Health facts for Women

Health Facts Sheets

Health facts for Women

Women need to have regular health checks. See your doctor for regular medical check-ups to help you stay healthy and to pick up early warning signs of disease or illness. Many diseases such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes and some cancers can be picked up in their early stages when treatment is often more effective.

Women should have a general check-up every year. Part of the check-up will involve talking to the doctor about your medical history, your family’s history of disease and your lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise habits and whether or not you smoke.

If you have ‘high risk’ factors – for example, a family history of a disease – it may be more likely that you will develop a particular disease. Regular check-ups may help your doctor pick up early warning signs. Other early warning signs of disease include high blood pressure.

Be guided by your doctor but, if you are at high risk of a particular disease due to family history or other risk factors, it is recommended that you be regularly tested regardless of your age.

Health care at home

Make health checks part of your regular routine. This will help you stay healthy and pick up potential problems early. Things you can do at home include:

  • Skin checks– you should check your skin every three months for unusual moles or freckles. See your doctor if you notice anything unusual. Women at high risk need regular examination by their doctor or dermatologist.
  • Dental care– you can reduce your risk of tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss if you clean your teeth regularly, eat a low sugar diet and visit the dentist at least once a year.

Health checks – pregnancy and Pap tests

Health checks from your doctor can include:

  • Pap smears– you should have a Pap test every two years. This screening test is an important test to pick up signs that could lead to cervical cancer if not treated. The first Pap smear should be within two years of the first time you have sex and you should continue to have them every two years until you are 70. Even if you have been vaccinated, you should continue to have regular pap smears. If you have an increased risk of cervical cancer, you may need more regular testing. Be advised by your doctor.
  • Pregnancy– you should have regularantenatal tests during pregnancy to help check your baby’s development, pick up abnormalities and assess your health. Tests include ultrasound scans, urine tests, blood tests and genetic tests. Some antenatal tests are recommended for all pregnant women, while others are only necessary for women at increased risk of complications. Be advised by your doctor.

Health checks – heart

Health checks for heart disease may include:

  • Blood pressure– have your blood pressure checked every two years if your blood pressure is normal and there is no family history of high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is on the high side, or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack, it’s best to have it checked more frequently. Be advised by your doctor.
  • Blood tests-it is a good idea to check your cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides from time to time. High levels may indicate an increased risk of various health problems including heart disease. If you’re over 45, you should have these blood tests once every five years. If you’re at high risk of cardiovascular disease, you should be tested every year.
  • Obesity tests– being overweight is a significant risk factor in many health conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years.

Health checks – diabetes

Tests for diabetes include the fasting blood sugar level test. This involves measuring the amount of glucose in the blood after you haven’t eaten for a while. Depending on your risk level, you will need to be tested every year or once every three years.

You are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you are:

  • Over 45 years and are obese or have high blood pressure
  • Have had angina, a heart attack or stroke
  • Obese and have polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman aged over 35 years
  • A Pacific Islander woman.

Health checks – breast cancer

Women of any age should visit the doctor immediately if they notice any breast changes. Women aged between 50 and 70 years who have no personal or family history of breast cancer should have a mammogram (breast x-ray) every two years. If you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, your doctor can help you to decide how often you need to be screened; generally speaking, annual check-ups may be advised.

Health checks – eyes

Eyesight tends to deteriorate with age. It’s recommended that:

  • Every woman over 40 should have regular eye examinations. One condition that an optometrist can test for is glaucoma. This is a serious eye condition characterised by high fluid pressure within the eyeball. Women at increased risk will need to be tested for glaucoma at an earlier age. Risk factors include family history, diabetes, prior eye injury, high blood pressure or use of steroids.
  • Women aged between 50 and 65 should have a general eye examination every five years.
  • Women aged over 65 should have an eye examination once a year.

Health checks – bowel cancer

The faecal occult blood test (FOBT) uses chemicals to check a stool sample for blood. If you’re over 50 you should have this test once every two years.

Women at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy every five years. During this test, the doctor inserts a slender instrument called a colonoscope through the anus to visually check the rectum and large bowel for any abnormalities.

Health checks – bone density

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes thinning of the bones. Menopause is a significant risk factor for women. A bone density test helps to determine the health of your bones. Bone density testing is most often used when people have:

  • Osteoporosis or concerns about osteoporosis
  • A vertebral (spinal) deformity
  • Osteopaenia (decreased bone density)
  • A previous fracture.

Other tests

You may need other regular tests not listed here, depending on your personal or family medical history. Ask your doctor for further information.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Dentist
  • Eye specialist

Things to remember

  • See your doctor for regular medical check-ups.
  • Screening tests help doctors to detect many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers in their early stages.
  • A woman at high risk of a particular disease should be regularly tested regardless of her age.