Whether each morning starts with a scavenger hunt for your keys or youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re so organized that you have automated reminders to send birthday cards, one thing is for sure: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to keep tabs on your health when every medical test and screening has its own guidelines. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re putting it all in one place. Take a look and then start scheduling your appointments.
1. Blood Pressure
You should get your blood pressure checked at least every 2 years if your reading is normal and at least every year if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s abnormal. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, or stroke, so get comfortable with the sphygmomanometer (that pump and arm cuff device).
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and the only way to detect it is with a blood test. If your LDL or Ã¢â‚¬Å“badÃ¢â‚¬Â cholesterol is higher than 130, you should get retested annually. If itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lower, you can wait 5 years to do it again.
3. Thyroid Test
An underactive thyroid, measured via blood test, can lead to weight gain; an overactive thyroid can indicate an autoimmune disease. Get tested for thyroid disorders at 35, or younger if you have symptoms like unexplained changes in mood, weight, sleep habits, and cholesterol level. Ask your doctor when you should have it rechecked.
4. Skin Cancer Screening
Melanoma and other skin cancers arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a concern only limited to people who use tanning beds. Fair-skinned women are at higher risk for skin cancer than people with darker skin. People whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had bad sunburns before age 18 and those whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had a close family member with melanoma are also more likely to get skin cancer.
Do a self-exam every month looking for moles that are asymmetrical, larger than a pencil eraser, or have an irregular border or color. Alert a dermatologist if moles or spots are changing, growing, or bleeding. See a dermatologist annually for a full-body exam.
5. Pap Smear
The Pap smear is a screening that detects inflammation and infection on the cervix and abnormal cells, which may signal cervical cancer. The new guidelines on Pap smears state that women over 30 who have had three consecutive "normal" results can wait three years between Paps.
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6. HPV Test
The new human papillomavirus DNA test is used in women over 30 to detect the sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s performed on the same specimen taken at the time of your Pap smear. Talk to your gyno about HPV testing when you go in for your next Pap.
7. Breast Self-Exam
Last November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) changed their mammogram recommendation for women over 40 and suggested women quit breast self-exams altogether. But these are fast and free checks, and the USPSTF's recommendation against teaching them has caused a big-time brouhaha. The group argues that self-exams have not been proven to reduce cancer-related deaths, though no conclusive study has been done in the United States.
Most doctors say not to quit altogether. "I've evaluated women as young as 22 who were diagnosed with breast cancer and the breast lump was detected while doing a breast self-exam," says Sandhya Pruthi, M.D., former director of the Breast Diagnostic Clinic at the Mayo Clinic. "If we'd told them 'Don't touch your breasts,' a lump that was cancerous may have been detected at a much later stage.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Most lumps in younger women are caused by benign cysts, but there are no absolutes. The bottom is it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hurt to become familiar with the normal changes of your breasts by examining them monthly, in the days just after your period. For instructions on how to perform a breast self-exam, visit cancer.org.
8. Clinical Breast Exam
The USPSTF has the same stance on clinical breast exams (performed by a doctor or nurse) as it does on self-exams: they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer and women donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need to get them. But your gynecologist probably feels more pairs of breasts a day than anyone but the lingerie sales lady at MacyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, so why not let him or her keep tabs on your set just to be safe? The American Cancer Society recommends a clinical breast exam at least every 3 years for women in their 30s.
9. STD Screenings
If you have multiple partners or a new partner, get tested annually for Chlamydia and gonorrhea, STDs which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. The test is a quick swab of the cervix.
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