An ounce of
prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. “It sounds
clichéd, but it’s true,” says Deborah G. Kwolek, M.D.,
medical director of the University of Kentucky Women’s Health
Center and an assistant professor of internal medicine in the UK
College of Medicine.
“Women need to make caring for themselves a priority. Women
often put themselves last. If you can prevent a medical problem
you are far better off than getting treatment for a medical
Women can start taking better care of themselves by following this
preventive health checklist:
1. General medical exam. An annual physical is a good time to
check blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, thyroid, heart
(heart disease is the number-one killer among women), lungs,
vision, and hearing. A good time to do this is when you feel fine.
2. Pelvic exam and Pap test. During a pelvic exam, the uterus,
vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum are examined
for abnormalities. The Pap test- a way to examine cells from the
cervix and vagina-can show the presence of infection,
inflammation, abnormal cells, or cancer. Women who are or have
been sexually active, or have reached age 18, should have Pap
tests and physical exams regularly.
3. Breast self-exam and mammograms. Breast cancer is the second
leading cause of cancer death among women. Women should do a
breast self-exam monthly. Menstruating women should do so right
after their period ends, and women in menopause should use their
calendars as a reminder and do their exams the first of every
month. The current recommendations are for women between the ages
of 40 and 50 to get a mammogram every one to two years, and for
all women over 50 to have a mammogram annually.
4. Colonoscopy. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer
among women. Women who have a family history of colon cancer
should be screened regularly, and women age 60 or older should
have a colonoscopy.
5. Bone density screening. Women should receive a baseline bone
density screening at age 35. Menopausal and post-menopausal women
should be screened every other year. To prevent osteoporosis,
women should take 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium and 400 IUs of
vitamin D. Post-menopausal women who are not on estrogen need
1,500 milligrams of calcium per day.
6. Depression screening. Up to one quarter of all women are
depressed, and 30 percent have anxiety, Kwolek says. “Some
tend to think of women’s health in terms of gynecology and we
shouldn’t,” Kwolek says. “We need to look at the whole
7. Exercise regularly and maintain your ideal weight. Women should
participate in weight-bearing exercise-such as walking, running,
or weightlifting-at least three times per week.
8. Quit smoking. Smoking is the number-one cause of cancer death
among women, and women are more susceptible to lung cancer than
9. Minimize alcohol consumption. Women should have no more than
one glass of wine per night.
10. Get plenty of sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping-whether
it’s caused by pain, hot flashes, or another problem-see your
11. Reduce stress. This is especially crucial for women in their
40s, which often is referred to as the “crunch decade,”
when women often have demanding careers, children in school, aging
parents, and fluctuating hormones.
12. Keep immunizations current. All women should have a tetanus
shot every 10 years. Women ages 65 or older or those who have
asthma or chronic health conditions should have a pneumonia
vaccination every five years and a flu shot annually. Women who
work in health care or are in a high-risk group should have the
hepatitis B vaccine. Those born between 1958 and 1968 should be
re-immunized for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) because the
vaccine given during that decade didn’t take.
For more information about the Women’s Health Center, visit the
Web site at http://www.mc.uky.edu/whc.