By Hilary Sheinbaum
Unless you’re Benjamin Button or have miraculously found the mythical fountain of youth (in which case, fill us in…), everyone’s growing older — us included. Rather than comparing ourselves to carefree teenage years or any time in between: there are wellness checks women should seek as we age, in order to live the most healthy lives.
In order to figure out which appointments are of importance, when to see a specialist and potential issues that need to be monitored for long-term health, we tapped a few doctors for their best advice.
Read on for a list of six consultations to consider in order to look and feel your best, going into the next year, the next decade, and beyond.
If seeing is believing, you’re going to need to see an eye doctor. “As women age, it is very important to have an eye exam yearly,” says Manhattan Eye Director Yuna Rapoport, MD MPH. “A dilated eye exam will help evaluate the status of your hypertension or diabetes if you have existing conditions, [it] will help determine if you are at risk for glaucoma if you have developing early cataracts, and [it] will help evaluate dry eye or blepharitis.” A full dilated exam and consultation should take an hour. Dr. Rapoport notes that while it’s unlikely that distance prescriptions shift when we are older, it’s normal for the near portion of the glasses prescription to change from ages 45 to 60. In short: it is a good idea to check your prescription regularly as well.
Many people see dentists for check-ups throughout their lifetimes, but when women start menopause, its effects can impact oral health as well. “After menopause, there are two main changes in women’s oral health: dry mouth and bone loss,” says Henry Hackney, DMD, of Authority Dental based in Chicago. “Dryness in the mouth causes a burning sensation on the tongue, irritation, and stiffness. What’s more, decreased saliva flow leads to tooth decay, cavities, and gums problems. It also makes talking, eating, and swallowing difficult.” Estrogen reduction during menopause results in osteoporosis and the loss of bone density significantly affects teeth, which may become loose and fall out, he says. “Hormones are to blame for these new changes in your mouth,” says Dr. Hackney who recommends seeing a dentist every 6 months for a basic cleansing. A visit can take 30 min. or less.
Whether you’ve had kids, are still considering expanding a family, or none of the above: a trip to an OB/GYN for a pap smear is a must. This 15 min. screening test detects abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, says Paula D. Walker, MD, public health physician and social epidemiologist based in Atlanta. “High-grade changes to cervical cells are more likely to lead to cervical cancer. With early detection, the prognosis is improved for cervical cancer.” According to the American College of Gynecology, women ages, 30 to 65 should have a pap test and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test done together every five years.
Turning 40 not only brings a new decade of life but it’s also the year women should start getting annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. Early detection is the goal, says Dr. Walker, as mammograms can identify abnormalities before they’re felt. Dr. Walker also notes that if there’s a family history of breast cancer, this 20 min tests should start as early as age 20. Women can see their primary care doctors to arrange for a mammogram with a radiologist.
During a yearly physical with your primary care physician (starting in your teens and throughout adulthood): be sure to have your blood pressure checked. “High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye disease, and dementia,” says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist and medical director of NYU Women’s Heart Program. Lowering blood pressure can lessen the likelihood of these illnesses.
Although this one isn’t the easiest — because prep (involving laxatives) can cause discomfort — for women ages 40 and up, this 60-minute check-up is imperative, as it identifies colon cancer. Dr. Goldberg says the test is performed by a gastroenterologist and should be repeated every 5 to 10 years.
Without further ado: it’s time to call your doctor, book these imperative appointments and mark your calendar.