As I drove home from my full body skin exam yesterday with a small bandage on my forehead, I tried to think about the fashion post I needed to write for today. But, try as I did, I just couldn’t get past the feeling that maybe I should share a little about my own medical journey this year. Don’t worry. There’s nothing extraordinary to share. But it occurred to me that I’d had a pretty full panel of the medical screenings recommended for women over 50. And maybe some of my readers could use a little prompting to make some of the same appointments I made this year.
Hang with me! We’ll get back to fashion and other fun things tomorrow. But let’s talk oh so briefly about one of the things I loathe most…making appointments.
Yes, you read that right. Even more than I dislike medical screenings, I hate making appointments for them. Hahaha! According to my Google search results, I have a mild combination of telephobia (the fear of phone conversations) and appointment anxiety. I don’t like making appointments for spa treatments or haircuts, much less medical exams. Okay, all personal weirdness aside, let’s give the girl a hand for the medical screening appointments I did make this year and managed to keep. More importantly, let’s run through that list of medical screenings for women over 50 so we can all be aware…and schedule them if needed.
General Physical Exam
I’m a firm believer in having a general, annual physical exam with a primary healthcare provider. My insurance doesn’t require one, but it does provide for one (with a co-pay), so I definitely take advantage of that.
Some of the advantages of having a yearly physical include:
- building a relationship with your healthcare provider (I see a nurse practitioner) for ongoing care
- developing a baseline health status for comparison in case anything changes
- gentle prodding to get other tests and exams scheduled
- a thorough exam of your health, taking into consideration changes and conditions you might not think of on your own
I love that my nurse listens to me, asks me lots of questions and suggests the screenings and tests I need to have in order to adequately assess my health. Do you have a general practitioner with whom you are comfortable and transparent?
Full Blood Panel
I’ll admit, my nurse practitioner issued the orders for my full blood panel back in the spring when I had my last physical, but I just got around to having those tests last week. If I’d had them earlier I might could have already lowered my cholesterol significantly by now. Yes, while I suspected that my thyroid count might be off again, instead I discovered that my cholesterol is high. Ugh.
But information is power. If I don’t know the situation, I can’t do anything about it. That’s why having a comprehensive blood panel is so important. My healthcare provider requested
- blood sugar levels
- full cholesterol check
- liver enzymes check
- thyroid panel
- and maybe more…that I couldn’t figure out what they were!
Your orders from your healthcare provider will vary depending on medications you take, family and personal history and other conditions you might have. But it’s so important to get the information that only a blood test can provide.
By the way, my Thyroid medication is working fine. No problem there. And I’ve already made significant changes to my diet and exercise routine to improve my cholesterol count.
Pap Smear & Pelvic Exam
Guess what? Just because we’re no longer birthing babies or even menstruating doesn’t mean we no longer need to get on that table and into those stirrups. Ugh. In order to head off dangerous but treatable conditions such as cervical and uterine cancers, we still need to have regular pap smears and pelvic exams.
But the good news is that women over 50 only need to have this exam every three to five years unless you have previous conditions or family or personal medical histories that indicate otherwise.
I just learned in the last few months that my gynecologist has moved, so once again I have to hunt for a good one. It’s tough, huh? But one benefit is that you and I don’t have to look for a gynecologist who is also an obstetrician.
Of course if you only get that pelvic exam every three years, you might need that general healthcare provider to provide an annual breast exam. At least get her to write your orders for a mammogram, if orders are required.
Mammogram schedules are different for each of us, depending on family and personal history, as well as other personal preconditions. But the healthcare agencies and professional societies have varied recommendations about the frequency of this important screening, too.
Between the ages of 50 to 74, for women with average risk:
- the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and American College of Radiology (ACR) both suggest an annual mammography screening.
- the American Cancer Society (ACS) states that women ages 50 to 54 should get mammograms annually, but those who are ages 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years.
Ultimately the frequency of this test is something you should determine with your primary care giver. But don’t neglect to get it when it’s time. I got mine!
Colon cancer is one that generally goes undetected until it’s too late to treat it, unless you have the proper screening. While colonoscopies continue to be the most reliable and effective diagnostic tool, there are other less invasive, less expensive and highly accurate tests available. Everyone should have a colon test at age 50 and, if a colonoscopy is used, then be tested again in ten years – as long as there is no family history or other indicators.
However, if you have other conditions that preclude the efficacy of going under anesthesia or other aspects of this test, you and your doctor may opt for a different type of testing.
Two year ago I used Fecal immunochemical testing FIT as my diagnostic tool of choice. And this year I opted for a Cologuard test. Both of these tests involve collecting a stool sample, which is not fun, but it’s doable. The FIT test requires a yearly test, whereas the Cologuard should be done every three years.
I didn’t enjoy the process of these tests, but I was so relieved when the results came back. Not just because they were negative, but because they gave me insight and knowledge that I couldn’t have otherwise.
When we hit our 50s (if not before) we usually begin to notice significant differences in our vision. Even if we can adjust our vision enough to read with just drugstore readers, it’s a good idea to get a thorough eye exam at this time. You no longer have to have your eyes dialated if you prefer, and can still be tested thoroughly for cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
I couldn’t find consistent information about how regularly we should have our eyes examined after 50. But I did read over and over that we should have at least a benchmark exam between 40 and 50 or as soon as we notice any changes in our vision. From there I found recommendations to have eye exams as needed with changes in vision or other symptoms, such as eye fatigue, headaches and dryness.
I recently had my eyes examined and purchased new glasses. I have one pair for work and one for “life.” And my eyes feel so much better now that I’m wearing the right prescriptions.
I feel like it goes without saying that we need at least yearly if not twice yearly teeth cleanings. I actually have to have my teeth cleaned every four months because of a genetic gum condition. But I’ve also noticed that my dentist does more than check for cavities. He checks for oral cancer and overall health indicators, too. I suggest going to a dentist that provides that kind of thorough care.
And that brings me to the last physical exam I’ve had this year. I finally had my first ever full body skin screening. If you have any family history of skin cancer, personal history of severe sun damage, fair skin that blisters or burns easily, a number of large moles or a history of tanning bed use, you should visit a dermatologist who is skilled in full body scans (not all dermatologist do this type of procedure). But also if you’ve received an organ transplant or have or have had an occupation that exposes(d) you to the sun excessively, you should consider an initial scan, too. From there you and your doctor can decide how frequently you need to have additional full body scans.
My exam was very pain free and comfortable. My doctor is good. She talked with me about my blog and YouTube channel as she gently examined my skin head to toe…literally. I was clothed in a gown that opened in the back and my panties. But she did indeed check every part of my skin. It didn’t feel invasive; it felt thorough and informative.
My doctor is concerned about a spot on my forehead so she proceeded – with my blessing – to biopsy it then and there. I only felt a bit of discomfort as she injected the numbing agent, but I didn’t feel anything else. And I left with only a small, round bandage on the place where she’d made the small scrape.
Of course, if the biopsy determines that the place is indeed basal cell carcinoma, then I will have to have it removed or another form of treatment (depending on the type of basal cell). But again, knowledge is power.
The one screening that I have not had is a bone density check. Well, I had one when I turned 50, but I’ve not had one this year. That initial screening acts as a baseline and indicates, too, if there are significant indicators of frailty. But it’s important that we have additional screenings at least every 15 years, more frequently if there are indicators of osteoporosis.
So that’s a wrap! I know that you probably didn’t show up here for medical advice. And remember, I’m not a doctor. I’ve tried to be very careful not to prescribe anything to you, but simply to report the recommendations of trustworthy medical agencies and professional organizations. In the end, we are indeed in the driver’s seat when it comes to our healthcare. But, like a driver who knows how to read the signs on the road she travels, we are more likely to get further along if we equip ourselves with the knowledge that is available through these fairly simple, minimally invasive and quite accurate suggested medical screenings for women over 50.
But listen. There’s no guilting or shaming here. Like I said, I have a terrible time making these appointments. And I’ve been known to back out of them once they’re made, too! I’m not proud of that and I’ve gotten much better about keeping them. But I simply wanted to encourage anyone who maybe, like me, has been putting off some of these screenings. I can tell you that I survived them and you will, too.
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Blessed for My Day
I’m always moved by the story in Mark of the woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years. I’m blessed by the miracle of Jesus healing her. And I’m compelled by her amazing faith that He could. But I’m saddened by the fact that she “had endured much at the hands of many physicians.”
Friend, while I do suggest that we gain the medical knowledge we need in order to take good care of ourselves and live long healthy lives, I do not support staying under the care of a healthcare provider who does not have your best interest at heart. If you are not pleased with the effectiveness, the professionalism, the quality of care or the bedside manner of your doctor or nurse, please seek the recommendations of trusted friends for a new healthcare provider. Don’t let a poor experience or treatment keep you from having the care you need.
A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. ~ Mark 5:25-27