Your 50s: A Health Guide for Women
Your 50s: checkup checklist
Check out this checkup checklist and stay on top of the tests and examinations you need all through your 50s.
- Bone density test: You may get your first bone density test during your 50s. Some people who fall into particular risk categories may need one sooner or more regularly. Taking certain medications may speed bone loss, and certain medical conditions can compromise bone density as well. Ask your doctor if you are concerned about osteoporosis, especially if it runs in your family.
- Diabetes screening: If you are in your 50s, you may be at risk for type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can screen your risk by testing your levels of hemoglobin A1C (a blood test that reflects your average blood glucose levels over the last 3 months) or your blood glucose levels. How often you need to be screened for diabetes will depend on your risk of diabetes. If you are overweight, your risk of diabetes will probably be higher and you should be tested earlier and/or more often. Ask your doctor how often you should be screened for diabetes.
- Blood pressure and cholesterol: Anytime you go in for any health care visit, your blood pressure will be taken, and you should get a cholesterol work-up every 1 to3 years. If you fall into certain risk groups, your doctor may screen your levels more frequently. You may be at risk if you have diabetes or a large waist circumference, or if you smoke or are inactive or eat an unhealthy diet.
- Colorectal cancer screening: A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) helps to identify polyps before they become cancerous. When caught early, 90% of colorectal cancers can be cured. This test should be conducted every 2 years. A flexible sigmoidoscopy or double-contrast barium enema may be done every 5 years as an alternative to the FOBT. Another screening option is a colonoscopy, which should be done at 50 and every 10 years after. If you have certain risk factors, you may need this test every 1 to 5 years.
- Pap test and pelvic exam: You should be having routine pelvic exams and Pap tests every 2 to 3 years. Pap tests screen for cervical cancer, while the pelvic exam allows your health care provider to examine your cervix and vagina and to get a sense of the health of your uterus. Your health care provider might also look for signs of infections.
- Breast exam: Breast cancer is a very common cancer among women. Your health care provider may do an exam when you go in for your Pap test and pelvic exam. If not, ask your doctor if you should have a clinical breast exam and, if so, how often. You should also become familiar with the look and feel of your breasts so you know what's normal for you. If you fall into a high-risk category for breast cancer, your doctor may suggest you have a mammogram every year or so. Otherwise, mammograms should be done every 2 or 3 years when you are in your 50s.
- Skin check: Anyone at any age can develop skin cancer. In addition to minimizing your risk with healthy sun habits, your health care provider should do a thorough skin check annually to screen for new or changed moles or marks. You can also do a skin check yourself (or with a helpful partner) each month. Remember the letters ABCDE when looking at skin growths:
If anything seems out of the ordinary or alarming, contact your doctor.
- Asymmetry (not round)
- Border (irregular)
- Colour (uneven, different than other moles)
- Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser)
- Evolving (changing in size, shape, or colour)
- Dental checkups: Visit your dentist for preventive checkups and routine cleanings. The frequency of visits will really depend on individual needs, though most authorities on the subject recommend at least once or twice a year.
- Eye exams: Even if your vision is 20/20, you should have your eyes examined every 1 to 2 years. After all, optometrists check for other things besides how good your vision is - like signs of glaucoma. If you have a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, or a family history of vision problems, your optometrist will let you know if you need more frequent eye exams and checkups.
- Immunizations: You think shots are just for kids? Certain vaccinations you received as a child may need to be updated, while other immunizations are available that can protect you from specific health issues you may be at risk for. Ask your doctor if you're due for any of the following:
- Get shots to protect you from measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) if you've never had the vaccination before. Should you find yourself in certain risk situations, you'd also need the MMR vaccination. Those risky situations include working in health care, attending college, and travelling to certain countries.
- The tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is recommended for everyone, once in adulthood (you may have received vaccinations against these in childhood). The Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine is recommended every 10 years. Others who should get the Tdap include those who work in close contact with infants, those who plan on becoming pregnant, and those who have received a "dirty" wound (e.g., from a rusted nail).
- Each year, get the influenza vaccine. The flu shot is especially important if you have medical conditions that put you at risk of complications from the flu.
- Considering world travel? Consider being vaccinated against meningitis and hepatitis A and B, and consult with a travel clinician or your doctor in regards to other risks of particular destinations. Some places require proof of immunization before you enter the country.
- If you never had chickenpox as a youngster, you should get vaccinated against it now. And if you're unsure whether you did, ask your doctor to perform a test to see if you are immune. If not, get the vaccination.
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