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Women’s health maintenance tests


May marks women’s health month! Although improving your overall health and wellbeing should really be the ultimate goal year round, this month serves as a reminder for women to really hone in on those aspects of health that have been neglected.

Have you been ignoring a concerning health symptom for some time now? Is there a test or procedure that you’ve been avoiding out of the fear of what may possibly be found? Well, you need to address the issue, since putting it off even longer will not make the problem disappear. It’s easy to make everything else but your health a daily priority. But it’s so crucial to carve out the time to visit your doctor and ensure that you are on top of getting the care you need.

Here are five important age-appropriate screening tests that women should have performed during their next annual checkup.


Cervical Cancer Screening:
Certain strains of the human papilloma virus are the responsible culprits that may lead to cervical cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma are the two main forms of the disease. Screening for cervical cancer typically starts around the age of 21. According to the American Cancer Society, women between the age of 21 -29 should be screened via pap smear every 3 years and starting from the age of 30 a pap smear plus an HPV test may be obtained at appropriate time intervals. What do these screening tests tell us? They serve to inform about any cancerous changes developing in the cervix. It’s a vital tool to help detect a cancer early on that can potentially have a ravaging and life-threatening effect on the female reproductive tract.

Breast Cancer Screening:
Breast cancer screening should commence annually starting at the age of 40. It is important to remain up to date with screening since late diagnosis of breast cancer, unfortunately, tends to be the norm amongst many women with the disease in Nigeria. Delayed diagnosis is often a major factor contributing to the poor breast cancer health outcomes prevalent in the country.

There are a growing number of awareness campaigns and initiatives that aim to promote early screening and remove the stigma surrounding breast cancer. The reality for many women though, is that they still feel great trepidation about having a screening mammogram; Remember, this test is essentially a simple x-ray image of the breasts and there should be no apprehension about completing this examination.

Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening:
According to the World Health Organization, over one million sexually transmitted infections are picked up daily throughout the world. Sometimes those with STIs may not exhibit symptoms; when they do have symptoms of infection, they may attribute their symptoms to another condition without ever getting evaluated by a physician. Therefore, screening for sexually transmitted infections should never be overlooked.

The stigma of being diagnosed with an STI is usually the barrier that stops most people from going through testing. STI screening must not be avoided as the consequences of acquiring certain STIs, may render one susceptible to life-threatening consequences. The main sexually transmitted infections that should be on your checklist to be tested for include: HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and syphilis.

Cholesterol Screening:
Cholesterol screening is another important component of an annual health maintenance exam. A lipid panel test measures different components of your cholesterol including total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol known as “bad cholesterol”, HDL cholesterol known as “good cholesterol”, and triglycerides. Higher “bad cholesterol” levels can be quite dangerous and increase the likelihood of heart attack, cardiovascular disease, and stroke in the future. Luckily, a healthy diet and a good exercise regimen can help control your cholesterol levels. Nonetheless, your doctor should also educate you on making the appropriate lifestyle changes to promote healthy eating and help curb any cholesterol problems.

Depression Screening:
When was the last time any doctor ever asked you any questions about depression? If the answer is never, then you’ve missed out on an undeniably important component of your annual exam. Your health care provider should ask you questions about the frequency of certain depressive symptoms over a certain time period in your life. For example, “Over the past two weeks how often have you felt down, hopeless, or lost interest in doing things you typically enjoy?” “Have you had thoughts of harming yourself?” Such questions help to screen and stratify one’s risk for major depression. Remember, if you are experiencing depressive symptoms; never feel ashamed or apprehensive to share those feelings with your health care provider. Your mental health is as essential as your physical health.

Reflect on your current health status and be honest with yourself about the next steps necessary to lead you toward the path of improved health. Work hard to overcome any hurdles stopping you from scheduling that much-awaited doctor visit and don’t ignore any important recommended tests.

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