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All women, even if they are young and healthy, should be visiting the doctor at least once a year for a health checkup. It is a good addition to healthy eating, exercising, and other good habits that people need to inculcate to live a healthier, longer life.
Health checkups help in the early detection and prevention of various diseases. These will also help you build a relationship with your doctor, overcome fears about your health, as well as screen for any medical issues you may have.
Here are some of the tests that are essential for women in their 20s and 30s:
- Physical Exam
- Blood Pressure
- Breast Exam
- Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear
- Diabetes/ Blood Sugar Test
- Eye Test
- Dental Exam
1. Physical Exam
Doctors recommend an annual physical exam. It includes checking your height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and vital signs like blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate. If you have prevailing health conditions, then you should follow the doctor’s advice on the frequency of physical exams. The doctor or healthcare practitioner will also check your eyes, ears, and throat during a physical exam for any anomalies. You should also discuss your medical history, your family’s medical history, as well as any medication that you are on.
Doctors say that maintaining a healthy weight and BMI can help you prevent various health conditions like cardiac diseases, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
During your physical exam, you may also discuss your diet, exercise regime, alcohol intake and smoking habit, if you have one. This is also an opportunity for you to talk about stress, anxiety, or any other mental health issues you are dealing with. The physician can refer you to a therapist or counselor, if they think you need professional help.
2. Blood Pressure
Even in their 20s and 30s, women should have their blood pressure checked at least once in a year or two. If it is above normal (between 120/80 and 139/89), then you can check it at home or have it checked more often. If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, a visit to the doctor’s is a must. At this stage, the doctor might prescribe medication and ask you to make lifestyle changes.
Studies say that high blood pressure puts you at risk of “heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic kidney disease, heart valve diseases, aortic syndromes, and dementia, in addition to coronary heart disease and stroke”. It puts strain on your arteries and can make them less flexible over a period of time. This could result in clots and clogging, leading to heart and other diseases.
“It is important to maintain a waist circumference of less than 35 inches. Blood pressure should never cross 120/80, triglyceride (type of fat in your blood) levels should be 150. Cholesterol level should be less than 200. There is also HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol, it should be more than 50. Blood sugar (fasting) should not cross 100,” says Dr. Maheshwari.
A study by University of California San Francisco (UCSF) researchers says that young people with slightly elevated cholesterol levels are at a risk of developing coronary artery calcium and atherosclerosis (buildup of fats other substances in your arteries) later in life.
Women with normal levels of cholesterol can get the test once in five years, unless your lifestyle, weight, diet, or BMI changes. If you have conditions like heart or kidney disease, diabetes, you will need more regular checkups and monitoring.
Cholesterol is checked through a blood test. Blood for the test is drawn in the morning before you eat.
4. Breast Exam
Breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer amongst women in India. A malignant tumour which starts in the breast cells, it can spread to other parts of the body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says breast cancer affects as many as 2.1 million women each year. Early diagnosis and screening (self-exam, clinical breast exam and mammography) are critical for prevention and treatment of breast cancer, according to the organisation.
A mammogram is recommended to women above 40, unless someone in their family — mother or aunt — has had breast cancer. Then an early mammogram is recommended by doctors. Women can examine their breasts at home, and if they notice a change in their breasts they should contact a doctor immediately. Doctors also recommend a clinical breast exam to check for any changes in size of breasts, shape, dimples, or puckers. This is recommended every one to three years.
“Every woman, right from menarche till we are alive, we should all make a habit of checking our breasts at least once a month thoroughly. The monthly examination should be immediately after your period. Suppose you start your period today, the next 6-8 days are the most silent time for the breast, that’s the best time to examine them,” says laparoscopic surgeon Dr. Usha Maheshwari.
5. Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear
A pap smear is recommended every 3 years to check for cervical cancers and precancers.
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix. According to WHO, cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. It says that almost all cervical cancer cases are “linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact”. It is also one of the most treatable forms of cancer if it is detected early.
Doctors recommend a pelvic exam and a pap smear test every three years for women over 21. For women, who are over 31, a pap smear is needed every five years if their pap smear and HPV test results are normal. The test is conducted during a pelvic exam, using a speculum which is inserted into the vagina to examine the cervix. The doctor uses a brush or a swab to scrape cells from the cervix, which are sent for testing. The test does not typically hurt, but it may cause some discomfort and the patient may feel some pulling.
For women over 30, a human papillomavirus (HPV) test is recommended as well. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. The HPV test can be combined with a pap smear (co-testing).
6. Diabetes/ Blood Sugar Test
Doctors recommend a blood test for diabetes if you have high blood pressure, are overweight, have a BMI above 25, or have a family history of diabetes. Pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes.
If untreated, diabetes can put women at a higher risk of heart disease, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and pregnancy complications. Research says that there are more severe consequences of diabetes for women compared to men. “Pre-menopausal women with diabetes lose the protection against heart disease that non-diabetic women have and are 50% more likely to die from heart disease than men,” says a study.
7. Eye Test
Women should get their eyes tested every two years. If they have diabetes, then an annual exam is recommended.
8. Dental Exam
A bi-annual or annual dental check up is recommended by dentists for an evaluation of your gums and teeth. A dental cleaning can be done once every six months, or according to what your dentist recommends. People who are at a higher risks of dental diseases like smokers or diabetics may need more frequent visits to the dentist’s.
- High Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Disease. Flávio D. Fuchs, Paul K. Whelton
- Women’s Health. Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW)
- Pap and HPV tests. The Office on Women’s Health (OWH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Health screenings for women ages 18 to 39. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine