There’s no denying that women in our society are busier than ever. From takeout to shopping online, everyone loves a shortcut that can make life easier. One thing you should never skimp on? Your health.
“Taking care of yourself should be a top priority because, as a woman, it is the best way to be there for your family,” says Susan Murrey, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.
One way to stay healthy is to receive the appropriate screenings and tests. “Screenings are your best defense for disease prevention,” Dr. Murrey says. “The earlier something is detected, the easier it is to treat and the more likely you are to be cured.” She recommends women receive the following tests:
Pap smears remain the best tool for preventing cervical cancer. By checking the cervix for abnormalities, your physician can find cervical cancer at its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. You should get your first Pap smear at age 21 or three years after you become sexually active. It’s recommended that you receive the test annually until age 30 and then every other year thereafter if you’ve had three consecutive normal tests.
Pelvic exams are effective in detecting vaginal infections, sexually transmitted diseases and pelvic organ abnormalities. You should get your first exam at age 21 and receive one at each annual physical exam.
Screening mammograms use X-ray technology to find tumors that are too small to be detected by touch, which means a better chance for early diagnosis. All women should receive their first screening mammogram before age 40 and annually thereafter. Those with an increased cancer risk, such as the BRCA gene or a first-degree relative with breast cancer, should start screening earlier.
Breast self-exams are also important to do on a regular basis because you learn how your breasts feel and what is normal for you. It’s recommended to start breast self-exams in your early 20s and continue testing each month, three to five days after your menstrual period ends. Although 80 percent of lumps are non-cancerous, it’s still important to tell your doctor of any changes you notice.
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries and if not treated, can eventually damage those walls. “Although you should be concerned with your reproductive health, don’t forget about the biggest threat to women, heart disease,” says Dr. Murrey. Blood pressure below 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is optimal. Because many people can have hypertension without realizing it, women should have it checked once every two years and more often if your physician recommends it.
- Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the bloodstream and performs many necessary bodily functions, such as producing cell membranes. However, too much can put you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, your total blood cholesterol level should be below 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) and should be checked at least every five years.
Although your blood pressure and cholesterol can affect your risk of heart disease, they aren’t the only things that matter. “Age, family history and lifestyle choices should all be discussed to maintain overall health,” Dr. Murrey says. “Physical exams are important to make sure these factors aren’t overlooked.”
To learn more about heart disease and women’s health, read “Make Heart Health a Priority.”
Caring for the whole woman
In addition to offering women a full range of physical services, Adventist Midwest Health is just as involved in caring for their emotional and spiritual needs. “When patients come here, it’s truly people caring for people,” Dr. Murrey says. “From the nurses to the administrative staff, we’re committed to nurturing all aspects of patients’ well-being.”