Testing 1…2…3 (Women's Health) | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


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I had the occasion this week to experience my first DXA scan.  If you aren’t familiar with what that is, don’t feel bad, I didn’t have a clue either when a doctor recently told me I needed one.  In fact, she said I was past due for one.  Uhmmm, OK, since I don’t even know what it is, how was I supposed to know I needed one?

So, not to keep you in suspense any longer, a DXA scan is a bone density test.  It’s commonly used to check for osteoporosis.  It’s recommended that all women over the age of 65 have a DXA scan.  However, it’s also recommended that women under the age of 65 who are postmenopausal with additional risk factors for osteoporosis (family history, cigarette smoker, thyroid disease, etc.) should also be tested.  That definitely includes me given I had a complete hysterectomy in my 30’s due to stage IV endometreosis, have a family history of fractures & osteoporosis, and smoked for 20+ years before finally quitting a few years ago**.  So, I’ve now had my baseline DXA scan completed and should find out the results sometime this week.

This whole experience left me realizing that I need to better educate myself about the types of health screenings I need to have and at what age I should have them.  I need to be proactive in taking control of my own health rather than just relying on/expecting my doctor to let me know what I need and when.  Are there other tests I should have already had but haven’t?  I thought it would be a good time to figure it out, especially given this month happens to be Cervical Health Awareness Month which is an extremely important health issue for women.

After doing a bit of searching on Google, I stumbled across the womenshealth.gov website.  It’s run by the Office of Women’s Health which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  The site contains loads of invaluable information regarding health issues affecting women and girls.

As I was going through the site, I found exactly what I was looking for!  They have a guide titled, “A Lifetime of Good Health: Your Guide to Staying Healthy” which contains a timeline for various health tests women should have and at what point in their lives they should have them.  The 70-page guide is available for download in PDF format in English, Spanish, and Chinese.  I encourage everyone to download a copy, review the recommendations, and then discuss them with your primary care physician at your next appointment.

Here’s a quick reference to some of the most common screenings and when to have them:

  • Blood pressure – Check at least every two years after the age of 18.
  • Cholesterol – Check at least once after the age of 20 and then discuss with your doctor how often to retest based on risk factors.
  • Diabetes – Check every three years after the age of 45 unless there is a family history of diabetes.
  • Mammogram – Check every 1-2 years after the age of 40 unless there is a family history of breast cancer.
  • Reproductive Health – Pelvic exam yearly after becoming sexually active.  Pap smears every 2 years between the ages of 21 and 30, and every 3 years after the age of 30.
  • Colorectal Health – Check beginning at age 50 unless there is a family history of colon cancer.
  • Osteoporosis – Check beginning at age 65 unless there is a family history of osteoporosis or other risk factors.

Please note that I am NOT a doctor.  As with anything medically-related, please discuss these with your physician.  I just found this to be really useful information and wanted to pass along to our readers here at the Sisterhood.  For our male readers, many of these same tests such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, etc. also apply to you!  Please consult your physician for the proper guidelines on these screenings.

** I don’t want to get up on a soapbox and hound people, but seriously, if you smoke, please stop NOW!  I deluded myself into thinking I was suffering no ill effects from my years of smoking because I didn’t have the morning “smoker’s cough” that plagues so many smokers.  Because of that, I foolishly let myself think I wasn’t doing any “real” harm to my body.  Unfortunately, I found out otherwise about six years ago (after I’d already quit) when I was having medical tests.  I learned during a pulmonary test that I have early stage emphysema (a.k.a. COPD).   The good news is that as long as I don’t start smoking again, it shouldn’t get any worse.  The bad news?  Even by remaining a non-smoker from now until the day I die, it’ll never go away either.  Once you have it, you have it.  The bottom line is that I irrevocably damaged my lungs from my years of smoking.  So, please, learn from my mistake and stop smoking now!

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