Women should have a general check-up every year. Part of the check-up will involve talking to your 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 or drink alcohol.
Seeing your doctor for regular medical check-ups will help you stay healthy and 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.
If you are at high risk of a particular disease – such as a family history, it is recommended that you get checked more frequently, and/or at an earlier age.
Self-checking health checks for women
Make self-checking part of your regular routine. Things you can check at home include:
- Skin checks – monitor your skin particularly for changes in size, shape or colour or anything unusual such as pain or itch. 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, drink fluoridated water, eat a low-sugar diet, and visit the dentist at least once a year.
- Diet – you can improve your general health by eating a variety of nutritious healthy foods, having regular meals and a healthy eating plan.
- Weight – maintaining a healthy weight can prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.
- Alcohol – ‘low risk’ drinking is defined as no more than two standard drinks (for example, 100 ml of wine) on any day and at least two alcohol-free days per week.
- Smoking – increases your risk of many diseases including heart disease, stroke, lung disease and osteoporosis (loss of bone strength). If you smoke, try to quit. There is no safe smoking level.
- Exercise – regular exercise can prevent diseases developing, as well as being good for your emotional health. At least 2.5 hours of exercise per week is recommended.
- Mental and emotional health – If you are experiencing symptoms such as intense sadness, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, have had changes to your eating or sleeping habits, see your doctor to discuss these symptoms. Intimate partner violence is one of the biggest impacts on women’s health. If you don’t have someone to talk to, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 7377328).
Pap tests, STI screening and pregnancy checks for women
Health checks from your doctor can include:
- Pap tests – you should have a pap test every two years. This screening test is an important test to pick up signs of irregularities that could lead to cervical cancer if not treated. The first pap test should be within two years of the first time you have sex over the age of 20. 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 tests.
- STI screening – if you are under 30 years of age and sexually active, have a urine test for chlamydia each year, as chlamydia can affect your fertility and often has no symptoms. If you have sex with one or more new partners without a condom, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor about checking for other sexually transmissible diseases.
- Pregnancy – you should have a general check-up before planning a pregnancy to discuss any health risks during pregnancy. Once you are pregnant, regular antenatal checks help monitor your baby’s development, pick up abnormalities and assess your health. Tests include ultrasound scans, urine tests and blood tests.
Heart health checks for women
Health checks for heart disease may include:
- Blood pressure – have your blood pressure checked every two years after the age of 18. 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.
- Blood tests – check your cholesterol levels and triglycerides. High levels may indicate an increased risk of 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 or two.
- Weight check – being overweight is a significant risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Ask your doctor to check your body mass index (BMI) and waist measurement every two years.
Diabetes health checks for women
Tests for diabetes include the fasting blood sugar level. This involves measuring the amount of glucose in the blood after you haven’t eaten for eight hours. Depending on your risk level, you will need to be tested every one to three years.
You are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you:
- are over 45 years old and obese (BMI over 30)
- had gestational diabetes in a pregnancy
- have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- have a family history of diabetes
- are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander aged over 35 years
- belong to certain ethnic groups – including Pacific Islander and Sri Lankan.
Breast cancer health checks for women
Women of any age should visit the doctor within a week or so if they notice any breast changes. Women aged between 50 and 74 years who have no personal or family history of breast cancer should have a screening 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.
Eye health checks for women
Eyesight tends to deteriorate with age. It is recommended that:
- Every woman over 40 should have eye examinations. An optometrist can test for glaucoma, 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 two years.
- Women aged over 65 should have an eye examination once a year.
Bowel cancer health checks for women
Bowel cancer is a common cancer and if detected early has a good recovery rate. The faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is used to check a stool (poo) sample for blood. If you’re over 50, you should have this test once every two years. A bowel cancer test is recommended every two years between 50-80 years of age. This can be done by you in your home using a bowel testing kit. To have a kit sent to you, call Bowel Cancer Australia 1800 555 494.
Women with a family history or who are otherwise at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy every two to five years. During this test, you are given light sedation and the doctor inserts a slender instrument called a colonoscope through the anus to visually check your rectum and large bowel for any abnormalities.
Bone density health checks for women
Osteoporosis is a disease with thinning of the bones. A bone density test (DEXA) helps to determine the health of your bones.
Bone density testing is most often used when people have:
- osteoporosis or concerns about osteoporosis (such as family history)
- risk factors for osteoporosis – including a thin build, early menopause, long times with no periods when younger, age over 70 years, long-term use of cortisone medication
- spinal deformity with stooped posture
- a previous fracture, not caused by a fall or major trauma.
Immunisation for women
Young women should have the vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) before becoming sexually active to prevent cervical cancer. Check childhood immunisations are up to date and whether you need a booster such as tetanus.
It is recommended that you have a flu vaccination if you:
- are over 65 years of age
- are pregnant – especially in the last trimester, because your baby will also be protected
- have a chronic condition such as severe asthma or diabetes
- are worried that you are likely to get the flu and it would impact significantly on you.
Other health tests for women
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
- Eye specialist
Things to remember
- See your doctor for regular medical check-ups.
- Screening tests help doctors to detect many diseases, such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes and some cancers in their early stages.
- A woman at high risk of a particular disease should be regularly tested.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Jean Hailes for Women's Health
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.