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A Guide for Women’s Health

Published in Women's Services, For the Health of It Author: Jay-Sheree Allen,MD

Editor’s Note: Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen recently was a guest to discuss depression on “Your Health” — a weekly radio program on KNSI discussing issues important to your health featuring providers across CentraCare. In the St. Cloud area, you can listen to “Your Health” weekly on AM 1450 and FM 99.3, Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. Or you can listen live at knsiradio.com.

Here are some questions from Dr. Allen’s interview. You can listen to the full program here. Some of the text below has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why are regular check-ups important?

Dr. Allen: It’s normal to check up on your finances. You should also be checking on your health. There are some things you absolutely need to know. How healthy you are should be one of those things.

Q: Is there a particular age that a woman should start yearly check-ups?

Dr. Allen: Regular examinations are highly recommended when you are a child. But once you turn age 18, it’s still a good idea to regularly see your physician.

As a Family Medicine provider, I am able to care for an individual from when they are a baby until grow into adulthood.

But if someone is seeing a pediatrician — it’s around ages 18-21 that one will transition from seeing a pediatrician to an Internal Medicine or Family Medicine provider. At that age, the things we are looking for include your blood pressure, making sure your heart rate is at a normal level, that you have a healthy BMI. If applicable, we’ll check your oxygen saturation and your breathing.

We actually learn a lot about you just from seeing you in the office. If an individual is slouching, looks disheveled or not answering questions appropriately – that can be a sign of a problem that we need to explore.

Q: How should one prepare for an appointment?

Dr. Allen: I recommend ahead of time, one write down your questions or concerns.. Remember that as doctors – we have a limited amount of time for each visit. So we may not be able to answer every single question that is on your list, on that day. But if you come with the things that are most pressing to you, getting some answers will be very reassuring. As doctors , we want to make sure that we are meeting your needs and answering the questions lingering in your mind.

Q: At what age should women start getting some of the more common preventative health care tests?

Dr. Allen: For younger women, teens to early 20s – one of the things we are worried about are sexually transmitted diseases.

When a woman turns age 21, we start testing for cervical cancer with pap smears. We are now testing women between ages 21 and 30 every three years. That’s because the virus that causes cervical cancer, takes a fair amount of time to advance from virus to cancer. So you don’t need an annual pap smear. That’s a question I answer almost daily in my practice. And after you are over age 30, if they’ve been normal, you generally only need a pap smear every five years.

When it comes to mammograms, there are some varying recommendations but most women start screening at age 40 or 50. However, that’s where speaking with your provider is important. For example, if you have a family history of breast cancer – you may want to start getting a mammogram on the earlier side of that age range.

The need to have a colonoscopy begins at age 50. If normal, you should anticipate to get those every 10 years. Again, family history matters as you may need to start screening earlier.

As women age, osteoporosis becomes a concern as we age. So you may begin a DEXA Scan around age 65 to check your bone density.

For those born between 1945 and 1965, there has been shown to be increased rates of Hepatitis C – which can lead to liver damage. So if that applies to you, you may notice your provider ordering a test you for that virus.

Throughout these ages, one should continue to ensure you are current on your vaccinations too.

Q: Is there a certain time when you stop testing for some of these?

Dr. Allen: Yes, typically around age 75. As stated before, different organizations have different recommendations. But, I ask my patients “What will you do with the results.”

For example, at age 75 – we usually stop testing for colon cancer. But that depends on your previous colonoscopy results.. If you have had a polyp, we may recommend additional or more frequent medical testing yet.

I know patients may get frustrated that these guidelines change. But I encourage them to look at it as a good thing. These changes mean that medicine is evolving and we are hopefully improving on the care we provided in the past.

Q: As caregivers at home, why is it so important that women work to take care of themselves?

Dr. Allen: I’m always reminded from the pre-flight instructions to put your oxygen mask on first and then help others. This is also my advice for women. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure that you are healthy. Not just physically – but make sure you are mentally and emotionally well too.