Women’s health is complex. Besides the usual concern about health conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes, you must address your overall female reproductive health and fertility. Maintaining women’s health looks different for everybody, whether by altering your diet, taking fertility supplements, or adjusting your exercise routine to sync with your cycle. Knowing what to ask your physician during exams can relieve some of the stress.
Age-Related Women’s Health
As you age, there are different areas of women’s health that need to be addressed. Some of the same tests required at a younger age are still necessary; however, you will need to do them more frequently. Everyone needs to see a family physician for a yearly physical for overall health, no matter what age. To help your child set up good health habits, she should start attending these appointments in her teens. Along with a physical, she needs to see an OB-GYN to learn more about her reproductive health. These initial sessions during the teen years will not include a pelvic exam. They will, however, allow her to ask questions about her body and learn what to expect.
For women aged 21-29, research indicates that Pap tests and pelvic exams are required at regular three-year intervals. Your doctor will also do a clinical breast exam and sexually transmitted infection screening each year. Women aged 30+ should have their Pap screening for cervical cancer every three years and an HPV test every five years. At age 45, your doctor will also prescribe annual mammograms for breast cancer and a colonoscopy to look for colon cancer. If your mammogram tests are clear for a decade, you may begin to receive them every other year, starting at age 55. Most doctors will also perform lung cancer screenings if you are a smoker at age 55 or have quit smoking within the past 15 years.
Women aged 70 and older do not need regular Pap smears, although your doctor may recommend one if there is a family history of cervical cancer or if you have had abnormal tests in the past. If you have had three normal results in the past decade, your doctor will typically recommend stopping these screenings. Your visit may also include skin cancer and osteoporosis screenings. A routine cardiology screening is advisable for those with a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Regardless of age, for women considering starting a family, tests to ensure you are in your best health for reproduction can set you up for a timely conception and healthy pregnancy.
General Wellness Questions
Having a yearly physical can help you catch health problems before they worsen. In addition, the doctor will be able to warn you about risk factors you may face as you get older. Starting these tests and exams in your early 20s allows for a complete medical history and yearly baseline to catch issues as they develop. When visiting with the doctor, be sure to ask:
- How can I be healthier?
- What lifestyle changes are necessary to lessen health risks?
- What immunizations do I need?
- What are general wellness exams necessary at this time?
Symptoms and Diagnosis Questions
Visiting with your physician allows you to address concerns you have. You may want to ask about hereditary issues in your family or symptoms you are currently experiencing. You can raise these questions during your annual appointment or make a special visit to discuss this with your doctor. When dealing with a diagnosis or symptom concern, ask:
- What could cause the symptoms? How do we figure out the cause?
- Are the symptoms permanent? What are the treatment options?
- Are there lifestyle changes that could reduce the severity of my symptoms?
Always be sure to get as much information as possible about what potential causes are responsible for your symptoms. If you are returning for a diagnosis after testing, be sure to get information about the diagnosed condition to be better prepared.
Even during general wellness exams, you may need to have tests performed to rule out potential issues. For example, most general physicals include blood work to check levels of various vitamins, nutrients, or hormones in your body. They test cholesterol, sugar levels, and white and red blood counts. Anything out of the ordinary can indicate an underlying medical concern. Women, especially those looking to start a family, may request additional tests analyzing their egg health and fertility. This information can help them plan a family or get more information about available options. When going for tests, be sure to ask:
- What does the test involve? Is it invasive?
- What do you need to do to prepare?
- What risks are involved?
- When will you find out the results?
Get all the facts about the test beforehand. The doctor should be able to describe the procedure to help you prepare for it. Some test information can be available on the same day, while others may require you to wait days or weeks for results.
Treatment and Medication Questions
After your test results come back, you may have to undergo treatment or take medication. As with testing, your doctor will explain all your options and what to expect from specific treatments or medication. After receiving a diagnosis, ask:
- How do we manage the condition?
- What treatment options are available? What can I expect from each?
- What is the cost of treatment, and does insurance cover it?
- What side effects should you expect?
- How long will treatment last?
In some cases, you will receive medication as part of your treatment. The prescribing doctor can answer most of your questions, but you can also ask your pharmacist about the medication and correctly take it. You need to know what to do if you miss a dose, any side effects, and any food, drinks, or activities to avoid.
Check-In with Yourself
There is a lot to consider when managing women’s health, and much of women’s overall wellness comes down to the menstrual cycle, fertility, and the reproductive system. When you understand what health exams and check-ups are necessary at each stage of your life, you can stay vigilant, improve your fertility and make lifestyle changes that set you up for better health in the future. Take time to check in with yourself about how you are feeling, whether you understand your menstrual cycle, and if you have concerns about your wellness that you should speak to a doctor about.
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