Simple Health Steps for Women in Their 40s and 50s

When you're in your 40s and 50s, it's time to start giving some thought to the kinds of screening tests you need, what menopause will mean for you, and what nutrition is best. Check out these tips for managing your health.

1. Revisit Your Birth Control Methods

Talk to your doctor about possible changes. For example, if you take the pill, as you get older you may want to think about a switch to a low dose oral contraceptive, an IUD, estrogen patch, or other methods. That's because some birth control pills may raise some women's risk of heart disease and blood clots. Oral contraception should be avoided altogether in obese perimenopausal women, as the risk of venous thromboembolism increases with both age and BMI. 

2. Manage Menopause

Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, mood changes, and vaginal dryness. Talk to your doctor before symptoms of menopause kick in. Discuss what you might want to do to ease any discomfort.

Short-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be a choice for you if you have moderate to severe effects from menopause and you're at low risk for breast cancer, heart disease, strokes, and blood clots.

3. Keep an Eye on Your Bones

If you haven't already started to watch your bone health, do it now. As you move into menopause, it's an important time for you to prevent osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.

Your lifestyle plays an important role. Measures you can take to reduce bone loss include: adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet, exercise, smoking cessation, fall prevention, and avoidance of heavy alcohol use.

If you don't get enough dairy in your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement with calcium and vitamin D.  Vitamin D is the key that unlocks the calcium in your body so it can use it.

Ask your doctor whether you should have a bone density scan to check for early osteoporosis. If you're under 65, but past menopause, you may need one if you're at risk for the condition because you've had a fracture, take steroid medicines, smoke, have a low weight, drink a lot of alcohol, have rheumatoid arthritis, or have a parent who's had hip fractures.

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4. Don't Forget Key Screening Tests

Make sure you get regular mammograms to check for breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should start and how often to get them, because experts disagree. Also ask about when to get diabetes tests and screening for colorectal cancer.

Thyroid disease is common in older women, so ask your doctor whether you should consider a screening test for it.

Also make sure to get tests to check for cervical cancer. When you're 30 to 65, you should get a Pap test every 3 years. Or, if you prefer, every 5 years you can get a Pap test along with an HPV test. That other test is useful because most cervical cancers are caused by an infection with HPV (human papillomavirus).   

5. Immunizations

Make sure you get a flu vaccine every year. It's also recommended that you get a pneumonia vaccine if you're at medium risk for the disease because you smoke, have long-term heart or lung disease, diabetes, are a heavy drinker, or have long-term liver disease. If you're over 50, ask your doctor about getting a vaccine to prevent shingles.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on August 01, 2018

Sources

SOURCE: 
JoAnn Manson, chief, division of preventive medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.

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