The Medical Tests Every Woman Must Have

The essential med­ical tests women need in your 30s, 40s, 50s.

Sure, your to-do list is probably longer than the Great Wall of China, so you may be tempted to let your annual mammogram or cholesterol test slip. But dont let that happen: Stud­ies show that regular checkups and screenings can help keep you out of the doctors office the rest of the year. Here, we lay out the essential med­ical tests you need in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and up, according to top womens-health experts. In most cases, these should be covered by insurance—but be sure to ask first.

In your 30s and up, get a …

Full gynecological check
Your gyno will perform manual pelvic and breast exams, plus a Pap smear (during which cervical cells are collected with a swab). You may also receive an HPV (human papilloma­virus) test to detect strains of the HPV virus that are responsible for most cervical cancer cases.

Why you need it: A pelvic exam checks for abnormalities such as growths. A breast exam will identify any suspicious lumps, dimpling, rashes, and nipple discharge. And the Pap smear and HPV test are important screenings for cervical cancer.

How often you need it: All women 30 and older need annual pelvic exams (a breast exam is typically included). The exception: You may be able to skip a year or two if three consecutive, annual Pap tests come back normal or if you have both the Pap and HPV tests and both are regularly normal.

Tip: For the most accurate Pap results, avoid having sex or using vaginal medications (such as anti-yeast creams) one to two days before your appointment, says Mary Marnach, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And at home, many experts say, its smart to perform monthly breast self-exams (manual checks for lumps), despite debate about whether these exams help prevent breast cancer deaths. Do them about a week after you start your period, when breasts tend to be less swollen and tender, Marnach says.

Heart-health check
Your doc will check your blood pressure and administer a lipid profile, a blood test that checks for LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels. If you have a family history of heart disease or other risk factors, she may recommend a high-sensitivity CRP test (hs-CRP), which measures inflammation, an indicator of heart health. If you have a history of depression, you may have increased levels of inflammation.

Why you need it: These tests help determine your level of risk for heart disease (the number-one killer of women) and stroke.

How often you need it: If your blood pressure is normal—120 over 80, or less—get rechecked every two years. Have your cholesterol checked every five years. (After age 45, youll need both tests annually, as your risk rises with age.) Talk to your doctor about how often to retake the hs-CRP test, if this applies to you.

Tip: A lipid profile is best done after fasting for 9 to 12 hours, so book a morning appointment and skip breakfast. If your blood pressure reading seems unusually high, try again a few minutes later or at the end of the visit.

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Rachel Grumman
Last Updated: April 19, 2009

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