Women's Health 101: The Exams You Need in Your 20s and 30s
Busy women tend to put visits to the doctor at the end of their priorities — especially if they're worried about what doctors may find. Many people might think that ignorance is bliss when it comes to your health, but nothing could be further from the truth. Making time for check-ins ensures you catch any early issues and stay healthy for the long haul. Hopefully you're up to date with all of your necessary vaccinations and can just focus on making sure you're on track with these appointments.
Every Five Years
Physical exam: While certain studies are calling physical exams useless, the National Institute of Health still suggests getting two physical exams in your 20s and 30s. Every doctor is different when it comes to a physical, but chances are your provider will go over your history, vital signs, and blood work and perform a variety of medical screenings.
Cholesterol: Once you're 20 years old, checking your cholesterol every five years is essential. The process is fairly straightforward; after you fast for 12 hours, you go for a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol, and triglycerides. Your LDL cholesterol levels should be 100 mg/dL or less, and your HDL (good) cholesterol levels should be 60 mg/dL or above.
Every Three to Five Years
Pap smear: While yearly pap smears were the norm, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most women from age 21 to 65 can wait three to five years between pap tests as long as the results are normal.
Every Three Years
Breast exam: The breast exam performed by a physician is an important preventative measure to take to lower your breast cancer risk. According to the American Cancer Society, women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) every three years. While the majority of women don't have to start going for annual mammograms until their 40s, the ACA also recommends early mammogram screening for women with a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer.
Every Two Years
Eye exam: The American Optometric Association recommends a comprehensive eye exam every two years. You'll take a series of vision tests to assess if you need glasses and also to check that your eyes are in good shape.
Blood pressure: Having your blood pressure checked every year is a necessity. Luckily, you don't have to head to the doctor every time you're due. Look out for screenings in your area or use the automated machines at your local pharmacy. High blood pressure — also known as hypertension — is 140/90 or above. The normal adult blood pressure should be below 120/80.
Dental exam: You may dislike heading to the dentist, but staying on top of this appointment is essential for your long-term health. Make sure you head for a thorough cleaning and dental exam every six months to a year.
STI test: For sexually active women in their 20s, whether or not they're in a monogamous relationship should not dictate how often they have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) test. A pelvic exam will determine whether chlamydia infection is present, and blood work screens for other STIs.
Self breast exams: While certain medical groups claim that self breast exams are no longer needed, many women have chosen to continue this practice. If you're not sure how to do a breast self exam already, learn the instructions, and be familiar with how your breasts feel and look. The test itself won't lower your risk, but having this performed regularly is putting you in the best position to see issues in the earliest stages.
Self skin exam: If you have a propensity for sun spots or moles, you may have to go to your dermatologist more regularly, but The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a simple head-to-toe self skin exam every month. The instructions are simple and easy to follow, and just like a self breast exam, it helps you get familiar with your skin so you notice changes earlier. I've made this exam a habit by setting a monthly reminder on my email and going through the steps when I get out of the shower.
Note: This list was compiled for a woman with normal health in her 20s and 30s. If you're concerned about certain risks in your medical history, consult a physician.