As a woman, what do you need to look out for to protect your health?

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What are the most important things a woman can do on her own to protect her health?


Keeping a keen eye out for early signs of health problems is important, but there are also things you can do to protect yourself now and in the future. These include:

  • Eating a sensible diet — that includes all the major food groups — and watching portion size.
  • Try for 30 minutes of exercise or more daily.
  • Protect your bones by eating three servings of low-fat dairy every day and performing weight-bearing exercises — like walking, running, aerobics, or dancing — at least three times a week.
  • Get regular health screenings.
  • Take time out for yourself. Experts say 30 minutes a day is ideal if you can swing it. Make it a time when you do something just for you — reading, taking a bath, working in the garden, chatting online with friends — whatever relieves your stress will add years to your life and life to your years!

What are the most important medical screening tests for women and at what age should they have them?


While not all medical organizations agree on what you need and when, here’s what the National Women’s Health Information Center suggests:

  • Blood pressure test — Every two years beginning at age 18
  • Cholesterol test — Start at age 20 and let your doctor suggest frequency.
  • Bone mineral density test — Have baseline test around age 65 and let your doctor decide on frequency. You may need early screening if you have certain risk factors.
  • Blood sugar test (diabetes) — Get tested if your blood pressure is higher than 135/80 or if you have medication for high blood pressure.
  • Mammogram — Talk to your doctor about what schedule is right for you.
  • Pap test/Pelvic exam — Every three years if you are sexually active from age 21. After age 65, talk to your doctor about frequency.
  • Colorectal health testing — Get screened starting at age 50 with either fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
  • Your own screening recommendations may vary depending on your personal risk factors. Talk to your doctor about a screening plan that is best for you.

What are the most important medical symptoms women should not ignore?


While any symptom that causes you distress should be reported to your doctor, there are some specific signs no woman should ever ignore. They include:

  • Heart attack: Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest sometimes accompanied by pain in the upper body including arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath; a cold sweat; nausea; or lightheadedness. Remember, women are more likely than men to have a heart attack without having chest pain.
  • Stroke: Sudden severe headache. Sudden or developing problems with speech, sight, balance, walking, confusion, or coordination, as well as numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs. Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms.
  • Reproductive health problems: Bleeding or spotting between periods; itching, burning, bumps, blisters, or sores on the vagina or genital area; pain during sex; severe menstrual pain; severe pelvic pain; unusual vaginal discharge, lower back pain with bloating and/or feelings of fullness; difficult or painful urination.
  • Breast problems: Nipple discharge, breast tenderness or pain, changes in the skin covering the breast or nipples (ridges, dimpling, pitting, swelling, redness, or scaling), a lump or thickening in the tissue of the breast or underarm area, or tenderness in these areas.
  • Digestive or stomach problems: Bleeding from the rectum; blood or mucus in the stool or black stools; change in bowel habits; constipation, diarrhea, or both; constant heartburn; pain or feeling of fullness in stomach; bloating; vomiting blood.
  • Skin problems: A new mole or changes in the color, shape, or size of an existing mole; small lump on skin that is smooth, shiny, and waxy and sometimes reddish brown in color; painful, crusty, scaling, or oozing skin lesions that don’t heal within 14 days.
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