By Jill Larson, DO
Women often report delaying routine visits to the doctor because of time constraints. Yet, avoiding preventive care is a health risk that can lead to more doctor’s visits, tests and treatments later.
Early detection of health problems can significantly enhance quality of life and longevity and reduce the time and money spent on health care. Early treatment may even eliminate future pain and suffering.
Symptoms for some diseases become noticeable to the patient only after the disease has progressed. Preventive screening allows providers to detect problems before patients become symptomatic. Among those who benefit the most are patients diagnosed in the early stages of cancer or chronic illness.
Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose screenings by health care professionals are among the key strategies for protecting health over a lifetime. Diseases of the vascular system and diabetes can go undetected for long periods and may result in irreversible damage to tissues and organs.
High blood pressure is a “silent killer” that puts people at risk for heart attack, stroke and other vascular concerns. According to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, 90 percent of American women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
Health risks change
Women’s health risks change over time. In general, many women seek to optimize health for pregnancy between ages 20 and 40. High blood pressure and diabetes can be serious risks during pregnancy, and can affect the baby’s health as well as the mother’s. With annual physical exams, these problems can be detected prior to pregnancy and well controlled to minimize health risks.
Sexual health also is an important consideration. Women should consult with their providers about contraception and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV).
During perimenopause – when women may experience insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, vaginal problems or behavioral health concerns – a doctor’s care can help make things much easier.
As women become older, the risk for chronic disease and need for blood pressure, blood glucose and obesity screenings increase. Cancer also becomes more prevalent with age, making screenings for breast cancer and colon cancer more important.
Women ages 65 and older have somewhat different concerns, as the risk for reproductive health problems decreases and other risks increase. For example, older women may develop osteoporosis.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to health care. Every person has different medical concerns. Physicians consult the latest research and recommendations as they work with each patient.
The following general guidelines apply to women 20 and older who are symptom-free. Age, health status, family history and lifestyle can impact a doctor’s recommendations.
The HPV vaccine series is recommended for women through age 26, beginning at age 11 or 12. Women who did not start or finish the series should get it prior to age 27.
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination is recommended once, if necessary, between ages 20 to 39.
Consult with your doctor about tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccination. The tetanus booster (Td) is advised every 10 years.
Preventive care exam – Examinations are recommended every one to three years. They provide time for a blood pressure reading, pelvic and clinical breast exams, guidance on screenings and wellness, and other needs.
Diabetes and cholesterol screenings – These blood tests are recommended every three to five years.
Cervical cancer and HPV screenings – Pap smears are advised every three years for women ages 21 to 64. Otherwise, a combination Pap and HPV screening is recommended every three to five years for women ages 30 to 64, or as directed by a provider.
Mammography screening – Women should speak to their providers to determine a schedule for mammograms. In general, mammograms are recommended every one to two years for women ages 50 and older.
Colon cancer screening – This screening is recommended every 10 years for women ages 50 to 75, or as directed by a provider.
For women 65 and older – In addition to the recommendations provided, women should consult with their physicians about the following:
An initial Medicare welcome exam at 65, with annual Medicare wellness exams after that.
Two pneumonia vaccinations beginning at 65, once for each vaccine type.
Bone density screening at 65 and as recommended thereafter.
One shingles vaccination at 65 or older.
Preventive health care and women’s health are my passions. I spend a good share of my professional life counseling people about health screenings and caring for women of all ages. If a woman has not had a physical exam, or a year has passed since her last exam, I recommend scheduling a doctor’s appointment. There is no reason to put your health at risk.
Women who don’t have a doctor can call 262-928-2745 for help finding one on ProHealth Care’s medical staff.
Jill Larson, DO, is a ProHealth Medical Group family medicine physician who also practices obstetrics. She is based in New Berlin.
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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.