Women Give Equal Time to Their Health Needs
By Carolyn M.
If you’re like
most women, you make health decisions for your
family, including your parents or relatives as
they get older and need more medical care. If
your child, spouse, or other family member has a
chronic illness, getting them care can take a
lot of your time. Finding time to tend to your
own health may not be high on your list of
things to do.
But taking care
of your health isn’t as hard as it may seem.
Practicing healthy behaviors, getting screening
tests, and taking medicines if you need them can
go a long way toward keeping you in good health
and lowering your risk of getting some diseases.
With so much
health information available, it can be
confusing to know what you should pay attention
to. That’s why my Agency, the Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality, developed a
checklist for women to stay healthy at any age.
The checklist is
based on advice from the
U.S. Services Preventive Task Force (Task
Force). This panel of experts in primary care
and prevention reviews medical evidence to find
out which tests and medicines have been proven
to work. It is an independent group, and its
advice is considered the "gold standard" in
health care. Its findings are not influenced by
insurers, drug makers, the government, or other
Women of all ages
can greatly improve their health and reduce
their chance of disease by daily following these
five steps that are included in the checklist:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a
- Stay at a
alcohol only in moderation.
I won’t call
these steps simple, because for some people
quitting smoking or getting daily exercise is
not easy. But these steps have been proven to
improve health and lower your risk of disease.
If you have to change your behavior to follow
these steps, it will be worth it in the long
Another way that
you can stay healthy is to get the screening
tests that are recommended for your age and
medical condition. Screening tests can find
diseases at an early stage when they are easier
Talk to your doctor about which ones you
need and how often you should be tested.
Here are some
conditions that affect women and for which good
screening tests are available. The Task Force’s
advice on how often you should get them is
Breast cancer: Have a mammogram
every 1 to 2 years starting at age 40.
Cervical cancer: Have a Pap smear
every 1 to 3 years if you have ever been
sexually active and are between the ages of
21 and 65.
blood pressure: Have your blood
pressure checked at least every 2 years.
cholesterol: Have your cholesterol
checked regularly starting at age 45. If you
have diabetes, you have high blood pressure,
or if heart disease runs in your family,
talk to your doctor about whether to have it
Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones):
Have a bone density test beginning at age 65
to screen for osteoporosis. If you are
between the ages of 60 and 64 and weigh less
than 154 pounds, talk to your doctor about
Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted
diseases: Have a test for chlamydia
if you are 25 or younger and are sexually
active. Ask your doctor if you should be
tested for other sexually transmitted
Some women take
medicines to prevent disease without first
talking to their doctor. I advise against that:
All drugs, even over-the-counter medications,
have side effects and can hurt you if they are
not used properly.
Keep this advice
from the Task Force in mind about taking
medicine to prevent disease:
Hormones: Do not take hormones to
prevent disease. Talk to your doctor if you
need relief from menopause symptoms.
Breast cancer drugs: If your
mother, sister, or daughter has breast
cancer, talk to your doctor about the
benefits and risks of taking medicines to
Aspirin: Ask your doctor about
taking aspirin to prevent heart disease if
than 45 and:
high blood pressure
Immunizations: Stay up to date with
your immunizations. Have a flu shot each
year starting at age 50. Have a pneumonia
shot once after you turn 65.
As the caregiver
for your family, you as a woman take on a lot of
responsibility for health. Our checklist can
help you give your health equal priority.
I’m Dr. Carolyn
Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate
the health care system.
for Healthcare Research and Quality
Women: Stay Healthy at Any AgeYour
Checklist for Health
for Healthcare Research and Quality
Be Prepared for Medical Appointments
Preventive Services Task Force
About the Task Force and Recommendations
Women and Health Care: A National Profile
Current as of September 2008
Checklist Helps Women Give Equal Time to
Their Health Needs. Navigating the Health
Care System: Advice Columns from Dr. Carolyn
Clancy, September 16, 2008. Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.