HealthONE - May 13, 2019

For women, health screenings are a vital way to spot and identify serious health problems or medical conditions early on. Additionally, health screenings can be an important way for women to learn about how to best maintain their health in every stage of their lives.

Here are the eight essential health tests and screenings that women should know about, along with recommendations for when women should be screened for these health concerns:

1. Cholesterol and blood pressure

High blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase a woman's risk of serious health problems, like heart disease and stroke. Women with high blood pressure or high cholesterol usually don't have any symptoms of these conditions, which is why it's important to be screened. Starting at age 20, women should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. Women should be screened for high cholesterol every four to six years. Depending on a woman's age, weight, lifestyle habits or family history, she may need to have her blood pressure or cholesterol checked more often. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and medication if needed can help a woman lower her cholesterol or blood pressure, which is why it's important to get screened regularly.

2. Cervical cancer

Contrary to popular belief, women don't need a Pap smear every year. The American Cancer Society now recommends that women ages 21 to 29 get a Pap test every three years. Women age 30 and older should get a Pap test combined with testing for HPV (human papilloma virus) every five years. Women, including those over age 65, who have certain risk factors for cervical cancer may need to have more frequent exams.

3. Sexually transmitted infections (STI)

Women of all ages could be at risk of getting an STI. If a woman has unprotected sex with a new partner or more than one partner, they are at risk and need to talk to a physician about getting tested. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually active women should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Talk to your doctor or OB/GYN about getting tested and preventing STIs.

4. Mammogram for breast cancer

Mammograms are typically performed yearly or every two years in women beginning at age 45 or 50. A mammogram can be effective in detecting the early stages of breast cancer before a woman experiences any symptoms. Research has shown that mammograms in women aged 40 to 74 can decrease mortality rates from breast cancer by 15 to 20 percent. The earlier breast cancer is detected in women, the better the odds of successful treatment.

5. Depression

Women are roughly two times more likely than men to suffer from depression, which is considered one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated mood disorders. Many health organizations now recommend screenings for depression, especially for pregnant women and new moms. It's important for women to know the signs of depression and see a doctor or mental health specialist if they feel depressed or notice major changes in their mood.

6. Diabetes

According to the CDC, women age 45 and older should be screened for diabetes, which involves a blood test. Younger women should also have their blood sugar (glucose) levels checked if they have certain risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes. Some women can also have pre-diabetes, in which your blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to qualify as full-fledged diabetes. Fatigue, blurry vision or extreme thirst can also be signs of diabetes.

7. Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the rectum or colon. Screening for colorectal cancer, which often involves a colonoscopy, generally begins at age 50. For men and women with an average risk of colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy screening is typically recommended once every 10 years. Individuals with a family or personal history of colorectal cancer may need screenings more frequently.

8. Bone loss test

For both women and men, bone loss is an important health issue as you age. Women age 65 and older should have a bone density test, which measures bone loss in the hips and spine. A bone density test is used to diagnose osteoporosis. Women who smoke, drink three or more alcoholic beverages per day, have a parent who broke a hip or has very low levels of vitamin D in their body may need to be screened earlier for bone loss. A bone density test can help women make changes to improve their bone health, such as increasing calcium intake, exercising daily and quitting smoking.

Eight hospitals. One health system for every family. The HealthONE health system was built for the strongest people we know - and we are committed to meeting the healthcare needs of women, for themselves and their loved ones. That's why we have a phone line available 7 days a week with nurses to answer your medical questions and staff to make physician appointments. Call (303) 374-0777.