Health screening - women - ages 18 to 39

Health maintenance visit - women - ages 18 to 39; Physical exam - women - ages 18 to 39; Yearly exam - women - ages 18 to 39; Checkup - women - ages 18 to 39; Women's health - ages 18 to 39; Preventive care - women - ages 18 to 39

You should visit your health care provider from time to time, even if you are healthy. The purpose of these visits is to:

  • Screen for medical issues
  • Assess your risk for future medical problems
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle
  • Update vaccinations
  • Help you get to know your provider in case of an illness
Pap smear

If you're a woman 21 or over, it's important to begin getting regular pelvic examinations to take charge of your health. An important part of this pelvic exam may include a test, called a Pap smear, to detect the often life-threatening disease, cervical cancer, even before it starts. And here's the key, cervical cells become abnormal years before they turn to cancer. That gives an excellent window of opportunity. So, what is a Pap smear? A Pap smear is a microscopic examination of cells scraped from the opening of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, or womb, that opens at the top of the vagina. The test looks for cervical cancer or abnormal cells. Most cervical cancers can be found, and treated early, or even before they start, if women have routine Pap smears and pelvic examinations. For this test, you will lie on a table and place your feet in stirrups. The doctor will insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina and open it slightly to see inside the vaginal canal. Cells are gently scraped from the cervix area, and sent to a lab for examination. When a Pap smear shows abnormal changes, you will need further testing. The next step depends on the results of the Pap smear, and on your previous history of Pap smears, and risk factors you may have for cervical cancer. You may need a biopsy using a light and a low-powered microscope, called colposcopy. You may also need a test to check for infection with human papilloma virus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer. If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, the doctor will order more tests to determine how you should be treated, and how far the cancer has spread. This is called staging. Treatment will depend on the stage of the cancer, the size and shape of the tumor, your age and general health, and your desire to have children in the future. Early cervical cancer can be treated with surgery to remove the abnormal tissue, or freeze abnormal cells, or burn abnormal tissue. Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include radical hysterectomy, removal of the uterus and much of the surrounding tissue, including lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina. Radiation may be used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pelvis, or if cancer returns. The woman may also have chemotherapy to kill the cancer if the cervical cancer's advanced. The Pap smear test is not 100% accurate and cervical cancer may be missed in a small number of cases. Fortunately, cervical cancer develops very slowly in most women and follow-up Pap smears should identify worrisome changes in plenty of time for treatment. Make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are taking. Some, including estrogen and progestins, may affect the result of your Pap smear. Pap smears can be a wonderful, life saving tool.

Pap smear

A Pap test is a simple, relatively inexpensive procedure that can easily detect cancerous or precancerous conditions.

Physical exam frequency

When you feel perfectly fine, the last thing you want to think about is going to the doctor. But that's exactly when you should be thinking about getting a physical exam. Regular physicals, as well as certain tests and vaccinations can be powerful ways to protect health. Let's talk about physical exams. You might feel well on the outside, but it's hard to know exactly what's going on inside your body. Many conditions that threaten your health don't have any symptoms. For example, you might have no idea that you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, until they make you really sick. How often you need to see your doctor and what tests you get depends on your age and gender. Regular physicals are important for keeping tabs on your health. Plan to see your doctor once every 1 to 5 years, depending on what conditions you have. After age 65, you'll visit the doctor at least once a year. At each physical, your height and weight will be checked and your hearing will be tested. Your doctor should ask whether you've experienced depression, and about your use of alcohol and tobacco. Get your blood pressure checked once every two years, once a year if you're over 65. Look for blood pressure screenings at health fairs or drug stores in your area, or visit your doctor. If you have a health condition like diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems, you may need to check your blood pressure more often. If your blood pressure is high, you should also have your blood sugar levels tested for diabetes. Men who are over 34 and women over 45 need a cholesterol test once every 5 years. People with certain health conditions may need to have their cholesterol checked more often. Everyone between ages 50 and 75 should be screened for colon cancer, but African-Americans may want to start getting tested at age 45. You can have a colonoscopy every 10 years, a stool test every year, or a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years. Women need a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer once every 2 to 3 years. They should also have a mammogram to check for breast cancer every 1 to 2 years, depending on their risks. Because bones can become brittle with age, women over 65 need to have a bone density scan. Younger women and men should talk to their doctor about whether they need this test, based on their risks. To keep your teeth strong and healthy, visit your dentist once a year for a cleaning and exam. Also see an eye doctor for an exam every 2 years, especially if you have glaucoma or another vision problem. One of the best ways to avoid unexpected doctor's visits is to get the vaccines that are right for you. Vaccines aren't just a kids issue. Many adults benefit from a flu vaccine each fall or early winter to protect them for the whole season. Once every 10 years, get a Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis. Older adults may also need to get vaccinated against pneumonia and shingles. Getting regular physicals when you aren't sick can help you stay on top of your health. Being proactive will let you and your doctor prevent and find potential problems before you have a chance to get sick.

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