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Stay fresh and healthy

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2010 | 12:00 AM

We 'girls' should include regular screening tests in our healthy lifestyle plan. These regular screens usually pick up health concerns before they get out of control. If you link your screen dates to important events such as your birthday or towards the year-end festivities and decluttering, you are more likely to get it done.

Before the doctor's visit, do some Internet research and list your health questions on a piece of paper. Put it in your handbag and you are all set to make the best of that check-up appointment. You should expect your doctor to respond to your questions in language that you can understand and don't be afraid to say you don't understand. Ask for more information. It's called girl power!

Age and risk factors determine the screens that are important for you, and the testing intervals. Check eyes for glaucoma at the ophthalmologist (eye doctor) and teeth and mouth at the dentist. Usually, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for an 'executive profile' (blood test), a comprehensive panel that gives important information on the status of your kidneys, liver, and electrolyte and acid/base balance, blood sugar and blood proteins. Ask for a copy of these reports and start a personal health file at home. Here are some important screens for women:

High blood pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk for other conditions such as heart disease, strokes and kidney problems. Normal blood pressure in adults is 120/80; high blood pressure is 140/90; in-between those two measurements is prehypertension. So get measured regularly. If it is high, work with your doctor to keep it down; if it is normal, keep it that way by exercising, eating properly and managing stress levels.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis, or bone loss, accelerates in women after the menopause. Regular bone mineral density testing is recommended in older women and women at risk to help prevent painful bone fractures, even after minor falls. And yes, this test is simple and painless and is available right here in Jamaica.

Cholesterol levels

High LDL ('bad') cholesterol levels over time can lead to heart attack and strokes. It builds up plaque in the arteries. Do regular blood tests to monitor LDL, HDL ('good') cholesterol, triglyceride (blood fat) based on your age, risk factors and health practitioner's advice.

(See Dr Pauline Williams-Green's article for more details on this issue.)

Diabetes type TWO

A blood test, fasting plasma glucose, is often used to screen for diabetes Type Two. A number of 126 or higher indicates diabetes; 100-125 indicates prediabetes. After age 45, the usual recommendation is for screening every three years if you are healthy with normal risks.

Breast cancer

Detecting breast cancer early improves survival chances. Women in their 20s and 30s, without known risk factors, should have a clinical breast examination by their health professional about once every three years.

There appears to varying advice on screening intervals but the American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for women at average risk, beginning at age 40. The mammogram, a low-dose X-ray, usually detects lumps three years before we can feel them.

Cervical cancer

Infection with the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, commonly called HPV, is the main cause of cervical cancer. Pap tests are used to detect changes in the cervix before they turn into cancer. Of course, if you have been reading my columns you would already know that two vaccines - Gardasil and Cervarix — have been approved for cervical cancer prevention in girls and women up to age 26. Pap tests are still recommended even with the vaccines.

Sexually transmitted infections

Abstinence, latex condoms and dental dams help prevent sexually transmitted infections. Screen for infections such as HIV with a series of blood tests. Your health practitioner will tell you about the possibility of false negative and false positive tests.

Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a professional counsellor; email: eulalee.thompson@gleanerjm.com.