Health experts say that when you detect a disease early, you can prevent complications and improve your quality of life. For African women in the 21st century who would want to lead a happy and successful life together with their families, friends and loved ones, making time for healthy habits like regular exercise, choosing the right food, and managing stress, is paramount. Most importantly, as you go about your daily activities, do not forget to schedule time for routine screenings, which can detect problems early and save your life.
So here are some vital tests you should not take for granted:
Heart diseases are killing a lot of women, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor. Doctors say that if your blood pressure is below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is the ideal reading, you should have it checked at least once every two years. Do this check from age 20. If you are 40 or older, or have conditions like obesity that puts you at increased risk, then health experts recommend annual screening. Getting screened would enable your doctor to recommend some diet and exercise changes if your blood pressure reading gets back on the border of normal and high. But if you have crossed the threshold into high blood pressure, then medication will be given.
Cervical Cancer screening (Pap smear)
This is largely for women aged 21 to 65, and it should basically be done every three years. Doctors, however, recommend that if you are 30 or older, you can have the test every five years if you combine it with a screen for HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can lead to cervical cancer. The pap smear would test for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix.
If you are 20 years or older, you should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years, doctors recommend. This test is done to basically assess your risk of developing heart disease or stroke. Women are believed to have high cholesterol levels which put them at about twice the risk of coronary heart disease as those without the condition. Your total cholesterol levels should ideally be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl); a borderline high reading is between 200 and 239 mg/dl.
Breast Cancer Screening
Mammograms are currently effective for detecting breast cancer. If you are able to detect breast cancer as early as possible, then you can hopefully stop cancer from spreading. There is, however, not a definite conclusion on when and how often a woman should have such tests, as the risk of breast cancer increases as you age. Annual screenings can, however, begin from age 45. If you have a family history of the disease or other issues, you need to talk to your doctor about starting annual screening as early as possible.
Blood glucose test
This is done to check for diabetes or prediabetes, and women should have this test every three years, starting at age 45. Here too, if you have a family history of diabetes, or come from a race or ethnicity that is at risk, then you may want to start earlier and get screened often. If you are obese, you may want to start the tests earlier.
Body mass test
Women should be screened for obesity, especially from age 18. With this test, your body mass index (BMI) would be calculated to indicate whether or not you are obese. Being obese means your risk of getting health problems like diabetes and heart disease is high. If you are on a diet or participating in an exercise programme, it is recommended to have your body composition assessed every month.
This involves cleaning and examining the teeth along with X-rays, and should be done twice a year. Through regular dental checks, early signs of decay and other problems can be spotted very early. The interesting thing is that, these tests are normally covered by insurance companies. So do not hesitate. Get it done.
You could do this test on your own every month at home. All you need to do is to carefully inspect the skin all over your body, looking for any new moles or changes in moles you already have, as they can be signs of skin cancer. Talk to a dermatologist about how often you should visit for an exam if you have a family history of skin cancer.
This is very important as it can often detect eye diseases such as glaucoma, which is the second most common cause of blindness. An eye test can also pick up on diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, it is recommended that you have a regular check-up to make sure your retina is not damaged. This is also to prevent your vision from getting worse.
This is more about having a conversation with your doctor about your mental health. It should be done regularly and not when signs or symptoms are noticed. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is twice as common in women than in men and is also a leading cause of disability. Having this test on a regular basis can help determine how well you should be treated before it gets worse.