From Pap smears to mammograms - 10 health checks every woman should prioritise and when to start

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From pap smears to mammograms - 10 health checks every woman should get done.
From pap smears to mammograms - 10 health checks every woman should get done.
Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
  • Women tend to take on a lot of responsibility, often neglecting their health. 
  • This Women's Month, Pharma Dynamics encourages women to prioritise self-care by scheduling overdue health checks. 
  • Here are 10 health checks every woman should have and the age you should get them done. 

If you're anything like me, then you're probably not a fan of the doctor's office.

That being said, we can't always avoid it.

Women tend to take on a lot of responsibilities in both work and family life, and in so doing, we may often neglect our health.

Pharma Dynamics is encouraging women to prioritise self-care this Women's Month by scheduling overdue health checks.

"Health screenings are generally done when you're healthy. The aim is to detect disease at an early stage before symptoms become noticeable. In most cases, treating a disease early on provides a better prognosis. Regular health checks can also help to reduce risk factors and treat abnormalities that could lead to more serious disease later on," says Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company.

From pap smears to bone density tests, here are 10 health checks that every woman should get.

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1. Blood pressure screening

"Research conducted in South Africa shows that high blood pressure rates among women have climbed in the last two decades," says Nicole. 

Studies revealed an increase in hypertension prevalence from 27% to 45% in men and 31% to 48% in women. 

Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure typically doesn't cause any symptoms but has a devastating effect on your health. A blood pressure screening should be done annually from age 18. A normal reading is below 120/80 mm Hg.  

2. Cholesterol check

A cholesterol check assesses your risk of developing heart disease or a stroke. 

The test should be done every five years from around the age of 20. However, if you have a history of cardiovascular disease in your family, you should have it done more regularly. 

"Normal cholesterol levels should be less than 5 mmol/l. If it's higher, make a plan to see your doctor," Nicole advises.  

3. Blood glucose 

Having your blood glucose checked is essential to detect the risk for diabetes. Women aged 45 and older should get a blood glucose test every three years. 

"A fasting plasma glucose reading of 6.1 - 6.9 mmol/l and higher may indicate that you're prediabetic, while anything over ≥ 7 mmol/l indicates diabetes."  

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4. HIV

It's recommended that HIV/AIDS tests be taken at least once a year, given the high rate of the disease in South Africa. 

You can do the simple test at your GP's office or local clinic. 

5. Pap smear

"A pap smear is recommended every three years, starting from the age of 25 to 65," says Nicole. 

"Your doctor will take cells from your cervix with a small brush, which then gets sent to a lab for analysis. There they will look for changes or abnormalities that may lead to cervical cancer."  

6. Mammograms

Mammograms are used to screen for breast cancer and should be done annually from age 40. 

Nicole explains: "As you age, your risk for breast cancer increases. Women should start annual screenings at age 40 and can then switch to biannual screenings at age 55. 

"However, if you have a family history of breast cancer, then talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier."

Learning how to do self-examinations at home is also important. These allow you to check for bumps, lumps or any changes in your breasts.  

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7. Bone density 

As we get older, our bones start to weaken. This is where a bone density test comes into play. 

The test screens for osteoporosis (a disease that weakens the bones) and is recommended for women from age 65 and men over the age of 70, but those with risk factors, like fractures or low body weight, should be screened earlier. 

The test is conducted with a low-dose X-ray machine to capture images of your bones. 

"The frequency of the test varies depending on bone density, but your doctor will be able to advise you on how often you should have it done." 

8. Colon screening

It may not be a screening that you particularly look forward to, but colon screenings are important. 

The colon should be scanned for cancer from age 50 and then repeated every 10 years after that, depending on an individual's risk factors. 

"It can be done at the doctor's office or in hospital by way of a sigmoidoscopy where a lighted tube and camera are inserted in the anus to examine the lower colon. 

"A colonoscopy involves a longer tube that examines the entire colon. Your doctor will advise on how often it should be done," the Pharma Dynamics statement explains. 

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9. Skin checks

With 20 000 cases reported annually, skin cancer has become one of the most common forms of cancer in South Africa, according to Pharma Dynamics.

Self-examinations should be done monthly at home to check for any new moles or changes to existing moles. 

Contact your GP or dermatologist immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

10. Dental checks

Make sure you visit your dentist at least once a year to prevent or treat plaque build-up, cavities and gum disease.

Source: Distributed by Meropa Communications

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