at age 40, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends annual mammograms.
If you have a cervix (for various reasons not all women do), you should get regular screenings for cervical cancer. Pap smears, or Pap tests, are performed by collecting cells from the cervix with a swab and then screening them for abnormalities. HPV tests can also be a part of a cervical cancer screening, as HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer.
Many gynecologists include a Pap smear in an annual well-woman exam, but not all of them do. So, if it’s not part of your annual checkup, how often should you get tested?
- Women 21 and over should get a Pap test at least every 3 years.
- Women 30 – 64 can get an HPV test and a Pap smear together every 5 years.
- Women 65 and older should talk to their doctor about when and if you need to get a Pap test.
From ages 50-75, a woman should get screened for colorectal cancer once every 5-10 years. This range changes if you are at greater risk for colorectal cancer due to family history, a hereditary condition, inflammatory bowel disease, or if polyps have been found in prior screenings. Then the frequency could be every 1-5 years.
There are several types of colorectal screenings, and your doctor will discuss with you the best option for you. These screening methods can include:
- CT colonography
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Barium enemas
- Stool tests
Type 2 diabetes affects almost 10% of the U.S. population, with even more Americans considered prediabetic. How often and when you should get tested for diabetes varies on your overall health, family history, and whether you have other conditions that are linked to the disease.
It is recommended for most people to get tested for diabetes once every 3 years after age 45. If you have high blood pressure, especially if you take hypertension medication, you should get screened for diabetes earlier and more often than people without hypertension. Other factors that may cause your doctor to recommend more frequent screenings include family history, personal history of gestational diabetes, and obesity.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Depending on the kind of sex education you had and how well you’ve educated yourself outside of school, you may or may not know the risks of common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Even if you are generally knowledgeable, then you might not know when or how often to get tested for STIs. The CDC has excellent information on many sexually transmitted diseases, including the symptoms, risks, and guidelines for testing and treatment.
If you are sexually active, it is important to know the symptoms of STIs and when you should get tested, even if you use protection. STIs can not only affect your sexual health but other body systems. Left untreated they can be serious. However, with appropriate screening, many STIs are treatable if not curable. To get details on each STI, click the link at the beginning of the screening recommendations.
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus): For most women who are not immunocompromised, HIV positive, or have a history of cervical cancer, screenings for HPV are based on age.
- Age 21-29: Pap test with cytology (looking at cells under a microscope) screening every three years. No separate HPV testing is done.
- Age 30 – 65: Pap test with cytology and an HPV test should be given together every five years.
- Age 65+: Recommendations vary based on previous results
- HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus): If you are sexually active, you should be tested for HSV if you are exhibiting symptoms or are concerned you may have been exposed to HSV by a sexual partner. If you think you or your partner may have herpes and are pregnant, talk to your doctor about testing and ways to prevent passing it on to your baby.
- Chlamydia: If you are sexually active and under 25, you should get tested for Chlamydia every year. Continue or resume yearly testing if you are over 25 and have new or multiple partners or a partner that has been diagnosed with an STI. Pregnant women should also get tested.
- HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus): Every woman should be tested for HIV at least once if they’ve been sexually active. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women be tested for HIV. Talk to your doctor about your sexual activity to determine if you are at higher risk and need to be tested more frequently.
- Gonorrhea: If you are sexually active, an honest conversation with your doctor can determine whether and when you should be tested for gonorrhea. If you have new or multiple sex partners or a partner who has an STI, get tested once a year. Testing is also recommended for pregnant women.
- Syphilis: You should get tested for syphilis if you are sexually active and have had a partner who has tested positive for the infection. Pregnant women should also get tested at least once to avoid passing the infection to the baby.
- Trichomoniasis: Testing for this common STI should be done if you are sexually active, at increased risk, or are experiencing symptoms.
At Raleigh OB/GYN, we are committed to providing care for all stages of a woman’s life. This includes making sure she gets the necessary screenings to monitor her health and prevent illnesses. If you have questions about what kind of screenings you should get and when, contact us at 919-876-8225 or request an appointment online.