Women of all ages should take an active role in their own health care management. There are various ways to make this possible- through exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, stress management, and regular doctor visits. The most obvious way- regular doctor visits, is sometimes the most overlooked. One of the worst things you can do is to wait until you are faced with an emergency medical situation before you visit a doctor. Early screening and detection is one of the best ways to prevent potential health problems. So what health exams should you be getting? Why not start with these five:
- Blood pressure screening. High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs at an alarmingly high rate in the African American community and is one of the leading causes of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Treatment for hypertension can be achieved through lifestyle changes such as weight loss, adopting a low-sodium diet and exercise. In some cases, medication may need to be prescribed in order to control blood pressure. Ideally you should become proactive in the monitoring of your own blood pressure in between doctor visits. This can be done by purchasing a blood pressure cuff at your local drug store. Keep track of your measurements and share them with your doctor at your appointments. A good blood pressure rating is less than 135/85.
- Mammograms and breast exams. African American women have a higher likelihood of dying from breast cancer due to failure of early detection of malignant tumors. Mammograms, which are x-rays that focus on the breast, are good tools for initial screening. Although there remains some controversy as to how often women 40-50 should have a mammogram performed, the American Cancer Society recommends that women over the age of 40 should have a mammogram every year. Self-breast exams, another form of early detection, helps you become more familiar with changes in your breast and should be conducted a few days following your menstrual cycle.
- Pap smears and pelvic exams. A pap smear is conducted to examine the cells collected from the cervix. It helps to detect cancer as well as any cell abnormalities that cause cancer. It can also help to detect non cancerous conditions such as infections (such as HPV) and inflammation. In a pelvic exam, the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum are felt to find any abnormality in their shape or size (National Cancer Institute).
- Cholesterol check. Like high blood pressure screenings, checking your cholesterol levels is equally important because it helps to decrease the risk of heart disease, which is the leading killer of African American women. A simple blood test can determine your total cholesterol levels. The ideal level for total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl.
- Blood glucose test. Glucose testing is a simple blood test that is typically used to rule out pre-diabetes and diabetes, which disproportionately affects African Americans as compared to the general population.