WOMEN'S WORLD: DR NOR ASHIKIN MOKHTAR
STAYING healthy isn’t justabout what you eat, drink anddo, or how much you exercise.It is also about how often yousee your doctor to get informationabout your health!
An important part of a healthy lifestyle is getting regular health check-ups, which include a review of your current health status, the medications you are taking and any screening tests that you may need.
It is especially important for women to do this because they have to be constantly aware of their reproductive and sexual health. Other diseases also start to become more prominent as women grow older, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease).
Make it a point to go to your family physician and gynaecologist at least once a year for these check-ups, not just when you feel unwell or think that something is wrong.
What happens at a check-up
When you go for your check-up, you may expect your doctor to ask you about the following:
When question time is over, your doctor should do some basic check-ups on you, such as measuring your body weight to ensure that you are in the healthy weight range, and measuring your blood pressure to ensure that you are not at increased risk of heart disease or stroke.
Then, there are some screening tests that you may need. These tests are used to find diseases early so that they can be treated earlier. Your doctor/gynae will recommend which tests are right for you, when you should have them and how often.
Screening: what and when?
These are some of the screening tests that an adult woman should be familiar with:
Mammograms: Mammograms can find early signs of breast cancer. If you are above age 40, get a mammogram done every one to two years. The Nur Sejahtera women’s health clinics run by LPPKN offer subsidised mammograms with partnering hospitals/institutions.
Pap smears: A Pap is a screening test for pre-cancer and cancerous changes of the cervix. Your gynae will gently scrape cells from your cervix, and send them to the laboratory for examination.
If you are sexually active or are older than 21, have a Pap smear every one to two years. All women who are sexually active until age 65 should have regular Paps.
The best time to do a Pap test is two weeks after your monthly menstruation. If the Pap test finds any abnormalities in the cervical cells, your gynae will do a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Cholesterol checks: Heart and cardiovascular diseases are the biggest killers of women.
High cholesterol levels is one of the causes of this disease. Check your cholesterol at least once every five years, starting at age 35. If you smoke, have diabetes, or if heart disease runs in your family, start having your cholesterol checked at age 20.
Electrocardiogram (ECG): The ECG examines the electrical activity of the heart and measures the heart rate, size and position as well as damage to the heart. Your doctor or cardiologist may recommend this test if you are at risk of heart problems, especially after menopause.
Diabetes tests: If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, signs and symptoms of diabetes, or a family history of diabetes, your doctor will check your blood glucose levels.
Colorectal cancer tests: Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in women in Malaysia, after breast and cervical cancers. After age 50, your doctor may consider colorectal cancer tests, such as colonoscopy, especially if you have first-degree relatives with history of colon cancer.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is very common among women after menopause. Oestrogen deficiency enhances bone loss; women lose 20% of their bone mass in the first five to seven years after menopause.
Osteoporosis has very serious consequences, as it causes the bones to become thin and brittle, making them fracture easily, sometimes by just lifting the leg. Women with osteoporosis have great difficulty walking, lying down or breathing.
After menopause, and particularly after the age of 65, you should have regular bone density tests to screen for osteoporosis.
Chlamydia tests and tests for other STDs: Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and chlamydia.
Other tests: Blood/urine tests, abdominal exam, ultrasound and pelvic exam may be necessary as determined by your doctor.
The list above is not exhaustive, neither is it a must for all women. Which test you need and when depends on your health status and history.
Other tests that may be useful for women are vision and hearing tests, oral check-ups and mental health check-ups. Depression is not something to be shrugged off, especially among women who have just given birth, women undergoing menopause or older women.
If you have been feeling “down” or hopeless, or lost interest in doing things for two weeks straight, talk to your doctor about the possibility of depression.
The doctor can also help you to recognise Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, so that you and your family can learn to manage and live with these conditions.
Remember – your doctor should be your best friend.
Regular health check-ups gives you the gift of good healthcare and helps you improve your quality of life. You can be in control of your health and avoid nasty problems or an untimely death.