There’s certainly some truth to the saying that “40 is the new 30.” As women now take better care of themselves earlier in life, turning 40 doesn’t necessarily mean that your health begins an uncontrollable downhill slide.
Nevertheless, with age, women become more prone to health issues that can have a huge impact on their life. To live life to the fullest and enjoy life’s pleasures – big and small, it is important to take note of what you need to do to maintain your good health.
Staying healthy is not a difficult thing, if you make an effort and remain vigilant about making healthy choices.
One such healthy choice is getting appropriate screening tests once you reach age 40.
A variety of screening tests are used to detect potential health problems. Early detection of any problem can help in the treatment plan and improve the chances of it being successful.
Before you know about particular screening tests, you should have two physicals during your 20s and 30s.
During a regular physical exam, your doctor will perform a thorough head-to-toe assessment and check your height, weight and body mass index (BMI). After age 40, a complete physical will also include some key screening tests.
Always remember that prevention is better than the cure, and never ignore the importance of health screenings.
1. Breast Exam
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International (1).
Breast self-exams (BSEs), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, are an important step in finding breast cancer early.
Early diagnosis helps in successful treatment of the cancer. However, many women do not perform these self-examinations.
Women above age 40 should check their breasts at home regularly and have your doctor do an exam annually.
You need to check your breasts for differences in size or shape, rashes and dimpling, and lumps. You may also check if your nipples produce fluid when gently squeezed. You should be aware of how your breasts look and feel and report any changes to your physician.
While breast self-exams are important, woman older than 40 should also get mammograms. They are the most effective screening tool today for detecting breast cancer. By catching breast cancer early, you can hopefully reduce the risk of the cancer metastasizing (spreading).
The American Cancer Society recommends that women between ages 40 and 44 can choose whether to start getting a mammogram every year, while women ages 45 to 54 should get annual mammograms.
After age 55, you can continue with annual screenings or get them every other year (2).
If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may need more frequent mammograms.
3. Blood Glucose Testing
The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is increasing day by day.
According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report (2017), an estimated 1.5 million new cases of diabetes (6.7 per 1,000 persons) were diagnosed among adults age 18 or older in the United States in 2015.
More than half of these new cases were among those ages 45 to 64 years old, and the numbers were about equal for men and women (3).
Living with diabetes is tough and it can increase the risk of developing other diseases. If you are at high risk for diabetes, you may need to be screened for prediabetes and diabetes every three years after the age of 40.
Some risk factors for diabetes include physical inactivity, severe obesity, having a first-degree relative with diabetes, and belonging to the African-American, Mexican-American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or Asian-American racial/ethnic category.
Fortunately, it only takes a simple urine and/or blood test to check your sugar levels.
4. Cholesterol Test
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 78 million U.S. adults (nearly 37 percent) in 2011–2012 had either low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels that fall in the range where experts recommend cholesterol medicine or other health conditions putting them at high risk for heart disease and a stroke (4).
Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and stroke is the fifth leading cause of death. This is why the American Heart Association recommends women get their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years, starting at age 20.
After age 45, screening for cholesterol once a year becomes important, as heart disease risk increases with age.
With a simple blood test, you can find out the levels of your total cholesterol, your “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, your “bad” LDL cholesterol and your triglycerides, another kind of fat in the blood.
5. Blood Pressure Screening
Having high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of a stroke and a heart attack.
About 75 million American adults have high blood pressure, according to the CDC. Women are about as likely as men to develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes (5).
The American Heart Association reports that a woman’s chances of developing high blood pressure increase considerably after menopause. Hence, it is important to have your blood pressure monitored regularly (6).
You can get your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s clinic and some drug stores, or you can get a blood pressure home monitoring kit and check it yourself.
If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mm Hg, consult your doctor. You can lower your blood pressure through diet, exercise and medication.
6. Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. In 2014, 139,992 Americans were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, including 73,396 men and 66,596 women, according to the CDC (7).
Additionally, the American Cancer Society states that colorectal cancer is expected to cause about 50,630 deaths during 2018 (8).
To protect yourself from this deadly cancer, the National Cancer Institute says that people at increased risk due to a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or due to inflammatory bowel disease or certain inherited conditions, should start getting screenings before age 50 and may be advised to have more frequent screenings (9).
Some of the screenings for colorectal cancer are:
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT).
- Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA).
- Standard (or optical) colonoscopy.
- Virtual colonoscopy.
Ask your doctor how often you should be screened and with which screening tests.
7. Bone Density Test
Being female puts you more at risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones. This happens due to age-related declining levels of the hormone estrogen in your body, which plays a protective role on bones in women.
Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about 8 million or 80 percent are women. Moreover, approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (10).
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Midlife Health found a significant positive correlation between age, the time since menopause and bone mineral density (11).
Hence, it is important for women age 40 and older to be screened for osteoporosis. Opt for a bone density test that shows the amount of bone a person has in the hip, spine or other bones.
Getting regular bone density tests will tell you whether your bone mass is the same or if you are losing bone.
8. Skin Check
About 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Women with significant sun exposure, family history of skin cancer, fair skin, the presence of multiple unusual moles and a history of several blistering sunburns (especially early in life) are at a higher risk.
Skin cancer is not hard to diagnose early, if you do a self-exam every month looking for moles that are asymmetrical, larger than a pencil eraser, or have an irregular border or color.
If you notice any changes in moles, see your doctor immediately. See a dermatologist annually for a full-body exam.
9. Eye Exam
Dry eye syndrome, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration are the four most common eye problems affecting elderly women.
To catch any eye health problems, from vision changes to cataracts and glaucoma, timely eye exams are important.
Remember that many eye diseases have no early warning signs or symptoms, but a dilated exam can detect eye diseases in their early stages before vision loss occurs. Early detection and treatment can help save your sight.
The National Eye Institute recommends a comprehensive dilated eye exam for everyone age 50 or older (12).
Even if you aren’t experiencing any vision problems, visit your eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. He or she will tell you how often you need to have one, depending on your specific risk factors. If you have diabetes, get an eye exam at least every year.
10. Dental Checkup
Dental conditions associated with aging include dry mouth (xerostomia), root and coronal caries, and periodontitis, according to the American Dental Association (13).
You should visit the dentist every year for an exam and cleaning. This is important not only for early diagnosis of oral problems, but also to rule out the possibility of oral cancer.
Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer among American adults, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (14).
A yearly dental checkup is recommended for women above 40. But women who smoke or drink more than one or two drinks a day are at a greater risk for gum disease and oral cancers, in which case dental checkups are recommended every six months.