Ah yes. We often think back to our grandparents’ days, sigh, and wonder why life today can”t be simpler, like it was back then? This is a rather strange question when you look at it; because advances in medical science in the last 50 years have, arguably, been more profound than the last 500 years put together. So why are so many of us wishing to take a time trip to the past? In a word: stress!
Unlike a slower, simpler lifestyle a generation or two ago, staying healthy these days is a full time job, requiring a set of behavioral patterns tempered by military-type discipline. It isn”t enough to be fit or healthy anymore: you have to be both! It isn”t enough that you can run 3 miles without taxing your heart, but you also have to make sure that your organs — kidneys, liver, lungs — run like clockwork. And as you know, it isn”t enough that you get your daily quota of fresh air and nutritious foods, but you also have to make sure that there are no tumors or lesions lurking in your insides that someday will turn into malignant masses that have to be dealt with in a hurry.
So to all of the stressed-out women in the audience today: sorry. Swimming three times a week, eating meals packed with nutrients, and downing those vitamins won”t suffice. Not anymore. Healthcare specialists are universally agreeing that women need to take a gender-specific route to optimal health.
As the Mayo Clinic directs, your annual physical must include dental check-ups and eye exams (to detect problems like glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts). The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an eye exam once a year between the ages of 20 and 39, every two to four years between age 40 and 64, and every one to two years beginning age 65.
The annual physical must also include a fasting blood sugar test (as high glucose could trigger the onset of diabetes), and skin exams; the American Cancer Society”s opinion is that beginning at age 20, a skin exam should be part of a cancer-related check-up.
Special Tests for Women
The Mayo Clinic recommends specific tests for women, depending on their age and risk factors.
· Blood pressure test: this should be done at age 18 and then every two years. It”s a myth that heart disease strikes more men than women. On the contrary, more women suffer from heart disease — but only 13% of American women know they have the disease!
· Cholesterol test: this should be done at age 45, but if you”re at risk of coronary heart disease, your doctor may recommend screening at an earlier age.
· Clinical breast exam/mammography: this should be done at age 40, and then once every two years. Note that a clinical breast exam is not the same as a mammography, which should be done at age 50 and then depending on your risk factors, once every year or two years. A mammography involves your breasts being squeezed between two plates, with an X-ray of your breast tissue.
· Pap test: You should have a pap test within three years of your first sexual relationship, or at age 21, whichever comes first, and must be done every three years. In this test, cells are taken from your cervix and the canal leading to the uterus, and then examined for cancer or precancerous cervical changes. You”re at risk is you have had multiple sex partners, a history of sexually transmitted diseases, have abnormal cells in your cervix, a history of vaginal, or vulvar cancer and you”re a smoker.
· Pelvic exam: Like the pap test, a pelvic exam should be done at age 21 or within three years of your first sexual encounter, whichever comes first, and is typically done in conjunction with your pap test. This exam detects if you have any abnormalities in your uterus and ovaries such as cysts, tumors, infections or muscle weakness.
· Colon and rectal cancer screening: This test should be done at age 50, and the frequency of screening will depend on your level of risk. You”re considered at high risk if you are 50 and older, have a family history of colon or rectal cancer and personal history of bowel disease. This test looks for any cancer in the colon and rectum. Like the men”s tests, screening can be done either through a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, colon x-ray or colonoscopy.
· Bone density measurement: The Mayo Clinic advises that for women, bone density tests should begin at age 65. However, many doctors believe that women must have their bones tested at the onset of menopause (usually around age 50).
· Sexually transmitted disease test: if not checked regularly, sexually transmitted diseases can affect your reproductive organs, and in the case of AIDS, can be life-threatening. Doctors now encourage pregnant women to screen for HIV and syphilis.
So women out there, please pay attention: being healthy is a tall order.
As the clichÃ© goes, health is wealth, and to protect it, you must continuously invest in it. These tests above may be inconvenient — and admittedly uncomfortable — but make no mistake. These tests can save your life!