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5 Lifesaving Health Care Screening Tests for Women

WebMD ranks the top five lifesaving health care screening tests every woman needs.
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WebMD Feature

From Rosie the Riveter to celebrated TV moms like Carol Brady and June Cleaver to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, women certainly have a lot on their plates - and unfortunately their health often takes a back seat to their families and careers.

"The irony is that most women take better care of their cars than their body, and that is in large part because an annual inspection is required to continue driving your car," says Donnica Moore, MD, a women's health expert based in Far Hills, N.J.

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"Just like we have stickers on our cars to get your inspection renewed, use this week or your birthday (as I do), to get your checkups," Moore says. There is no reason not to take advantage of health care screening tests. "We know that the earlier we identify any potential health problems, the better our outcome will be," she says. And "if you are totally well, it gives you great reassurance about a whole list of things don't need to worry about."

To make the task even easier, WebMD compiled a list of the top five lifesaving health care screening tests every woman needs and why.

No. 1 Heart Smarts

Heart disease claims about 500,000 women's lives a year. That's more than the next five causes of death combined, according to the American Heart Association. But it doesn't have to be this way, says Marianne J. Legato, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and the founder of the Foundation for Gender Specific Medicine. "Without a doubt, 80% of coronary disease can be prevented with proper lifestyle modifications including healthy diet and increased physical activity," says Legato, author of several books including Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.

One way to assess your risk is to get health care screening tests for total cholesterol levels, high density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, and blood fats known as triglyceridest. "If you are older than 50, I also recommend getting your C-reactive protein (CRP), homocysteine, and lipoprotein (a) (LP(a)) checked," she says.

These blood factors are emerging risk factors for heart disease. CRP is an indicator of inflammation, while homocysteine is an amino acid that can build up in the bloodstream and increase your chances of having a heart attack. Lp(a) is a cholesterol-related risk factor that tends to increase blood clotting.

"If there is any question of extra heartbeats, chest pain, or shortness of breath, women should have a stress echocardiogram," she recommends. A stress echocardiogram is usually done to determine whether you have a significantly reduced flow of blood to your heart.

Also, your doctor should test your blood pressure, as high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, she says.

Diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease. If you have a family history of diabetes or are overweight, a blood sugar level or other tests for diabetes are something you should discuss with your doctor.

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