Preventive Care: A Checklist for Women

A checklist for women to help maintain good health

Woman learning health screening results

With their crazy schedules, women often put themselves on the back burner. This is especially true for working moms. That is, until a health crisis hits.

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So make time to take care of yourself. See your doctor regularly for preventive care. He or she will get to know you and your family history. And you’ll get important screenings and immunizations. Some of these you may know about; others may surprise you.

Can’t-miss screenings

Often, the earlier diseases are detected, the more easily they are treated. You won’t want to miss these screenings:

  • Breast cancer screening: Get a yearly mammogram starting at age 40. (If you have breast cancer in the family, your doctor may want you to start them sooner.)
  • Cervical cancer screening: Get a Pap test at age 21 and every two to five years after that, depending on your exact situation. (Paps are usually not needed after age 65.)
  • Colorectal cancer screening: Get a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50 — or earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.

Routine screenings

Your doctor will also check your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels to watch for early signs of cardiovascular disease, hypertension or diabetes. He or she may also order bone density and thyroid tests to check for osteoporosis and thyroid disorders.

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Key immunizations

Immunization, or vaccination, against these diseases can prevent serious — sometimes life-threatening — illness.

  • Tetanus booster: You need a booster every 10 years. Doctors recommend the tetanus booster Tdap, which covers tetanus along with diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis), serious diseases that are making a comeback.
  • Flu vaccine: If you’re over age 50, get a flu shot every fall to avoid the most common strains of influenza. And if you don’t like shots, don’t worry! A nasal-spray flu vaccine is available for women up through age 49.
  • Pneumonia vaccine: The PneumoVax® vaccine prevents pneumonia and is recommended for women 60 years old and up. You can get one earlier if you have chronic medical problems.
  • Shingles vaccine: This vaccine (Zostavax®) can prevent shingles if you’ve never had the painful condition but have had chickenpox. Caution: Insurance may not cover this pricey vaccine.

Remember your daughter, too

Doctors now recommend the HPV, or human papillomavirus, vaccine (Gardasil®) for girls before they become sexually active to prevent cervical cancer. Today, adolescent girls also receive the meningococcal vaccine (Meningovax®) to prevent meningitis, which can easily spread in high school and college.

Simple steps can be lifesavers

These quick tips may seem obvious but bear repeating:

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  • Buckle up. Wear a seatbelt every time you’re in the car.
  • Eat right. Make sure your grocery list includes healthy, nutrient-rich food (hint: Go for color in your fruits and vegetables).
  • Get moving. Exercise daily — one hour a day is best.
  • Think ahead. Create a living will and medical power of attorney.

Don’t be daunted by this “to do” list. Take time out for yourself and stay well. Do you currently follow a monthly checklist or calendar for screenings? Have you or a loved one discovered a health risk during a routine exam before? Share the importance of your story with orhter readers below.

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