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Must-Do Healthcare Checklist for Women of Every Age

 

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Making healthy food choices and getting at least two and a half hours of exercise every week are important throughout life.

But when it comes to screening tests and vaccinations, you need to know just when to get them—and to keep up with that schedule.

“The many screening tests recommended by medical experts can be difficult to keep track of,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ Chief Medical Adviser. “And women and men have different screening requirements at different times of their lives.”

To help, we’ve gathered recommendations from several important sources: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (an independent medical panel of national experts); our own Choosing Wisely campaign, which aims to help patients and doctors talk about tests and treatments; and experts in gynecological and primary healthcare.

Here’s an easy-to-follow checklist of the screening tests, vaccinations, and preventive health measures you need, at every stage of adulthood.

What to Do in Your 20s and 30s

Vaccinations

  • Flu shot, every year
  • Tetanus booster, every 10 years
  • Whooping cough vaccine (in the form of a Tdap booster) unless you’re certain you’ve already had one as a preteen or teenager
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, if you’re under 26 and haven’t received it yet

Screening Tests

  • Cervical cancer: Starting at 21, have a Pap smear every three years. Alternately, you can have a Pap smear every five years if you get tested for HPV at the same time.
  • Sexually transmitted disease: If you’re under 25 and sexually active, have a yearly screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Continue testing annually as long as you have new or multiple sex partners, or a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection. Also, get tested for HIV at least once. According to the CDC, everyone between ages 13 and 65 should be tested during their lifetime. (If you have certain risk factors, you’ll need additional screenings.)
  • Blood pressure: Have it checked at least once every two years.
  • Cholesterol: If you have high blood pressure, a family history of heart disease, or other cardiac risk factors, have a blood test for cholesterol at age 35. Have your cholesterol tested every three to five years, depending on results.
  • Type 2 diabetes: If you’re overweight or obese, have a family history of diabetes, or have high blood pressure or cholesterol, test with a fasting blood glucose test and an HbA1c test to measure long-term blood sugar control every three years, depending on results.

Review With Your Doctor

  • Contraception choices
  • Diet, exercise, and sleep habits
  • Smoking, alcohol consumption, and any substance use habits

Note: This women’s healthcare checklist does not include recommendations for pregnant women.

Women’s Healthcare Tips

When it comes to your daily exercise and nutrition habits, keep in mind that what you do now can affect you in the future.

“The things we put into our bodies do impact our long-term health, and they do impact what we look and feel like, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road,”  says Barbara Levy, M.D., vice president for health policy with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Attending to your emotional health is also important during these years, Levy adds. For many women, these are prime years for building a family and a career. That can come with a lot of stress.

What to Do in Your 40s and 50s

Vaccinations

  • Flu shot, every year
  • Tetanus booster, every 10 years

Screening Tests

  • Breast cancer: At 40, talk with your doctor about when to start mammography screening. Most women can begin at age 50. However, if you have risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history, it may be advisable to start in your 40s. Consider having a mammogram every two years if you’re at low risk, or annually if you are at higher risk for breast cancer.
  • Cervical cancer: Have a Pap smear every three years. Alternately, you can have the test every five years if you get tested for HPV at the same time.
  • Sexually transmitted disease: Get tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea as long as you have new or multiple sex partners, or a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Blood pressure: Have it checked at least once every two years.
  • Cholesterol: If you have no heart disease risk factors, have a blood test to check cholesterol levels at age 45. After that, test every three to five years, depending on results.
  • Type 2 diabetes: If you’re overweight or obese, have a family history of diabetes, or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, test with a fasting blood glucose test and an HbA1c test to measure long-term blood sugar control every three years, depending on results.
  • Colon cancer: At age 50, talk to your doctor about having either a colonoscopy every 10 years, a stool test every year, or sigmoidoscopy every five years with a stool test every three years. Other colon cancer screening options are available; ask your doctor what may be best for you.

Review With Your Doctor

  • Contraception choices
  • Diet, exercise, and sleep habits
  • Smoking, alcohol consumption, and any substance use habits

Note: This women’s healthcare checklist does not include recommendations for pregnant women.

Women’s Healthcare Tips

It’s important to continue thinking about contraception through menopause, says John Cullen, M.D., a family physician in Valdez, Alaska, and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

And talk with your doctor if you are experiencing increasingly painful, heavy, or unpredictable periods, which can occur as you approach menopause. “A lot of women at this point actually benefit from medications (such as hormone-based birth control) that reduce periods, just to control bleeding,” Cullen says.

What to Do in Your 60s and Beyond

Vaccinations

  • Flu shot, every year
  • Tetanus booster, every 10 years
  • Shingles vaccine, once at age 60
  • Two pneumonia vaccines, starting at 65. The CDC recommends a dose of what’s known as PCV13 (Prevnar) first. At least one year later, get a dose of PPSV23 (Pneumovax).

Screening Tests

  • Breast cancer: Continue mammography screening, at least every two years. Recommendations differ on when to stop screening. At age 75, talk with your doctor about whether you should continue having regular mammograms.
  • Cervical cancer: Most women can stop having regular Pap smears at age 65. Talk with your doctor about whether you should continue.
  • Osteoporosis: Have a bone density test at age 65, and be screened again every two to three years. You may want talk to your doctor about screening earlier if you have certain risk factors, such as family history, low body weight, smoking, thyroid disease, early or surgical menopause, history of taking prednisone, or a history of fractures.
  • Sexually transmitted disease: Get tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea as long as you have new or multiple sex partners, or a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Blood pressure: Have it checked at least once every two years.
  • Cholesterol: Continue blood tests for cholesterol every three to five years, depending on results.
  • Type 2 diabetes: If you’re overweight or obese, have a family history of diabetes, or have high blood pressure or cholesterol, test with a fasting blood glucose test and an HbA1c test to measure long-term blood sugar control every three years, depending on results.
  • Colon cancer: Continue screening with a colonoscopy every 10 years, a stool test every year, or sigmoidoscopy every five years with a stool test every three years. Other colon cancer screening options exist; ask your doctor about which may be best for you. You can stop colon cancer screening at age 75.

Review With Your Doctor

  • Diet, exercise, and sleep habits
  • Smoking, alcohol consumption, and any substance use habits

Women’s Healthcare Tips

Chronic conditions such as arthritis and diabetes may become bigger concerns during these years, Levy says, and may begin to make some daily activities more difficult. Because of this, it becomes even more critical to focus on maintaining muscle mass through strengthening exercises, she notes. Squats, pushups, and lifting hand weights are a good start.

It’s also important to care for your sexual health if you are not monogamous or don’t have a monogamous partner. Some partners may not want to use condoms, because there’s no longer a risk of pregnancy. That puts women at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, Levy says.

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