female patient03 webAs we grow older, a lifetime of daily choices related to our health tends to catch up with most of us. Choices like diet, exercise, (or lack thereof) and the use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol can contribute to the development of diseases and other health conditions.

One of the best defenses against these health risks is to identify them in their earliest stages and promptly begin to treat them, says Alaa-Eldin Mira, MD, chief of Geriatrics, St. Luke’s University Health Network.

The first step is to see your primary care physician regularly, even if you are healthy.

During your checkup, your doctor will assess your overall health and screen for such things as high blood pressure. Every few years, your doctor will order a series of blood tests that screen for conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Mira suggests the following screenings for women aged 50 and older. (Note: These are general recommendations. The frequency of tests or the time that age at which you should begin will vary based on your individual family, personal health history and previous test results.)

Cholesterol Screening – Age 50
Every five years or more frequently if you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or certain other conditions or if past tests have indicated that you have high cholesterol.

Colorectal Cancer Screening – Age 50 to 75
Beginning at age 50, you should have a baseline colonoscopy and then every 10 years thereafter (or more frequently as advised by your physician). Other colorectal screening tests are available, but colonoscopy is considered the gold standard.

Dental Screening – Age 50
Once or twice a year for checkups and cleaning. Your dentist can identify certain health conditions, including certain types of cancer.

Diabetes Screening – Age 50
Every three years. Commonly referred to as an A1C test, the test indicates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months.
An A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates that you have diabetes. Your doctor may order a blood sugar test.

Eye Exam – Age 50
50-54 every two to three years; 55-64 every one to three years; 65+ every year; and every year if you have diabetes. Eye exams can indicate diseases, such as glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration, that left untreated could cause blindness.

Flu Shot – Age 50
Every year. Each flu season is different, and the vaccine is developed to prevent or reduce the effect of the strain that is most expected in any given year. Flu can lead to hospitalization and even death.

LDCT Lung Cancer Screening – Age 55 to 80
If you are between 55 and 80 and have a history of heavy smoking and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.

Mammogram – Age 50
Every one to two years. Mammograms screen for breast cancer. Should the mammogram indicate an abnormality, your doctor may order a diagnostic mammogram, a breast MRI or a breast ultrasound.

Osteoporosis Screening (Bone density test) – Age 65
Once after age 65 unless you have a greater than average risk factor, such as frequent fractures. Osteoporosis screening checks bone strength.

Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear – Age 50
Every year you should have pelvic exams and you should have a Pap smear every three years. Regular pelvic exams may help in early detection of certain cancers, which increase with age.

Pneumococcal Vaccine – Age 65
Once after age 65. Two different vaccines are recommended. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against illnesses like meningitis and bacteremia. You should receive a dose of PCV13 first, followed by a dose of PPSV23 at least 1 year later.

Shingles (herpes zoster vaccine) – Age 50
Once after age 50. Protects against shingles a painful skin rash, often with blisters. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Tetanus-diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tap) vaccine – Age 50
Once as part of your tetanus-diphtheria vaccines if you did not receive it previously as an adolescent. You should have a booster every 10 years.

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