The first rule of health care? Prevention is always better than cure. That’s why screening for common health issues is so important – it can help you catch disease early so you can address any warning signs before they get serious. But, working out which checks you need and when can be pretty confusing.
“Frequent general check-ups each year of your life stage is highly recommended for women of all ages, as our body systems change from year to year,” explains Swisse Wellness Science Expert Regina Karim MD. “A check-up typically involves talking about your medical history, family history of disease and lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise habits as well as smoking and alcohol consumption.”
Regardless of age, every woman should be checking her boobs for changes on a regular basis (think every month). Keeping an eye on your BMI is also important, along with monitoring any suss moles. For the rest, book a date with your doc. While the checks you prioritise will depend on your personal and family health history, this guide is a good place to start…
In your 20s and 30s
You’re young, active and living your best life – so health checks in your 20s and 30s are all about ensuring you safeguard your bod while you’re at it. Here’s the tests that should be on your radar:
Sexual health: If you’re sexually active, book a urine test to check for chlamydia every year. “Chlamydia can affect fertility and often doesn’t show any symptoms, so it’s important to prioritise this during your regular health checks,” says Karim.
You should also be screened for STIs whenever you start a new relationship or change sexual partners.
Cervical health: Pap smears are out but cervical screening is in – the test feels the same but it’s now recommended that women 25 and over should be screened every five years if their results are normal. You should have your first cervical screening test two years after your last Pap test.
Reproductive health: If you’re planning to have a baby, chat to your GP about any potential issues. “Tests may include ultrasound scans, urine tests and blood tests,” says Karim.
Heart health: Ask your doc to check your blood pressure “every two years if your levels are normal,” suggests Karim. “However, if they’re on the high side or if there’s a personal or family history of high blood pressure and cholesterol, stroke or heart attack, check more frequently in consultation with your GP.”
Mental health: If you experience symptoms such as intense sadness, anxiety, irritability and changes to eating and sleeping habits for more than two weeks, chat to your GP about a mental health plan.
Eyes and teeth: Get a check-up once a year, or as advised by your dentist or optometrist.
In your 40s
As you hit the big 4-0, it’s likely your metabolism will begin to slow and weight will be easier to gain and harder to shift, says Karim. Now is also the time to watch out for changes to your menstrual cycle, heart health and cancer risk. In addition to the checks above, add these to the list…
Heart health: The Australian Heart Foundation recommends a heart health check at 45 (or 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people). Your doc will check your blood pressure and cholesterol and ask about your lifestyle and family history to assess your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes: “Everyone should be screened for a risk of diabetes from 40 years of age,” says Karim. Your GP will use a questionnaire known as AUSDRISK for this – you can also access an online version on the Diabetes Australia website.
Breast health: Ensure you’re keeping up with your monthly self-exams and see your doctor if you notice any abnormalities such as changes to the shape of your breast, discomfort, dimpling on the skin or redness.
Eye health: Ask your optometrist for a glaucoma check.
In your 50s
You’re likely to experience menopause, which can affect bone density. “Other important health checks to consider include ongoing cancer screening as well as mammograms and urine tests to assess kidney health,” notes Karim. Don’t forget cervical screening every five years.
Breast health: “It’s recommended that women aged between 50 and 74 years who have no personal or family history of breast cancer have a mammogram every two years,” says Karim. “If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer though, your GP may suggest alternative screening timelines.”
Bone density: As your body winds back oestrogen production, bone density will begin to decrease. Your GP can let you know if you need to have a bone density test known as a DEXA scan.
Kidney health: Add a urine test to assess kidney health to your yearly schedule.
Heart health: Instead of every two years, your regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks should now be done every year.
Bowel cancer: When you reach 50, it’s recommended that you take a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years to screen for bowel cancer (yes, it means testing your poo). The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program sends free at-home sample collection kits to people over 50 in the mail, but if you haven’t received one, chat to your GP or pharmacist.
Eyes and teeth: Bump up your check-ups to every six months.