Your Health at 50+: What Women Need to Know
Women have unique health needs, and as the years go by, these needs change. Women over the age of 50 are at higher risk for certain conditions and diseases, so staying up to date on screenings and practicing healthy habits is very important. By prioritizing your health, you can help avoid health problems and live your best life as you age.
What Screening Tests Do Older Women Need?
An essential part of taking care of your health as you get older is getting regular screenings for certain diseases. These include:
- Breast cancer screening: Annual mammograms should start at age 40. Talk to your doctor about continuing annual screenings or switching to every other year.
- Cervical cancer screening: Until age 65, you should continue getting regular cervical cancer screenings. This screening can be a Pap test every three years or a primary HPV (human papillomavirus) test every five years (nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV). If a primary HPV test isn’t available, a co-test (an HPV test and a Pap test) can also be taken every five years.
- Colorectal cancer screening: The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. Options include colonoscopy as well as stool-based tests. You should continue to get screened regularly through age 75.
- Diabetes screening: You should have a blood test every three years to check your blood sugar levels.
- Osteoporosis screening: All women who are age 65 or older should have a bone density test. If you are younger than 65 but have certain risk factors, your doctor might recommend having the test sooner.
Talk to your doctor about which screenings are right for you. If you have a family history or other factors that put you at high risk of a certain disease, such as skin cancer or lung cancer, your doctor may recommend getting additional screenings.
Managing Health Conditions and Getting Regular Exams
In addition to keeping up with regular screenings, it’s essential to ensure you are following your doctor’s guidance to manage any chronic conditions you currently have, such as diabetes or heart disease. Your doctor may recommend:
- Committing to any necessary lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating a healthier diet and following an exercise routine
- Getting additional screenings as needed, such as having blood sugar screenings if you have diabetes or getting your blood pressure checked if you have heart disease or high blood pressure
- Making follow-up appointments with your doctor as recommended
- Taking all medications as prescribed
Even if you don’t have any chronic conditions, having regular exams is an important part of taking care of your health. Remember to:
- Have regular eye exams: every two to four years from ages 40 to 54, every one to three years until ages 55 to 64 and every one to two years starting at age 65.
- Make an annual appointment with your OBGYN, even if you are not due for a cervical cancer screening. Talk to your doctor about whether you need a breast or pelvic exam.
- See your primary care provider from time to time to discuss any concerns, update vaccinations and assess the risk of future medical problems.
Preparing for Menopause and Beyond
Most women begin the menopausal transition (also called perimenopause), the time leading up to your last period, between ages 45 and 55. During this time, your body’s production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone can vary greatly, causing symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes, sudden feelings of intense heat in your upper body or sometimes your whole body
- Incontinence, or sudden urges to urinate
- Irregular periods and changes in menstrual flow
- Irritability and other mood changes
- Night sweats and trouble sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
Hormone changes during and after menopause can raise your risk for osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Take good care of yourself to combat symptoms and lower your risk for serious health problems. Maintaining good health includes:
- Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
- Making healthy food choices, including getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D to strengthen bones
- Not smoking
- Staying active and getting regular exercise; the American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week
If symptoms are bothersome, you can also talk to your doctor about medication options, including hormone replacement therapy. Your doctor can explain the benefits and risks and help you decide what medications are right for you.