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Health Screening: Recommended Medical Tests by Age

Health screening tests can help your doctor diagnose certain health conditions and treat them effectively. Read on to learn about the common health screening tests doctors may suggest for women, as well as recommended medical tests by age.

What is health screening?

Health screening tests are used to identify signs of disease in people who seem healthy. These tests may detect health problems before symptoms appear. Many screening tests are available. Some of them can be done in your doctor’s office. Others need special equipment, so you may need to go to a different clinic to have them done. 

By testing people who don’t have symptoms of disease, doctors may be able to detect health problems at an early stage. The types of screening tests a person needs will vary based on many factors. Sex is a factor, as there are some tests that women need and men don’t, and vice versa. Screening tests may be recommended based on your age or your family history, too. Some behaviors, such as tobacco or alcohol use, may also influence the screening tests your doctor recommends.

Why is it important to do preventive screenings?

There are many possible advantages of preventive screenings. Testing can help identify conditions at an early stage before they cause any symptoms. 

Some conditions, such as high blood pressure, may not cause any symptoms, but they may cause serious complications if they’re left untreated. If these conditions are detected through screenings, they can be treated before any complications occur. 

There are many possible advantages of preventive screenings. Testing can help identify conditions at an early stage before they cause any symptoms.

Other health conditions may be easier to treat if they’re discovered at an early stage. Cancer screening may help doctors find cancer before it spreads, so less treatment may be required. Early detection of cancer may even save your life.

Preventive screenings have another potential advantage: peace of mind. If you undergo a screening test and your doctor tells you the results are normal, you may feel reassured about your health. 

Recommended preventive tests for women

There are many preventive tests that doctors recommend to their female patients. These screening tests check for high blood pressure, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), osteoporosis, and several types of cancer. 

Blood pressure screening is a very important test. High blood pressure can increase your risk of serious cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke. To perform this simple test, doctors inflate a cuff around your upper arm then listen to the blood pump through the artery as the cuff deflates. 

Doctors may recommend STI screening. Some STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, often don’t cause symptoms, but they can lead to infertility and other complications. Screening for these two STIs is recommended every year for all women with new or multiple sex partners. Pregnant women may require other STI screening tests, such as for hepatitis B, syphilis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). STI screening may involve analyzing vaginal swabs, urine samples, or blood samples.

Bone density screening is used to detect osteoporosis, a bone disease that results in weak bones that break easily. This disease is relatively common, and it affects more women than men. During this screening test, the hips and spine are imaged with a central dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) machine. This test is painless and noninvasive, just like a standard X-ray. 

Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea is recommended every year for all women with new or multiple sex partners.

A Pap smear is one of the cancer screening tests that doctors recommend for women. During this simple test, a doctor uses a soft brush and a spatula to take samples from the cervix. They then analyze these samples for cancerous or abnormal cells that could turn into cancer in the future. Between 1975 and 2016, the cervical cancer death rate dropped by about 50 percent, thanks in part to increased cancer screening.

About one in eight American women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, which is why doctors recommend mammograms. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast, and it can detect small lumps that can’t be felt by hand. During this test, each breast is pressed between two compression plates. This compression may be uncomfortable, but it provides a better image of the tissues inside the breast.

Several colorectal screening tests can be used to find colon polyps or colon cancer. Sometimes, doctors will recommend stool tests. Depending on the test, you may need to provide a small sample of stool or an entire bowel movement. Other tests, such as flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, may be used. These tests are more invasive, and a doctor will use a thin, lighted tube to look inside the rectum and colon. Sometimes, doctors will recommend a virtual colonoscopy, which uses a CT scan to visualize the colon.

Doctors may recommend other preventive health screenings. For example, if you’re a smoker, your doctor may recommend annual lung cancer screening. If you have a high risk of skin cancer, your doctor may recommend skin exams. 

Recommended medical tests by age

Not all women will need the preventive health screenings described above. Your age is one of the factors that influences the preventive health screenings you may need. These recommendations are just general guidelines, and your doctor may recommend a different schedule based on your individual risk factors.

For women between 18 and 39 years old, doctors may recommend:

  • A blood pressure screening every two years

If the top number (systolic number) is between 120 and 139, or the bottom number (diastolic number) is between 80 and 89 mm Hg, you should do this screening every year.

Women older than 30 can consider getting a Pap smear every five years if the procedure is combined with HPV testing.

  • Annual chlamydia and gonorrhea screening until age 25

For women between 40 and 64 years old, doctors may recommend:

  • Annual blood pressure screening
  • Colorectal cancer screening (every 1 to 10 years, depending on the specific test)
  • A mammogram every one to two years
  • A Pap smear every three years
  • A bone density test for women over 50 with fractures

For women over 65, doctors may recommend:

  • Annual blood pressure screening
  • Regular colorectal screening until age 75
  • A mammogram every one or two years until age 75
  • A bone density test
  • Stopping Pap tests, as long as recent tests have been normal

What to do after health screening 

After a health screening, follow up with your doctor to learn about your results. If the results are abnormal, your doctor may recommend additional testing. 

Your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the results of your screening test. If you don’t hear from your doctor, don’t hesitate to call to get your results. If the results of the screening test are abnormal, your doctor may suggest additional testing. For example, if your Pap smear has abnormal results, your doctor might examine your cervix with a magnifying instrument or take a biopsy of the tissue. 

After a health screening, follow up with your doctor to learn about your results. If the results are abnormal, your doctor may recommend additional testing.

If the results of a screening test are abnormal, treatment may be required. The treatment will vary depending on the health condition that was identified, its severity, your preferences, and many other factors. Your doctor can explain the treatment options for your condition.

The takeaway

There are many reasons why it is important to do preventive screenings, and your doctor may recommend a number of these tests.

Preventive screenings can detect various health conditions at an early stage, which may help you stay healthy. Your doctor may recommend blood pressure screenings, Pap smears, mammograms, and many other screening tests. Don’t hesitate to discuss the pros and cons of these tests with your doctor.

Medical screening helps doctors diagnose diseases at an early stage before patients have any symptoms. Even if you feel healthy, you may want to visit your doctor to discuss medical screening.

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