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6 Tests to Keep a Woman at Her Best

We all have a tendency to take our health for granted. Rarely do we imagine that a serious ailment could affect us. That’s why understanding what screening tests are available is so important, especially because they are an easy way to ensure our health.

Here are six tests and screenings that will help women lead healthier lives every single year.

1. STD Screening

When you have a screening for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), be aware of which ones you’re being tested for. The screening may not include ALL the ones you expect.

Infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis can be detected with a simple urine sample or vaginal swab. Infections such as HIV, hepatitis, syphilis or herpes actually require blood work (and sometimes more than once). Knowing the difference and being aware of what you were tested for is just as important as having the tests done. This way you aren’t falsely reassured that “no news is good news” and the test you were specifically wanting to have done was done. 

Even if condoms are used regularly, it is still important to be screened because there can be slip ups. STD detection can be time sensitive. For instance, chlamydia or gonorrhea, if left unchecked, can injure the fallopian tubes, resulting in a traffic jam where a nice clean highway should be. This can have long-term effects on a woman's fertility. Fortunately, it can be treated (and quickly!) as long as there is early detection.

2. Vitamin D Check

A lack of vitamin D can have a negative impact on your overall well-being. It affects bone health as well as energy level, mood and metabolism. Checking vitamin D levels annually is important not only because it’s essential to your health, but also because most don’t realize they’re deficient.

3. Cervical Cancer Screening

This isn’t done annually, but still is very important and often misunderstood. Screening for cervical cancer is done with a Pap smear and tests for the HPV virus. Most HPV viruses are just annoying — if you are healthy and don’t smoke, signs of it will go away over 3-5 years. This is why you only need to start Pap smears once you turn 21 (regardless of onset of sex). From then on, it only needs to be done every three years until you turn 30. If your results are negative between those years, you can start doing it every 5 years.

The HPV vaccine was originally a four-strain vaccine and was redeveloped to a nine-strain vaccine. HPV viruses have the potential of increasing your risk of cancer. It's literally a vaccine against cancer. If you can be safely protected, then why not do so? Many women don’t realize the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the HPV vaccine for anyone up to age 45 (and it used to be just ages 11-26).

The harsh truth about cervical cancer is that it can affect women in the age bracket where they are not thinking they are at risk for cancer, from their 20s through their 40s. This is why screening and early detection of changes are imperative.

4. Mammogram

Past the age of 40, an annual screening for breast cancer (mammogram) is recommended. Although the frequency varies, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that annual screening is appropriate. This allows you to get ahead of your own health risks. As we get older, our breast cancer risk increases.

5. Mental Health Screening

As OB-GYNs, we’re gatekeepers for women’s overall health, both physical and emotional. It’s important to gauge if you are at risk, exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or depression, or experiencing any kind of abuse (emotional, verbal, sexual or physical). 

Mental wellness has a huge effect on the quality of our lives, and also can impact how likely women are to take care of the rest of their health. Screening for this during annual visits is essential but often overlooked.

6. Carrier Screening

Carrier screening is a type of genetic testing used to determine if a woman is a carrier for specific mutations.

It helps determine if you have any genetic mutations that can be passed down to the next generation. These may affect procreation efforts and warrant additional evaluation, such as cystic fibrosis.

Someone can have a cystic fibrosis gene mutation without exhibiting any outward signs of having it. If both parents carry the mutation, the child has a 1 in 4 chance of having the disease. Screening in advance can help women and their partners make more-informed decisions and prepare. 

The best part is you don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant to have carrier screening done. It can be done while you have a Pap test; it’s simply an add-on. You just need to request it. It’s a way of learning valuable information long in advance of when you might need it.

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