Each decade of a woman’s life brings with it new needs and opportunities. While the best advice, generally, is to know your body and recognise any unexpected orabnormal changes, you may also want to follow this general overview of suggested check-ups…
IN YOUR 20s
It may not feel like it now, but your body is going to require some attention to ensure health and longevity. Exercise will help with strengthening your bones, promoting a healthy cardiovascular system and keeping the kegels - the pelvic floor muscles - healthy.
WELL WOMAN VISIT
Go for annual check-ups that include a skin examination, a breast check, STI screening tests, your first pap smear and tips on howto perform a breast, pelvic and vulva self-exam. This will include a discussion on contraception choices, sexual pleasure and STI prevention.
DENTAL AND OPTICIAN VISIT
Taking care of your teeth and eyes is so important, and it’s advisable to make annual visits to the dentist and optician. You are never ‘too young’, and may even find you need to make use of assisted visual aids such as glasses.
BLOOD PRESSURE SCREENING
Know your family history of hypertension. Use of the combined oral contraceptive pill will help determine your risks and how often you need to check your blood pressure. Simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating a well-balanced diet, may be sufficient for you.
If you have a personal history of coronary artery disease, tobacco use, high blood pressure or obesity, seeking advice and early intervention is important.
The tetanus vaccine booster is recommended once every 10 years, and with advice during pregnancy.
IN YOUR 30s
This is the time to focus on building on your foundation for good health and to address any concerns. You may feel agile and strong, but your body is starting to age.
WELL WOMAN VISIT
A regular pap smear with HPV testing is recommended. A discussion with your healthcare provider about reproductive issues, fertility, assisted fertility options and relationship advice are all topics that should be covered.
Hair, nail and skin health are all partly impacted by diet. Bone, cholesterol, joint and muscle health, as well as cardiovascular and mental health concerns will inform your choices about diet and supplements.
Sun exposure over the years may result in hyperpigmentation or even cancer. It’s never too late to use sunscreen! Fine lines appearing around the lips and on the cheeks may be due to smoking.
Identify and seek medical advice for any behavioural concerns such as mood, cognitive (e.g. memory and concentration) or eating and sleeping pattern changes, as well as the use of substances and substance abuse.
IN YOUR 40s
You may become so focused on the balance between life, work and family, but do not neglect your health in the process!
This is also the time when the benefits of healthy habits of yesteryears come to fruition. Many lifestyle risks such as diabetes, cholesterol and cancers become diseases and illnesses in your forties.
WELL WOMAN VISIT
The frequency and screening tests done during your well woman visit may change based on past test results. It is important to remember that it is never too late to start annual well woman visits.
A bone density scan to monitor the health of your bones may be recommended, especially if you have a history of using the Depo-Provera injectable contraceptive.
A mammogram may be advised at this age. As with many screening tests, the appropriateness is based on your individual risk factors and family history. An ultrasound of the breasts may also be performed.
Your menstrual cycle might start to change, and a discussion about the symptoms of menopause is important. Reviewing contraceptive options and their effectiveness and appropriateness is useful at this stage.
IN YOUR 50s
At this point, you may be on medication for a chronic illness, or the lifestyle and preventative healthcare changes made in earlier years will continue to pay off. You might start to have more regular tests and checks done during this decade.
Once menopause starts, bone density begins to decrease as your body produces less oestrogen. A bone density scan to monitor the health of the bones, especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis, is advised.
Management of conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, mental illness or obesity may take some dedication and getting used to. You may be on hormone replacement therapy post-menopause.
A mammogram and ultrasound of the breasts is recommended. Some are scheduled every two years starting from age 50 to help in the early detection of breast cancer.
A colonoscopy is the most effective screening tool, and the recommendation from your healthcare provider will suit your particular circumstances in terms of polyps and cancer.
Boosters as well as new vaccinations may be recommended.