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What Are Moms’ Health Needs?

By Carrie Carter, M.D.

Q: What are the regular checkups/health needs that moms should be taking care of?

What first comes to your mind when I say “checkups?” If you are like many moms, unless you are pregnant, the checkups you think of first are mainly those that your children require—not the ones you require. After all, you’re healthy—right? So why should you bother with a doctor when there is no time in your busy schedule?

Although you handle home and family like a superhero, you are not invincible, and unfortunately, denial is not effective health “insurance” against getting significant health problems. Checkups can save your life.

Three Big Screens

The big three screening tests for all moms are:

• blood pressure
• cholesterol panel
• pelvic exam with pap smear

You need to have a yearly medical appointment, because many health problems start without obvious symptoms but can be diagnosed and treated at an early stage. Specifically, you need to have a yearly pelvic exam and pap smear to check for cervical cancer and other problems. All moms—including those in their twenties and early thirties—also need to be screened regularly for numerous health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. (See summary table below.)

As moms get older, more screening tests are recommended each year to rule out different cancers. These include mammograms each year for all women over age forty, and tests to rule out colon cancer for women over fifty. Why are these so important? It turns out that if detected early, 95% of all cancers can be cured.

Your Monthly Homework

Your monthly “homework” is to check your breasts for changes at the end of each menstrual period. Look and feel specifically for new lumps, or any other changes. Also check your skin from head-to-toe at home once a month to look for moles that have changed or any suspicious skin growths (especially if you are fair-skinned, or have had much sun exposure or several sunburns over the years). You may want to ask your spouse or a friend to help in this game of “I Spy” so that you do not miss any changes in hard-for-you-to-see areas.

If you see any of the following changes in a mole, call your doctor that very day for an appointment:

Asymmetry (one side of the mole different than the other)
Border of mole newly irregular
Color changes or variation in the mole
Diameter--increased size
If you see one or more of these changes, it may mean life-threatening malignant melanoma skin cancer, or it may not mean anything serious. If found at an early stage, melanoma is usually curable. But if melanoma spreads beyond the skin into the system, it is often deadly.

The Basic Screening Tests Schedule for Every Mom

Fasting Cholesterol / lipid panel: Every 5 years Women over 20
Blood Pressure: Every year Women 18 and over
Fasting Blood Glucose: Every 3 years Women over 45
(or if risks)
Mammogram: Every 1-2 years Women over 40
Pelvic Exam and Pap Smear: Every year Women 18 and over
Fecal Occult Blood Test: Every year Women 50 and over
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Every 5 years Women 50 and over
Colonoscopy: Every 10 years Women 50 and over

(Table used by permission from Mom’s Health Matters by Carrie Carter, M.D., F.A.A.P., Zondervan; 2003.)

Your Personal Health Team

Since you need an annual pelvic and pap smear, it may seem a natural choice to ask your ob/gyn to function as your primary care doctor. But unless your ob/gyn wants that responsibility, I recommend you choose an internal medicine or family practice doctor to head your personal health team. Also, remember to see your dentist for an exam and cleaning every six months or as recommended.

Happy Checkup Day To You…

With all that you have to do, I know it is tempting to put your health check-ups at the bottom of your list. But your health is very important to your whole family.

If it has been eons since your last medical and/or dental check-up, get over the guilt and get back to routine check-ups as soon as possible. It’s time to grab your calendar, the phone, and your doctor’s phone number. What day is good for you?


© 2003-2006 by Dr. Carrie Carter, all rights reserved.

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