How healthy are you? Your 40s are a great time to assess your current health state, correct past indiscretions, and prepare your body for many more decades of your life. Your doctor can help by checking you for problems that can rob you of your health. Here's a list of the basic tests women should ask for. (Note that your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.)
- Blood sugar. Decades of eating the wrong food (think soda, hot dogs, fries -- you get the picture) plus weight gain (often due to hormone changes) may have overworked your pancreas. It can't keep up and that can lead to diabetes. By age 45, everyone should get a fasting blood sugar test and then have another at least once every three years. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent checking depending on your risk.
- Breast exam and mammogram. You may be checking your breasts at home regularly and having your doctor do an exam annually, but most experts recommend adding a mammogram to the mix somewhere after age 40. The American Cancer Society puts the age at 45. Not all breast cancer experts agree. When to start? Work with your doctor to decide.
- Blood pressure. Don't be surprised if your blood pressure starts rising now -- that's common. Fortunately, you can lower your blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medication. It's worth the effort. Lower blood pressure is a key factor in longevity.
- Cholesterol profile. Take heart: this simple blood test can save your life. More than 71 million adults in America have high cholesterol levels, a condition that can lead to heart attacks or strokes -- diseases that claim a life every 40 seconds! If you have high cholesterol, protect yourself by changing your diet and taking medications such as statins.
- Stepping on the scales. You blissfully enjoyed chips and hamburgers while ignoring your expanding waistline, but the scale doesn't lie. Pay attention to the results: being overweight puts you at high risk for developing a number of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
- Pelvic exam and pap. Yes, you still need these -- especially if you're sexually active. A few minutes of mild discomfort pay big dividends in protecting you from cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Your doctor can tell you how often you need a Pap test, as recommendations have changed recently.
- Looking for moles. Those years of getting "a healthy tan" can lead to something not so healthy -- skin cancer. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. So don't forget to ask your doctor to check your skin if you find any moles or skin changes.
- Protecting your eyes. Having trouble reading or working at the computer? It's not unusual. Be sure to get your eyes examined regularly -- every 1 to 2 years until age 60 -- to check for common problems like presbyopia, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Go more often if you have vision problems or risk factors for eye problems.
- Checking your immunizations. Ask your doctor if you need a tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) booster shot, or pneumonia vaccine. Almost all adults should also get the flu shot each fall.
This year, give yourself the gift that keeps on giving. Schedule a visit to your dentist, and call your doctor to see if there are important tests you should take. By investing an hour or so with the doctor now, you may be able to add years to your life.