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The Importance of Annual Women’s Health Exams

All women should have an annual health-screening exam. Having an annual health care visit is a great opportunity to take charge of your health. Routine health care visits can help find problems early or prevent health problems before they occur. If problems are found early, they may be easier to treat and less likely to pose serious risks to your health. Annual health care visits include discussion of health topics related to your age, a physical exam, screening tests, and immunizations, as well as general health, hygiene, nutrition, exercise, sexual health, and domestic violence. All women should be screened for diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid disease based on individual risk factors. Additionally, certain screening tests and immunizations should be performed by a women’s health professional at certain ages.

Patients ages 13 to 18 should have at least one visit to a women’s health professional for screening of menstrual irregularities. If the patient is sexually active, then a discussion about contraception and a screening for sexually transmitted diseases should take place. Unless the patient is sexually active or has a specific gynecologic complaint, pelvic exams are generally not needed for patients in this age group. The Tdap booster, hepatitis B series, meningococcal, varicella, and HPV vaccines should be updated or administered to patients in this age range.

Starting at age 20, women should begin having annual clinical breast exams and learn how to properly perform monthly self breast exams. At age 40, women should start having annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer. 

Women ages 21 and older should start routine pelvic exams and cervical screening by getting a pap smear. New guidelines recommend pap smear screenings every three years, as long as the patient has had no previous abnormal pap tests. At age 65, pap smear testing is no longer needed, as long as a patient has had three consecutive normal pap smears and no history of high-grade pap smear abnormalities.

Starting at age 50, women should have a colonoscopy performed every 10 years to screen for colon cancer. The American College of Gastroenterology recently recommended that African American patients start screening at age 45 because of an increased risk at an earlier age than other patients.

At age 65, women should have a bone density test performed every two years to screen for osteoporosis. At this age, patients should also receive the herpes zoster (shingles) and the pneumococcal vaccines. These are general screening guidelines. Please contact one of our health experts at Barton Women’s Health for more information about how these guidelines apply to you.

Make an appointment with Barton Women’s Health today to get on your way to wellness; please call 530.543.5711.

Amanda Weavil, M.D., is an obstetrician and gynecologist with Barton Women’s Health.