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Week encourages women to be screened
Health advice
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Women’s Health Week, March 13-19, is a great time to address conditions that cause the highest mortality rates among U.S. women.
Most of these conditions can be prevented or controlled by receiving preventive and health care services.
About a third of women 65 and older have heart disease, and many have problems with hypertension. Nearly two-thirds of women between 60 and 69 have low bone density, dramatically increasing their risk of breaking bones in a fall.
Women today can avoid many of the pitfalls women in the past didn’t know how to prevent. Good health is not something women can take for granted. We have to eat a healthy diet, stay active, avoid tobacco and second-hand smoke, limit alcohol and keep our weight within a normal range for our height.
Other ways we can prevent disease and health problems is by scheduling routine tests to catch diseases in early stages when they can be treated or cured. The following are tests every woman should know about and put on her to-do list:
• Pap test for cervical cancer should begin on all women about three years after they begin having vaginal intercourse or when they are 21 years old. Screening should be done every year with the regular pap test or every two years using the newer liquid-based pap test. More frequent pap screenings are necessary if you have risk factors such as multiple sex partners, a weakened immune system or HIV infection. Pelvic examinations are typically done at the same time as clinical breast exams.
• Clinical breast exams should be scheduled every three years for women in their 20s and 30s in addition to monthly breast self-exams. Women over 40 should continue to do monthly self-breast exams and have a clinical breast exam every year.
• Mammography should be scheduled every year beginning at age 40. See your healthcare provider if you notice any lumps, masses or changes in your breast, regardless of your age (and especially if breast cancer has been found in your family.)
• Chlamydia testing should be done if you are sexually active. If you have a history of chlamydia or other sexually transmitted infections, or you or your partner have had multiple sex partners, you may need to be screened for other sexually transmitted diseases. You will need to request these screenings.
• Blood pressure test for high blood pressure (hypertension). Beginning at age 21, have your blood pressure checked every one to two years. If you have high blood pressure, you will need to get it checked more often, especially until you have controlled it with medications, diet or exercise.
• Diabetes (blood glucose) testing should be done every three years beginning at age 45. Talk with your health care professional about your risks for diabetes.  
• Weight or obesity screening is now considered a preventive checkup. Talk with your healthcare professional for more information on healthy weight guidelines or weight-management strategies.
• Women should begin testing their blood cholesterol at age 20 with testing repeated every five years or more frequently if you have risk factors for heart disease or diabetes, or if your cholesterol level is above normal.
• Bone mineral density exam/bone mass measurement should be done at age 40 if you are at increased risk for osteoporosis or low bone density because of using certain medications, have a disease or condition known to be associated with bone loss or if you have recently broken a bone under certain circumstances.  Osteoarthritis is one of the most common ailments that affect quality of life among the older population. It can be largely controlled, and its progress significantly slowed, with proper diet and exercise programs.
• Thyroid test, while recommendations vary, the American Thyroid Association recommends having this test at age 35 and then once every five years. Symptoms for disorders of the thyroid gland can range from a fast heart beat, high blood pressure, moist skin and increased sweating, nervousness, increased appetite and weight loss to sensitivity of eyes to light for “hyperthyroidism” to the opposite; slow pulse, hoarse voice, slowed speech, loss of eyebrows, weight gain, sparse and dry hair in people with “hypothyroidism.”
• Women 50 or older should be screened for colorectal cancer using any of several different methods: testing stool for blood (fecal occult test), having a barium enema with x-ray, having a sigmoidoscopy (examination of the rectum and lower colon) or colonoscopy (examination of the entire colon) at regular intervals.
• Complete eye exam should be done at least once between the ages of 20 to 39.
• Examine your skin once a month for skin cancer. Signs are changes, such as moles that change color, shape or size and ask your healthcare professional how often you should have your skin examined by a medical professional.
• Keep your immunizations up to date and, if you are a young woman, you should consider getting the new HPV vaccine as it will lower your risk of developing cervical cancer.

Ratcliffe works for the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-2173.
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