Women require different medical needs at different ages, but one thing is certain, reproductive health plays an important role in their overall health. No matter how old you are, there’s always a reason to be proactive. Here’s what every woman should be aware of as they grow older:
Girls between the ages of 13 and 15 should begin seeing a gynecologist so they can begin to learn more about their reproductive systems, establishing what is normal and helping to answer any questions they may have about their bodies. The gynecologist may do a short breast exam and pelvic exam.
The CDC also recommends getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at this age. The HPV vaccine protects against several types of HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Taking steps toward safer reproductive health now can safeguard your teen later in life.
You should see your gynecologist yearly for exams. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends Pap tests for women starting at age 21. The Pap test is important in checking the cervix for signs of cancerous cells, and if results are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next test. Your gynecologist will also do a pelvic exam to ensure your uterus and ovaries aren’t abnormal. He or she will also do a breast exam to check for lumps. You may still receive the HPV vaccine if you did not get one in your teens. If you are sexually active, you should also have an STI screening done, which tests for common STIs as well as HIV. Women in this age group should continue to do a breast self-exam regularly to check for abnormalities.
You should continue seeing your gynecologist regularly, who will perform the routine Pap test, pelvic exam, and breast exam, as well as any necessary STI tests. The American Cancer Society also recommends an HPV test at this age through age 65.
If you’re trying to conceive, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and recommend further steps to take, such as taking the correct vitamins or switching medicines that can interfere with the baby’s development. It is still important to do a breast self-exam at this age.
Women in their forties may begin to experience what’s called perimenopause, which is the time leading up to a woman’s last period. During this time, she may experience irregular periods and hot flashes due to changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. Your doctor can do a physical exam, review your medical history, and even test the amount of hormones in your blood to determine if you are experiencing perimenopause. Even if you are having irregular periods at this stage, it is still important to talk to your gynecologist about family planning and STIs.
Your gynecologist will do a breast exam, but some results are only skin deep. Depending on factors like your family history and risk for breast cancer, you and your doctor may decide to begin regular mammogram screening.
The average age of menopause is 51, so if you’re experiencing hot flashes, mood changes, and sleep issues, there’s a good chance you’re not alone. You will still need to see your gynecologist to make sure you’re still in good health. Your doctor may discuss hormone replacement therapy with you, which can relieve some of these symptoms.
Women in this age group should receive regular mammograms, and will continue to do so into their 70s.
Since your body’s main source of estrogen has stopped, this also means negative effects on your bones. Estrogen helps control bone loss, and when more bone is lost than can be replaced, this leads to brittle and weak bones associated with osteoporosis. Your doctor may prescribe a bone density test and treatments if you are diagnosed with osteoporosis. Hormone therapy may also help.
Women following menopause are also more likely to have heart disease. As we age, we may gain weight or develop complications, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. You doctor will want to have your blood pressure, triglycerides, fasting blood glucose, and LDL, HDL and cholesterol checked regularly.
The American Cancer Society also recommends physicians discuss the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer with their patients.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends Pap tests for women until they reach mid-60s. Women older than 65 who have had normal Pap tests for several years or who have had a total hysterectomy may no longer need to be tested. Your doctor will explain the best course of action for you.
Please consult your doctor if you have questions about any reproductive health measures or recommendations.