5 Tests to Help Protect Your Health after Menopause
Menopause can be a well-timed reminder to take action toward preventing some serious problems — including heart issues, osteoporosis, and breast and cervical cancer — that can develop as your protective supply of estrogen starts to wane.
It’s essential to receive an annual physical, which includes tests that can give you a heads-up about your risk for certain health conditions. You’ll also want to keep up with gynecological tests that you’re probably already familiar with, including pelvic exams, Pap smears, and breast exams. Discuss your family and medical history with your doctor so he or she can ensure that you’re getting the right tests after menopause.
Here are some post-menopause tests your doctor may suggest:
Protecting Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. For this reason, adult women should have their cholesterol levels screened every five years regardless of age. After menopause, tests for cholesterol along with routine blood pressure screenings should continue. Your doctor may also recommend additional testing such as other blood tests (like a C-reactive protein level), a stress test, and/or an ultrasound of your heart to assess your heart’s overall function and response to stressors like exercise.
A recent study found a correlation between severe menopause symptoms and high risk for heart disease. Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of New York City’s Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital says, “The implication is the women with the worst menopause symptoms may be at higher risk, clinically, for heart disease.” You should definitely talk to your doctor about assessing your risk for heart disease if you are experiencing severe symptoms of menopause.
Bone Mineral Density Tests
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women with known risks have their bone mineral density tested regularly starting in their 50s, at menopause, but a woman with low risk can usually wait until age 65. Known risks include early onset of menopause, a family history of osteoporosis, tobacco use, slight frame (low body mass), treatment for some types of cancers, a history of certain conditions such as anorexia nervosa, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, and/or breaking a bone after age 50. Two commonly used bone density tests are ultrasound and DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), both non-invasive, outpatient procedures.
Pap Smears and Pelvic Exams
Pap smears and pelvic exams can help in the early detection of cervical cancer. How often you should have these tests after menopause depends upon your risk level for cancer. For many women, every three years is sufficient, while some postmenopausal women may be able to forego the Pap smear altogether; check with your doctor to see if this applies to you.
Menopause is a good time to start getting mammograms if you have not already done so. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises screenings every other year for women 50 to 74; while the American Cancer Society and other organizations stand behind their recommendations that women begin annual screening at age 40. Still, other research says the timing and frequency of mammography is a decision best customized for each woman, based on such factors as age and breast density. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
Colon Cancer Screening
Around the time of menopause, a colonoscopy (or other screening test for colon cancer) also becomes a very good idea. For Americans over age 50, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. While a colonoscopy can help detect this deadly cancer early, studies indicate that most women — and men — are not taking advantage of this potentially lifesaving test. Talk to your doctor about when, and how, you should begin colon cancer screening tests.