Turning 40 is a big milestone. Women in 40s undergo subtle changes that need to be addressed before they become problems: decrease in bone density, hormonal changes, stress, depression, among others. Here we talk about the most important health tests that women need in their 40s and 50s, and what their frequency should be.
1. Blood Pressure Test
You can start getting your blood pressure checked from the age of 18 onwards. Depending on your initial measurement, you may need to get it measured once every two years or once every year. Here’s a quick look at the different blood pressure categories and the corresponding blood pressure readings:
|Systolic Blood Pressure (Top Number) in mmHG||Diastolic Blood Pressure (Bottom Number) in mmHG||Category|
|Below 130||Below 85||Normal|
|130 to 139||85 to 89||High normal|
|More than or equals to 140||More than or equals to 90||High blood pressure|
2. Pap smear
The Papanicolaou test is a method of cervical screening used to detect potentially precancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix or colon. Abnormal findings are often followed up by more sensitive diagnostic procedures and, if warranted, interventions that aim to prevent progression to cervical cancer. After reaching the age of 40, it is still advisable to have a full pelvic exam, Pap smear, and HPV tests. Cancer of the cervix is one of the leading causes of death for most women in India. Recently, a vaccine against cervical cancer has also been introduced.
|Age||Pap smear frequency|
|<21 years old,||none needed|
|21-29||every 3 years|
|30-65||every 3 years or an HPV test every 5 years or a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years|
|65 and older||you may no longer need Pap smear tests; talk to your doctor to determine your needs|
During the procedure, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table with your legs spread and your feet resting in supports called stirrups. Your doctor will slowly insert a device called a speculum into your vagina. This device keeps the vaginal walls open and provides access to the cervix. Your doctor will scrape a small sample of cells from your cervix.
3. Mammogram for Breast Cancer
A mammogram is an x-ray image of the breast. Doctors use a mammogram to look for the first signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors need to do to find breast cancer at an early stage, sometimes up to three years before it starts. You will stand in front of a special X-ray machine. A technologist will place your breast on a plastic plate. Another plate will firmly press your breast from above. The plates will flatten the breast, holding it still while the X-ray is being taken. You will feel some pressure. The steps are repeated to make a side view of the breast. The other breast will be X-rayed in the same way. You will then wait while the technologist checks the four X-rays to make sure the pictures do not need to be re-done. Because of early detection, intervention, and postoperative treatment, breast cancer mortality has been decreasing. Mammography is the preferred screening examination for breast cancer.
4. Bone Density Scan
Bone density test, detects if you have osteoporosis, a word that comes from the Greek and literally means “porous bone”. When you have this condition, your bones become weak and thin. They become more likely to break. It’s a silent condition, which means you don’t experience any symptoms. Without a bone density test, you may not realize that you have osteoporosis until you break a bone. A bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan, is a type of low-dose x-ray test that measures calcium and other minerals in your bones. The measurement helps to show the strength and thickness of your bones. Most people’s bones get thinner as they age. When the bones become thinner than normal, it is called osteopenia. Osteopenia puts you at risk of developing a more serious condition called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bones to be very thin and brittle. Osteoporosis generally affects older people and is more common in women over 65. People with osteoporosis are at a higher risk of fractures (fractures), especially in the hips, spine and wrists.
Your results may show one of the following:
- A T score of -1.0 or higher. This is considered normal bone density.
- A T score between -1.0 and -2.5. This means you have low bone density (osteopenia) and may be at risk for developing osteoporosis.
- A T score of -2.5 or less. This means you probably have osteoporosis.
5. Menopause Related Test
The signs and symptoms of menopause are usually enough to tell most women that they have started the menopausal transition. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about irregular periods or hot flashes. In some cases, a more in-depth assessment may be recommended. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to check your level of:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol), because your FSH levels increase and estradiol levels decrease as menopause occurs.
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), because an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause symptoms similar to those of menopause.
Treatments may include:
- Estrogen therapy is the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes.
- To relieve vaginal dryness, estrogen can be administered directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream, tablet or ring.
- A low-dose antidepressant for management of hot flashes may be useful for women who can’t take estrogen for health reasons or for women who need an antidepressant for a mood disorder.
- Gabapentin is approved to treat seizures, but it has also been shown to help reduce hot flashes. This drug is useful in women who can’t use estrogen therapy .
- Clonidine, a pill or patch typically used to treat high blood pressure, might provide some relief from hot flashes.
Staying healthy is not the most difficult thing you’ll ever do, but it does take some effort and vigilance. One part of that effort is getting appropriate screening tests, which are used to detect potential health problems when they’re still treatable. The screening tests you’ll need will change as you age. Once you start a test, it will likely be required periodically for the rest of your life.