10 by 50: Health Screenings Women Need by Mid-Life

Women often put the health and wellness of kids, spouse, or parents first. It’s easy to shrug off doctor’s appointments until “later.” But if you don’t take care of yourself now, you may be risking more serious conditions “later.”

Here are 10 important screenings and tests you should undergo by age 50:

Occupational Health Exams Captured with MC4 Sy...

Mammograms: There’s still debate about when to begin breast cancer screening. The American Cancer Society says start by age 40, the US Preventive Services task force says age 50 is fine if there’s no family history of cancer. Talk with your physician and see what’s right for you. Also be sure you get regular clinical breast exams.

Cholesterol: As women enter menopause, estrogen levels decrease, and so does our HDL (good) cholesterol. Aging also increases triglyceride levels. If you’re over 45, your doctor will probably want to check your cholesterol levels at least annually. The American Heart Association reminds us that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease.

High Blood Pressure: Nearly half of all people with high blood pressure are women; and after age 65, women are more likely to have this condition than men. Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading killer of women.

Diabetes: Nearly 11 percent, or about 12.8 million adult women have diabetes. Hispanics and African-Americans are at greatest risk for developing this condition.  Getting your blood sugar checked regularly – especially if there’s a family history of the disease, is critical to staying healthy. Complications from diabetes can cause many other serious conditions, including heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, and amputations.

Cervical Cancer: Cervical cancer is one of the most preventible cancers through early detection of abnormal cells. Experts recommend getting a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years until age 65 if you are sexually active.

Colorectal Cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Precancerous polyps, can be detected through a stool blood test and colonoscopy. They can be removed before turning into cancer. These tests also detect colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

Osteoporosis – half of all US women will suffer from osteoporosis in their lifetime. Female bone density deteriorates with age, and diminishes rapidly after menopause. Screening is usually recommended for women starting at age 65. However, if you break a bone after age 50, are a woman of menopausal age with risk factors or are a postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends beginning regular bone density testing sooner.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV – Changes in marital status, lifestyle, and drugs like Viagra mean older women are more sexually active than in the past. Rates of STDs in the 50-plus age group are rising – nearly one-fourth of new HIV cases diagnosed in this group. Get screened for HIV if you have had unprotected sex with multiple partners, have a partner that is infected, use or have used injection drugs, had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985, or have other reason to believe you may be at risk.

Depression: Your emotional health is as important as your physical health. Talk with your physician or a mental health professional if you have consistently been feeling sad, down, or hopeless, or have little interest or pleasure in doing things for two weeks or longer.

BMI: Body mass index is a reflection of your weight and height combined. A BMI is over 30 is considered obese. Being obese or overweight leads to or affects many other health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and depression. Speak with your health provider about healthy steps you can take to lower your BMI and reduce your weight.

The bottom line is that women must take care of themselves — so that they’re around to take care of their loved ones.