Top 10 Checkups and Screenings for Women
Our bodies develop and change in many stages. We go through puberty, childbearing years, menopause, and many smaller stages along the way. It’s important for women to get regular medical checkups and screenings to stay healthy and spot signs of serious diseases and conditions early, when it is easiest treat them effectively.
The Difference Between Checkups and Screenings Medical checkups and screenings are two different things.
Checkups (also called physical or well checks) are visits with doctors to ensure that you are healthy and receiving necessary medications and treatments. During a checkup, a doctor will examine your body and talk with you about your health, symptoms you are experiencing, medications you are taking, and your lifestyle habits, such as exercise and eating.
- Screenings are medical tests that identify diseases or conditions before you experience symptoms. Screenings include blood pressure tests, mammograms, blood tests, and colonoscopies. Depending on the type of screening, your doctor may provide it at his or her office, or ask you to get screenings at a specialty clinic or hospital.
Common Screenings and Checkups
What checkups and screening tests you need and when depend on your age, health, and personal risk for certain conditions:
1. Physical / well check
What it is: Physicals are visits with your doctor to ensure that you are healthy and receiving necessary medications and treatments. Your doctor will also give you any immunizations that you might need, such as shots to prevent influenza, pertussis (whooping cough), varicella (chickenpox), and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). Click here for the recommended adult immunization schedule in the United States.
- When you should have it: In general, you should visit a primary care doctor, such as a family medicine doctor or internist, once a year your entire adult life for a general health check.
What it is: A mammogram is an X-ray of your breasts. It is used to find signs of breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related death of women in the United States (lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women).
- When you should have it: Some guidelines suggest you start getting mammograms when you turn 50, but many organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the National Cancer Institute, recommend you start getting a mammogram every year, or every other year, starting at age 40. Talk with your doctor about your individual risk of breast cancer.
3. Pelvic Exam and PapTest
What it is: A pelvic exam is an examination of your female reproductive organs to check for infections, cancer, and other conditions. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will look at your external organs, including your labia and rectum, as well as your internal organs, including the inside of your vagina and your cervix (the opening to your uterus). A Pap test is a common screening done during a pelvic exam to help detect cervical cancer. This involves sweeping the surface of your cervix with a small brush to get a sample of cervical cells for testing.
- When you should have it: ACOG recommends a pelvic exam once a year starting at age 21. ACOG and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend a Pap test every three years between the ages of 21 and 29; between 30 and 65, a Pap test every three years, or every five years if your doctor combines the Pap test with a test for human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. You can also opt to have the HPV test alone every five years. It requires the same collection procedure. Ask your Ob/Gyn or primary care provider how often you should have a Pap test.
4. STD Screening
What it is: STD screening tests look for evidence of infections that you have contracted through sexual contact. STD tests often involve a small blood draw or a swab of your vaginal fluids.
- When you should have it: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has the following guidelines: Nonpregnant, sexually active women younger than 25 should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Younger women have an increased risk of these infections compared to older women. Nonpregnant, sexually active women who engage in high-risk sexual practices, such as multiple sexual partners, varied condom use, and sexual activity while taking drugs or drinking alcohol, should be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. Pregnant women should be screened for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and syphilis. Pregnant women younger than 25 and pregnant women engaging in high-risk sexual behavior should be also be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea. The most common practice is yearly screening of chlamydia in women younger than 25. For other STDs, how often you are tested is largely up to your clinician and your individual circumstances and risk factors.
5. Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
What it is: A cholesterol test measures the level of cholesterol in your blood and can help indicate your risk of heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure monitoring is an important element in evaluating most diseases and conditions. It also helps to diagnose and evaluate treatment for high blood pressure (hypertension) and related conditions, such as preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension.
- When you should have it: The American Heart Association recommends you have a complete blood cholesterol test called a fasting lipoprotein profile every five years starting at age 20. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health recommends you check your blood pressure every two years if you have normal blood pressure (lower than 120/80).
6. Diabetes Test
What it is: A diabetes test analyzes your blood glucose levels. Higher blood glucose can indicate that you have diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that puts you at high risk for diabetes. A diabetes test involves taking a small sample of your blood.
- When you should have it: The American Diabetes Association recommends you have a diabetes screening test once every three years once you turn 45. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend diabetes testing unless you have symptoms of diabetes, such as urinating more often and being more thirsty, or if you have a high risk of diabetes, such as high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, or obesity. Talk to your primary care doctor if you have concerns, and you can decide together if you need a diabetes test.
What it is: A colonoscopy is a procedure doctors use to examine the lining of the colon and rectum for signs of colorectal cancer. It can also help your doctor find the reason for intestinal symptoms, including rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements.
- When you should have it: You should have a colonoscopy every ten years starting at age 50. Ten years may seem like a long time between tests. But colorectal cancer grows slowly and a colonoscopy is very effective at finding and removing small areas of precancerous cells. The frequency and initial testing timeframe differs for people with a family history of colon cancer. Search for a gastroenterologist at Healthgrades.
8. Bone Density Test
What it is: A bone density test measures bone mass in key areas of your body, such as your wrist, hip and heel. It is currently the only test to diagnose osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle, and become more susceptible to breaking. A bone density test can be done using different machines, but a common technique is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan.
- When you should have it: Several healthcare organizations recommend you have a bone density test at age 65. If you are younger than 65, you should consider a bone density test if you have rheumatoid arthritis, a family history of osteoporosis, previous fractures, or have taken a long course of steroids. You may also want to consider the test if you smoke or have smoked, or if you are a heavy drinker.
9. Hearing and Vision Screening
What it is: Hearing and vision screening tests look for whether you have problems hearing and seeing. Hearing and vision problems are particularly common in older adults.
- When you should have it: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine hearing or vision screening for people who don’t have symptoms of hearing or vision loss. If you have new problems hearing or seeing, talk with your doctor about getting checked, regardless of your age.
10. Oral Health Checkup
What it is: An oral health checkup involves getting a teeth cleaning, an oral health exam, and X-rays of your mouth. Dental checkups help you keep your ability to chew, speak and smile. Your dentist can also diagnose oral cancer, gum disease, mouth infections such as cold sores, and other conditions that can spread to the rest of your body.
- When you should have it: You should have an oral health checkup and teeth cleaning one to two times a year throughout your adult life. If you don’t already have one, you can search for a dentist at Healthgrades.
Stay healthy with regular health checkups and screening tests.
Discover diseases and conditions early so that you have the best chance of treating them successfully.
Ask your doctor about additional health screenings and follow-up appointments based on your screening results and medical history.
- Check out the government’s interactive screening chart for women