- What are health checks?
- What health checks are specific to women?
- Who should attend check-ups?
In order to be healthy, it is important to make wise choices. Regularly exercising, following a healthy diet, and managing stress can all contribute to your well-being. Another important aspect of maintaining your health is to schedule frequent check-ups with your doctors. Check-ups are essential, even without symptoms, to identify asymptomatic or potential health issues. Your doctor will assess your lifestyle and health risks, and maybe even carry out some tests or screening, to get a full understanding of your current health.
Women should schedule and attend regular health checks and in particular screenings. These are medical tests, carried out by a doctor to detect diseases or conditions before there are symptoms. Early detection of most conditions improves the patient’s likelihood of survival. Important women's health checks include:
Cancer screenings: Screening for cervical and breast cancer, two of the common cancers that affect women, are widely available health services that women should do yearly. The Pap test which is also called the Pap smear, and the HPV test can help prevent or detect early stages of cervical cancer. The Pap smear involves collecting cells from the uterus to find cancerous cells, while the HVP detects the presence of HPV, a virus that can cause cancer. Both tests are performed by a doctor and the results are determined in a lab.
It’s advisable for women to be screened for breast cancer even if there is no lump in the breasts. A mammogram is the most common form of breast cancer screening, using x-rays to detect signs of the early stages of breast cancer. MRI scans may also be carried out, especially for those who are at high risk of developing breast cancer. Doctors and nurses may even perform a clinical breast exam, using their hands to detect lumps or other changes.
Other types of cancer may be screened for, depending on the patient and their risks.
Pregnancy check-ups: When a woman is pregnant, regular check-ups called prenatal care check-ups or prenatal visits, should be arranged. These are vital to monitor the health of both the mother and the baby and maintain. Normally these check-ups are carried out by obstetricians or gynaecologists or other trained specialists. They look for certain common issues associated with pregnancy, like UTIs, or detect others that may need to be treated promptly or managed correctly, such as checking on the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby. Ultrasounds are also performed during these check-ups to monitor the baby’s growth.
There is no set timetable for expectant mothers to follow, but generally in the early stages of pregnancy check-ups are arranged monthly, and as the due date approaches their frequency increases. Certain factors may mean that visits may be organised more often. If a woman has a high-risk pregnancy, she is likely to experience complications, or if she is expecting twins then generally more check-ups are arranged.
The mother’s weight will be monitored during the pregnancy and she will also discover her expected due date and hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. While this can be an exciting moment for some, it can cause panic and worry for others. For this reason, mothers often receive advice and tips on labour, delivery, and motherhood which can reduce their anxieties and contribute to a healthy pregnancy and in turn a healthy baby.
STI/ STD screening: Screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs) is another important measure that women should take. Women who are sexually active should visit their gynaecologist to detect any STIs or STDS early to ensure they are dealt with before they cause complications. Women can be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis, to name a few. The tests that will be carried out will be determined after a discussion with your doctor who will assess what the most suitable tests are. Commonly STIs and STDs are tested for through urine samples, a blood sample, or a swab from inside the mouth, inside the cervix or of any discharge or sores. Some tests may need to be sent to a lab to determine the result.
Women should attend STI and STD check-ups at least once a year, with the frequency depending on:
- Their sexual history and activity. If a woman has a new, or multiple, partners she should be tested.
- If they already have HIV or any other STI/ STD, which puts a woman at a higher risk of getting another.
- If a woman is pregnant, or trying to get pregnant.
- If a woman was forced to have sex against her will.
Other check-ups that can be carried out:
- Heart check-ups should frequently be attended. Women should be tested for high blood pressure or cholesterol to determine their risk of developing a cardiovascular disease.
- Testing for diabetes through blood testing.
- Bone density is measured to assess the risk of developing osteoporosis
- Skin lesions and moles are checked to see if they are potentially cancerous or not.
While it is advisable to arrange check-ups about once a year, the frequency is determined by the individual’s risk factors, which may increase a woman’s chances of developing a condition, like:
- Age: As women age they should attend check-ups more frequently.
- Lifestyle: Smoking, an unhealthy diet and excess alcohol consumption may increase a woman’s chances of developing a health condition.
- Family history: If your family has a history of cancer or cardiovascular diseases, it is vital to be screened more often, as some of these conditions can be passed on genetically.