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5 Lifesaving Tests for Women

WebMD ranks the top five lifesaving health tests every woman needs.
By
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. "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 you don't need to worry about."

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

No. 1 Heart Smarts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, and heart disease claims about 250,000 women's lives a year. That's nearly six times greater than the number of women that die from breast cancer, 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.

The best way to know where you stand is to get a blood test for total cholesterol levels, HDL "good" cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and blood fats known as triglycerides.

"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, you are at particularly high risk of developing diabetes and you should talk to your doctor about a blood sugar test.

No. 2 The Power of the Pap Test

Starting three years after becoming sexually active or by age 21, whichever comes first, women need an annual Pap test to detect any abnormal cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. During a Pap test, a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix is taken and examined for abnormalities that may indicate cancer or changes that could lead to cancer.

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