Saturday, March 8, 2014

18 Medical Tests Recommended for Women at Menopause

There is a common knowledge that to catch the health problems early, women need to have regular health checks. This is even more important, when you are entering the menopausal stage.

Try to wee your doctor for regular medical check-ups to help you stay healthy and to pick up early warning signs of disease or illness. Many diseases such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes and some cancers can be picked up in their early stages, when treatment is often more effective. Do not wait for the warning signs to show up, as that might be pointing out that the health balance for the particular issue has been lost, and you may be at advanced stages of the particular disease.

Women should have a general check-up every year, or as required by your doctor. Part of the check-up will involve talking to your doctor about your medical history, your family’s history of disease and your lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise habits and whether or not you smoke or drink alcohol.

If you have high risk factors – such as a family history of a disease – it may be more likely that you will develop a particular disease. Regular check-ups may help your doctor pick up early warning signs like high blood pressure.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has put together the following recommendations to keep older women healthy, happy, and safe. These are simple medical tests that can be done or ordered when you visit your regular doctor. Your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.

1. Blood pressure
You could be one of millions of Americans who have high blood pressure and don't know it. Get your blood pressure checked by your doctor at least once a year. Your heart, not to mention your arteries, brain, eyes, and kidneys, will thank you later.

2. Stepping on the scales
Welcome to the weight gain triple trap: muscles are essentially replaced by fat as we get older. Then, that fat goes to your waist! Also, you don't burn calories as well as before because your body's metabolism is slowing down. Since being overweight is a significant risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years.

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3. The rectal exam
Dread it; hate it; joke with your friends about it: Just make sure you get one -- every year. The rectal exam and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) will tell if there are any masses or subtle bleeding that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Along with other medical tests your doctor may recommend, it may give clues to treatable problems in your colon (think colon cancer).

4. Other colon cancer screening tests
Colonoscopy is just one of several tests that can be performed to look for colon cancer. A colonoscopy should be done every 10 years beginning at age 50. You may need to have a colonoscopy earlier and more frequently if you have risk factors. Talk to your doctor to see what's best for you.

5. Breast exam and mammogram
Breast cancer risk increases with age. Therefore, it's especially important for you to get that annual mammogram and doctor's breast exam. A mammogram is recommended every one to two years starting at age 40 or 50. Not all breast cancer experts agree. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin regular mammograms.

You may also address the possible concerns by doing the optional genetic blood test, which assesses your risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The blood test identifies the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

6. Pelvic exam and pap smear
You may be surprised, but many women over 60 still need to get regular pelvic exams and Pap smears. Older women can get cervical cancer or vaginal cancer. And the pelvic exam can detect a host of other conditions that may affect your health and quality of life (like, incontinence!). Pap smears are recommended for women every three years. If a woman is older than 65 years old and has had three negative pap smears in a row or has had a total hysterectomy, a pap smear can be omitted.

7. Protecting your eyes
Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma, are common with age. Screening can preserve and maximize your vision. Go more often if you have vision problems or risk factors for eye problems.

It is recommended that:
* Every woman over 40 should have regular eye examinations. An optometrist can test for glaucoma, a serious eye condition characterized by high fluid pressure within the eyeball. Women at increased risk will need to be tested for glaucoma at an earlier age. Risk factors include family history, diabetes, prior eye injury, high blood pressure or use of steroids.
* Women aged between 50 and 65 should have a general eye examination every two years.
* Women aged over 65 should have an eye examination once a year.

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8. Hearing test
At least 30% of people older than age 60 have some hearing loss, most of which is treatable. Get a hearing test at least once every three years.

10. Protect your bones
Osteoporosis is no joke. If you have it and you suffer a fracture -- especially of the hip -- you've significantly increased your risk of permanent disability or death. Get serious and ask your doctor to refer you for a bone density test. Women should have a bone density test at age 65. If a woman is at a higher risk, a screening test should be done at age 60.

Bone density testing is most often used when people have:
* Osteoporosis or concerns about osteoporosis (such as family history)
* Risk factors for osteoporosis – including a thin build, early menopause, long times with no periods when younger, age over 70 years, long-term use of cortisone medication.
* Spinal deformity causing bending over in the upper back
* A previous fracture, not caused by a fall or trauma.

11. Cholesterol screening
High cholesterol levels are a major reason why people have heart attacks and strokes. The good news, though, is that high cholesterol levels can be treated by diet and medications. That is why measuring your levels of total cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol, is important to do regularly. Consider an ‘advanced lipid test’, which gives even more information on cardiovascular risk. Medicare will usually cover these blood tests.

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12. Vaccinations
People older than age 65 should get a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. Anyone older than age 50 should get an annual flu shot. A tetanus booster is recommended every 10 years and a one-time tetanus that also has pertussis vaccine (whooping cough) in it.

Also important, but not endorsed by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, are the following additional tests:

13. Blood Sugar
Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening condition, but it doesn't have to be. The American Diabetes Association recommends that a fasting blood sugar test be done at least once every 3 years, so you can catch diabetes early and manage it.

You are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you:
* Are over 45 years old and obese (BMI over 30)
* Had gestational diabetes in a pregnancy
* Have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
* Have a family history of diabetes
* Are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman aged over 35 years
* Belong to any of certain ethnic groups – including Pacific Islander and Sri Lankan women.

14. Thyroid hormone test
Thyroid problems are easily missed. That's why the screening at least once every 5 years is important for women, according to the American Thyroid Association. Your thyroid, that innocuous-looking gland in your neck is the body's powerhouse, producing hormones needed for metabolism. Problems with the thyroid can cause hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, fatigue, and depression.

15. Vitamin D test
Recently, doctors have realized that vitamin D is a key nutrient that helps maintain strong bones and protect against cancer and infection. Yet many women have low levels of vitamin D and don't know it. This is important because women are at such high risk for osteoporosis; 80 percent of those with bone loss are women. A simple blood test can measure the level of vitamin D in your blood to see if you're getting enough sun exposure and if your diet provides you with enough vitamin D. If not, your doctor will recommend taking a vitamin D supplement.

When to start: Age 40; sooner if you have signs or risk factors for osteoporosis. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D from the sun, so after age 40 it's more likely that you'll become D-deficient. Also, if you have any signs of low bone density, such as a fracture, your doctor will want to test your vitamin D along with your bone density. Although vitamin D testing isn't yet required or listed on the official schedule of recommended tests, more and more doctors are recommending it as an annual test after age 45, along with diabetes screening.

16. STD screening
If you are sexually active, you should get tested for STD. Remember that STD’s are in fact very common, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. Roughly 65 million people in the United States are living with a so-called “incurable” STD, and approximately 15 million men and women in the United States develop a new STD each year — in other words, one third of all Americans have or have had an STD at some point in their lives. 

Many women don’t realize that how well they take care of their immune systems matters a great deal to the health of their sex lives. After all, the immune system greatly affects the susceptibility to many infestations. Mature women experience hormonal changes that can affect the integrity of their genital tissues, leaving them more fragile, and theoretically more susceptible to infection if exposed. And if the immunity isn’t as strong when a trace of an infection enters the body, then the risk for infection is greater. Natural hormone shifting that gives lower estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness and thinning of the tissues, making them more prone to tearing during sex. Such tears, even small ones, provide an easy portal of entry for viruses like HIV. Some women need even more vaginal support in the form of localized estrogen. Without it, they can literally lose much of the integrity of the vagina. So if you’re someone who has a great deal of pain with intercourse caused by lack of estrogen, know that there are very easy and effective interventions available.

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17. Looking for moles
Remember this: Although the majority of your sun exposure occurred before age 18, skin cancers can take 20 years or more to develop. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening. So don't forget to ask your doctor to check your skin for unusual moles or skin changes once a year.

Experts recommend conducting a personal "mole self-check" once a month in the shower to look for unusual growths or changes to existing moles. If you notice anything unusual, call your doctor. Many communities offer free skin cancer screenings, usually held at drug stores or clinics. They're often held in May, just as the summer season begins and people start to expose more skin.

18. Dental Exam
Gum disease can be an important indicator of your overall health. Your teeth, gums, mouth, and throat need to be regularly examined by a dentist. Regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing is important if you want to keep your pearly whites gleaming. Consider using an electric toothbrush, it helps with cleaning and prevention of gum disease.

Sources and Additional Information:
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