Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death in women of all ages in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To get ahead of those chronic health issues and possibly prevent them from worsening, experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham urge women to get tested for key measures throughout their lives.
In addition to going in for regular medical checkups, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also encourages women to follow their screening guidelines. These guidelines recommend that women begin being screened for blood pressure, cervical cancer, cholesterol, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases starting around age 20, or as otherwise advised by their doctors. Breast cancer and colorectal cancer screenings are suggested starting around age 50 and a bone mineral density test around 65 years of age.
"Screening tests are a prescription for prevention and for empowerment, giving women the opportunity to be in charge of their health," says Dr. Stephen Russell, UAB assistant professor of internal medicine.
Russell says the fear of something being amiss can lead women to avoid crucial screenings.
"When you get the suggested health screenings, they not only provide you knowledge, but also the opportunity to act on that knowledge," says Russell. "We're not requiring you to do anything with the information, but if we find something through a screen, then you know and can choose to act on it."
With heart disease being the leading cause of death in women, American Heart Association president Donna Arnett, chair of the UAB Department of Epidemiology, says heart health screenings are of dire importance.
"There are things that are going to have an effect on your heart health that are observable: height and weight, smoking status, physical activity levels and diet," Arnett says. "Then there are the things we need measurements for: cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure. If any of these are out of whack they are mostly silent symptoms, so it's really important to have measurements done by your health-care provider."
Arnett says having a clear understanding of your family's health history also goes hand in hand with heart screenings.
"Knowing that you have early onset cardiovascular disease in your family, or that you've had more than one family member with cardiovascular disease or stroke, helps you and your physician know that you have to be more aggressive with controlling your own personal risk through both lifestyle choices and screenings," Arnett says.
Russell adds that many screenings can find the silent symptoms that are crushing your chances for good health.
"We're taking women who feel healthy and confirming they are healthy, or we are getting the chance to intervene much sooner if they have a condition," Russell says. "Once you have visible symptoms the disease process is more advanced, and we know it's easier to treat if you catch it early.
"Women's health screenings are like insurance for your carwhen you need it most and don't have it, you are in trouble," Russell adds. "But if you have the insurance of having had those screenings and know where you stand, then you can rest easier."
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