Your MS diagnosis is an important piece of your health, but it’s not the whole picture. Though you may put a lot of attention on your MS management, you can’t forget about prevention and early detection of other conditions. In addition to healthy habits like exercise, eating well, and watching your stress levels, it’s important to get regular health screenings. These tests check for -- and in many cases help prevent -- a number of diseases.
Work these screenings into your checkup schedule:
Breast exam. Your doctor will do this exam with their hands at your regular checkups. You should also do your own breast checks at home once a month. By looking at your breasts in a mirror and feeling them regularly, you’ll know what’s normal for you. This will help you notice changes more easily. Pick a day of the month -- soon after your period ends is a good time for a feel -- and stick to a schedule.
Mammogram. Once you hit 40, doctors recommend you have yearly mammograms to help detect breast cancer, the most common cancer diagnosis and the second leading cause of cancer death in U.S. women.
A mammogram is an X-ray of your breasts. The picture can show tumors you can’t feel with your hands and that could be cancerous. Regular mammograms reduce your risk of dying from breast cancer if you get it.
Pap test. This test checks for signs of cervical cancer. Your doctor collects cells from your cervix and sends them to a lab to see if any are abnormal. If you’re over 30, your doctor can do an HPV test at the same time as your Pap. This test also looks at cells from your cervix, but it doesn’t detect cancer. It checks for the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
Doctors suggest starting Pap tests at age 21. From them on, you should get one every 3 years. If you’re over 30 and get an HPV test along with your Pap test, you can go 5 years between screenings. Your doctor may recommend more frequent Pap or HPV tests if you have certain risk factors.
Bone density scan. All women 65 years old or older should have this test to check for signs of osteoporosis, a condition that makes your bones brittle and weak. Osteoporosis is more common in women and especially women with MS. You may need this scan earlier in life if you’ve gone through menopause and have other risk factors, such as rheumatoid arthritis, smoking, alcoholism, weight under 127 pounds, or a history of hip fractures.
To scan your bones, your doctor uses a test called DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). You lie down for about 10 minutes while a machine takes X-rays of your bones. If the results from your first scan are normal, you won’t need another DEXA scan for 15 years.
Colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends people with average risk for colon cancer start getting colonoscopies at age 45. A colonoscopy detects abnormalities such as polyps in your large intestine (colon) and rectum.
The procedure is more involved than a regular doctor’s visit. You have to follow a special diet the day before and take a laxative to clean out your colon. If your results are normal, you’ll only need the procedure every 10 years.
Blood pressure screening. When you have MS, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, a heart attack, or a stroke. A yearly blood pressure check helps your doctor keep tabs on your risk for these conditions.
Cholesterol screening. Your body needs cholesterol to work properly. But too much of it can build up in your arteries and put you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke. Starting at age 20, you should have blood tests to check your cholesterol. How often your doctor repeats that test will depend on your risk factors. After a normal cholesterol reading, you can usually wait 5 years before your next one.