Medical Tests Every Woman Should Have, and the Best Time to Get Them

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It's important to be aware of how crucial regular exams are to your overall health - your doctors use the information from the tests they perform to help you stay in best health. Annual testing is important to prevent disease, while specific exams may be essential to overcoming health issues.

There are various medical tests you should be scheduling in order to stay up to date with your overall health - body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and eye exams are just a few. Women also need to undergo more specific tests to help spot the signs of potential health problems, some of these include pap smears, ovarian cancer tests and ovarian reserve tests. While annual tests are important, you should also ask your doctor about any specific tests you may need.

Don't wait any longer. If you want to improve your health and longevity, you should strongly consider getting these medical tests.

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Body mass index (BMI)

BMI is a proportional measure of height to weight. "For the general population, it's a good guide to indicate whether you are in a healthy weight range for your height," Dr. Kristy Appelhans, senior director for global consumer safety for Herbalife Nutrition says. "BMI measures of 25 or higher are an indication of being overweight while BMI measures at or over 30 are an indication of being obese. BMI should be included at each of your annual physicals or other routine examinations."

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Waist-to-hip ratio

"Achieving a desirable waist size isn't just about fitting in our clothes. This measurement determines whether you are carrying a disproportionate amount of abdominal body fat compared to that which is distributed in the hip area," Dr. Appelhans says. "Excessive abdominal fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. These measurements may also be included during an annual physical exam."

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Fasting blood glucose

"There are normal ranges of blood glucose (blood sugar) that the body maintains while fasting, during a meal, and shortly after eating. An annual check of your fasting blood sugar is a good way to make sure you are efficiently processing carbohydrates," Dr. Appelhans says. "Abnormalities in blood glucose metabolism could be an indication of diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions. Diabetes is on the rise globally, and onset trends are now affecting younger populations." Checking your fasting blood glucose at annual wellness visits helps you proactively manage potential risks for diabetes, she adds.

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Red blood cell count

"This is a measure of total red blood cells, and testing panels for red blood cells will include related indices, such as hemoglobin. Anemia is a relatively common condition among the U.S. population, and it can occur for a variety of reasons. However, women of childbearing age are especially susceptible to anemia because of the loss of blood through menstruation," Dr. Appelhans says. "Routinely checking red blood cell counts is a good way to become aware of anemia and to proactively manage the condition. Many cases are easily addressed through dietary intervention."

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Blood pressure

"High blood pressure is usually present without any symptoms, which makes it important for you to test yourself so you can detect it. Chronically high blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke," Dr. Laura Gomez, global product safety and surveillance representative for Herbalife Nutrition says. "Blood pressure is generally measured with an arm cuff, which indicates the amount of pressure exerted against the arterial wall. Normal readings are less than 120/80 (systolic/diastolic). If your blood pressure is below 120/80, be sure to get it checked on each regular health care visit or at least once every two years, starting at age 20. For higher readings, your doctor might like to check it more often."

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Fasting lipoprotein profile (cholesterol)

"It is recommended to have this test every four to six years, starting at age 20," Dr. Gomez says. "This test will measure total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), and HDL (good cholesterol). People with high risk of heart disease or stroke might be tested more frequently."

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Breast self-exam

"Adult women of all ages should perform breast self-exams at least once a month. These can be performed in front of a mirror, in the shower, or while lying down. It is recommended the self-exam be performed three to five days after a woman's period starts to ensure breasts are not as tender or lumpy as they may be closer to the menstrual cycle," Dr. Raushanah Najeeullah, global post-market medical surveillance manager for Herbalife Nutrition, says. "Women have the option to start annual breast screening sometime between the ages of 40-44 years old. It is recommended women 45 to 54 years old get screened every year, after which they can switch to getting screened every 2 years."

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Ultrasound

"An ultrasound can be used in place of a mammogram. An ultrasound has a higher rate of detection than mammogram in women with a history of fibrocystic breasts," Dr. Najeeullah says. "Therefore, the ultrasound may be a more appropriate screening test in these cases, as it can be used to confirm suspicious lesions found on mammograph."

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Pap smear

"A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a screening exam used to check for cells of the vagina, cervix, and uterus that suggest cancer may develop in the future. It can also detect infections and any precancerous changes," Dr. Najeeullah says. "A Pap smear, without HPV testing, should begin at age 21 and be performed every three years until age 29 as long at the results are normal. HPV testing is not recommended between 21 and 29 years old, as it is expected any HPV present will be cleared by the body. Beginning at age 30, a pap smear with HPV testing should be performed every five years until age 65. Women over 65 who have had regular screenings the previous 10 years can stop cervical cancer screening as long as they have had no serious pre-cancerous lesions discovered in the last 20 years."

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Bone density scan

"This test measures the 'strength' in your bones; it is capable of predicting and diagnosing osteoporosis (bone weakness). Women age 65 and older, as well as postmenopausal women younger than age 65 should consider a bone density scan if they have a risk factor for low bone mass (low body weight, prior fracture, high risk medication use, disease or condition associated with bone loss), and should be tested at least once in their life," Dr. Najeeullah says. "If the results are normal the test may be repeated within 15 years, otherwise you could need a test as soon as one year after the first one."

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Genetic testing

Genetic testing is essential for woman of any age. The tests examine your DNA, which can let you know if you are at risk for an illness or disease that may be out of your control. Determining if you are at risk will help you take precautions against possible illness.

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Audiogram

Even if you're not experiencing anything out of the ordinary, it's important to test your hearing. Extra loud noises have the ability to break down the inner cells in your ears, which is why it's important to ensure healthy hearing. According to Medical Hearing Systems, you should get a hearing test every few years. A regular hearing examination will help to diagnose medical conditions, identify potential problems, prevent more damage and begin treatment.

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Stroke screening

Strokes occur when there is a blockage of blood flow to the brain. Warning signs of stroke can be difficult to detect, but a test called a carotid ultrasound can detect some problems in the arteries that carry blood to the brain, according to Harvard Health. It's not a good idea to have this test done unless your doctor recommends it after noticing other symptoms, however; the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against the test for most patients.

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Urine test

Your urine can reveal a lot about your health. With over 100 different tests, a urinalysis will help detect health issues or help find the cause of any symptoms you may be experiencing that have to do with your kidneys. According to the National Kidney Foundation the three parts of a urinalysis include visual examination, dipstick examination and microscope examination. Woman should have this test done annually at their routine yearly exam.

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STD screening

An STD screening tests for "sexually transmitted infections, especially gonorrhea (GC), chlamydia (CMZ), HIV (Syphilis, Hepatitis B & C are screen based on clinical judgement)," according to Mark P. Trolice, M.D., founder and director of Fertility CARE: The IVF Center. Woman need to get it because "undiagnosed HIV has potentially life-threatening consequences; a woman's fertility can be severely reduced if STDs (GC/CMZ) are left untreated." They should make sure to get this test at their annual well woman exam beginning in adolescence, he adds.

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Dental exams

It's important to visit your dentist annually to avoid dental issues. If you're experiencing issues - even if they seem minor - it's necessary to see your dentist immediately. What might seem like a small issue may end up being a major health problem. In order to diagnose problems your dentist will may use a variety of methods - visual oral exam, dental x-rays, oral cancer screenings, and intra-oral pictures, according to Verywell Health.

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Skin exams

You should always be checking your own skin, but it's important to visit your doctor annually and have a skin exam performed. According to the American Cancer Society, you should be aware of your normal pattern of freckles, moles and blemishes. The key is to remember the patterns so that next time you see your doctor you can show him or her areas that may be concerning you.

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Colonoscopy

Contrary to what many people believe, colorectal cancer is not just developed in men. Women are at risk as well. A colonoscopy screening helps detect existing cancers at a very early stage. The American Cancer Society suggests women should get this screening every 10 years beginning at age 45. Those at high risk may need earlier or more frequent screening.

 

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Ovarian reserve test

Women thinking of having children in the future might want to consider having an ovarian reserve test -which estimates egg count based on levels of certain hormones on the blood. Proponents suggest such a test can give an indication of fertility potential and possible outcomes for IVF and egg freezing, but a 2017 study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that ovarian reserve tests did not effectively predict fertility.

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Electrocardiogram test

Also known as an ECG, this noninvasive test should be done in women who have risk factors for heart disease and symptoms of abnormalities, or annually after the age 35 (for patients with no risk factors). It detects heart problems by recording the activity of your heart at rest. An ECG can show signs of heart issues you didn't realize were there, ultimately leading to treatment before problems intensify.

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Ovarian cancer test

An ovarian cancer test can help detect diseases in women who are not experiencing any symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, "when ovarian cancer is found early at a localized stage, about 94 percent of patients live longer than 5 years after diagnosis." The two commonly used tests for ovarian cancer are CA-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound. Getting these tests could actually save your life, as can these other important medical exams. 

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