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Most of our to-do lists are growing longer by the day, but taking care of yourself — and protecting your long-term health — should always be a priority.
Regular screenings are essential for maintaining your overall health. Some can help identify concerns early, and others allow you to work with your doctor on a customized care plan to help you stay well and feel whole.
Jessica Greinke, MD, is a Board-certified internist with AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at De Soto and helps explain the health screenings women should never skip. If you’ve delayed care, be sure to schedule these important appointments as soon as possible.
“A well-woman exam is an annual preventive exam that focuses on reproductive health,” said Dr. Greinke. “This exam is important because it gives women the opportunity to discuss with their provider important health topics such as cancer screenings, hormones, menstrual cycles, fertility and more.”
During the well-woman exam, your provider may perform a clinical breast exam and a Pap test (also called a Pap smear). Additional testing may be suggested.
A mammogram is a screening used to look for signs of breast cancer. Mammogram technology has come a long way in recent years and is now available in 3D. The 3D mammograms and other imaging techniques like ultrasound and MRI are generally only required if your care provider needs to further investigate a tumor, cysts or dense breast tissue.
“Mammogram screenings generally start at age 40, but earlier screening may be indicated if a woman is at high risk of breast cancer,” said Dr. Greinke. “I recommend that women talk with their provider about when to start screening mammograms.”
Colorectal screening is used to determine the presence of any cancerous or precancerous cells in your lower digestive tract. It generally involves a colonoscopy and the use of sedatives to help you be comfortable during the process.
Typically, regular colorectal screenings should begin at age 45, but may be recommended sooner if you have risk factors such as a family history of colorectal cancer or bowel disease.
There are four different options for colorectal cancer screening.
- A colonoscopy is performed at a hospital or outpatient surgery center and requires you to empty bowels prior to the test. Patients are sedated during the procedure, where your doctor will insert a camera at the end of a long tube into the rectum and advance through the colon.
- The Cologuard test is recommended every three years and can be completed in the comfort of your home by collecting a stool sample, but is not recommended if you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
- A fecal occult blood test can also be completed at home with a stool sample. However, this test only looks for blood in the stool and has to be completed every year.
- A sigmoidoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy in that laxatives are used to clean out the colon and then a camera is inserted into the rectum. The difference is that only the last part of the colon is seen. Typically, anesthesia is not used and patients are awake for the procedure. Sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years.
“It is important to know that if the Cologuard, fecal occult blood test or sigmoidoscopy show any abnormalities, a colonoscopy is generally recommended to complete colorectal cancer screening,” said Dr. Greinke. “There is a lot to consider when trying to select an option for colorectal screening, so I encourage all patients to discuss with their provider before choosing one of these tests.”
Blood Pressure: Know Your Numbers
Many people do not have symptoms of heart disease until their first major event such as a stroke or a heart attack, so preventing the first major event is key.
“Knowing your numbers is understanding your risk,” said Dr. Greinke. “When we evaluate a patient’s risk for heart disease, we consider many factors including age, gender, cholesterol and blood pressure readings, blood sugars as well as factors relating to a patient’s eating and exercise habits and the use of substances such as nicotine products and alcohol. By knowing which factors increase risk, patients can work to modify those factors."
For example, if blood pressure is high, a patient can control blood pressure by limiting salt intake.
“I recommend less than 2000 mg of sodium per day,” said Dr. Greinke. “It is crucial to understand that high levels of sodium are present in many processed foods such as deli meats, cured meats, cheese, canned soups or vegetables, and many items purchased at restaurants.”
Dr. Greinke suggests checking food labels for sodium content and getting at least 20 minutes of exercise each day to help control blood pressure.
“Unfortunately, high blood pressure can be genetic and affects even those patients that exercise regularly and watch their salt intake,” said Dr. Greinke. “If blood pressure is very high or does not improve with changing habits, typically medication is recommended.”
Taking Charge of Your Whole-Person Health
When it comes to your health, don’t wait to get care. At AdventHealth, we’re dedicated to providing women with the highest possible level of care, including offering a trusted team for your unique health journey. Learn more about our women’s health services or find a primary care physician who’s right for you.