As a woman, it can be hard to keep track of everything going on in our bodies. Over a decade or two after getting them, periods can still come as a surprise, cervical cancer checks are every two years…wait no five…and they’re the same thing as pap smears, right? And we don’t need mammograms until we’re 50 — I think.
So yes, essential health checks for women can be difficult to keep track of — and around the everyday busyness of our lives, can be difficult to actually get around to doing, too.
That’s why we spoke to Andria Aird, head pharmacist of Blooms The Chemist, to find out exactly what the essential health checks are for women, why we should be doing them, and how often. No more trying to recall them on your own — or, if you’re like us, inevitably getting them wrong.
What are the essential health checks for women?
For ease, Aird has listed them out for us.
- Cardiovascular health checks
- Sleep Apnoea tests
- Blood glucose screening
- Pre-pregnancy check-up
- Breast Cancer Screening
- Annual dental check
- Cervical Cancer tests
- Skin checks
- Colon Cancer checks
- Eye health checks
A few more than we originally thought, to be honest.
Why are they so important? How do we get them, and how often?
Cardiovascular health checks
“Regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks are important as they provide information on the health of our heart and blood vessels,” said Aird. “After the age of 18, people should get their blood pressure checked at least every two years.
“For those aged over 45, or who have high blood pressure, it is recommended to get a regular blood test every five years to check cholesterol and blood lipid levels. For people who are at high risk of heart disease, it is recommended to have tests every year or two.”
“A yearly flu vaccination is recommended, especially if aged 65 years or older, pregnant (particularly if in the last trimester), have a chronic condition such as severe asthma or diabetes or are concerned about getting the flu.
Sleep Apnoea tests
“Sleep apnoea is a chronic and debilitating sleep condition characterised by loud and persistent snoring, witnessed pauses in breathing and choking or gasping for air. Even though sleep apnoea is commonly associated with men, women can be affected by sleep apnoea.
“An estimated three million Australians suffer from sleep apnoea, 80% of which don’t know that they have it. We encourage people to take the Blooms The Chemist free online sleep quiz to check for signs and symptoms of sleep apnoea.”
Blood glucose screening
“It’s important to monitor our blood glucose levels, especially if we are at risk of diabetes. Depending on a person’s risk, testing blood glucose levels every one to three years is recommended.”
“For couples planning on having a new child, a pre-pregnancy check-up is a good idea. This will assess any health risks like low iron and provide recommendations on supplements and lifestyle factors for a healthy pregnancy. Regular checks throughout a pregnancy will monitor a baby’s development and the mother’s health.”
Breast Cancer Screening
“It’s very important to regularly self-monitor breasts, checking for lumps or any changes and visiting a GP within a week of noticing any changes. A mammogram is recommended every two years for those aged over 50 until 74 years, and more regularly if the family has a history of breast cancer.”
Annual dental check
“Maintaining dental health with an annual dental check and daily hygiene practices is also important, and it is recommended a trip to the dentist is necessary if any issues present themselves.”
Cervical cancer tests
“Replacing the Pap smear, this test is recommended for people who have been sexually active or at the age of 25. It’s important people have their first Cervical Screening Test two years after their last Pap test, and then every five years until aged 74.”
“Monitoring skin for any changes to freckles, moles or skin blemishes cannot be underestimated. Having a regular skin examination with your doctor, especially for those at risk of skin cancer is recommended.”
Colon Cancer checks
A faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is recommended every two years for people aged over 50 through to the age of 74.
Eye health checks
A regular optometrist examination is important, and this should be annually for those aged over 50. People can also check their eyes at home weekly with an Amsler grid.
As for where to get them? Your GP or local chemist/pharmacy is the best place to start.
Why do we miss/skip/forget to schedule, or go to, appointments?
“Sometimes life can get so busy with work, friends and family commitments that we often forget to pause and make sure we’re taking care of our own health,” Aird said. “For many women, we can easily end up giving time and energy to others and find ourselves neglecting our own wellbeing.
“A recent survey by non-for-profit organisation Jean Hailes into the health of Australian women confirms this, with more than one-third of women aged 25-44 saying they didn’t have the time to attend health appointments.”
COVID has, unsurprisingly, had an impact too.
“The pandemic has also had a significant impact on some women’s ability to have regular health checks, with the costs of tests stopping at least two in five women from getting them.
“For some women, the stress and anxiety surrounding the actual health check itself and then the anticipation of possibly receiving bad results is also a contributing reason to why they would rather skip the testing process.”