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Woman looking at women’s health tests on her phone. An illustrated bra, prescription, diabetes monitor, and bone surround her.

March 10, 2023 • read

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The health screening tests all women need

Women’s health doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. But proper preventative care is crucial to help avoid future health problems. Here are the most common health conditions affecting women and the medical screening tests every woman should pencil into her calendar.

Why should women see a healthcare provider regularly?

Cancer and heart disease top the leading causes of death for Canadian women. However, they can be prevented in many cases with good medical care. And they’re not the only ones.

Mental and sexual health checkups, cancer screenings, and vision and hearing testing are just some of the preventative health tests that can stop a small problem from turning into a larger issue.

If you’ve been putting off a visit to the doctor because life’s too busy, or because you don’t have a healthcare provider, we can help. Maple’s a telehealth platform that connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists from your phone, tablet, or computer. With Maple, you can see a doctor in minutes, from the comfort of your home or office.

What are the most common diseases in women?

Many women don’t see their doctor until they have an acute issue. But, leaving a problem until you can’t ignore it risks letting it become severe. Here are some of the most common diseases affecting Canadian women.

1. Heart disease

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a group of heart and blood vessel disorders, including arrhythmia, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and valvular heart disease. The most common, coronary artery disease, involves plaque buildup inside your arteries. Heart disease affects one in three Canadian women and can lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

While women’s natural estrogen production provides some protection against heart disease, they also have risk factors for the disease that men don’t — in addition to the usual suspects like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.

For example, hormonal fluctuations throughout the lives of women, including pregnancy (with a history of preeclampsia), menopause, and the use of hormonal birth control, increase the risk of heart disease. And, using gender-affirming hormones increases cardiovascular risks for transgender women.

As a result, seeing a healthcare provider regularly to monitor these conditions can substantially reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event. Additionally, women over 50 should have their cholesterol tested to assess their risk.

2. Osteoporosis

Women have less bone density than men and lose bone faster, especially after menopause. This makes them four times more likely to develop osteoporosis, which weakens their bones, making them more brittle and liable to break.

As a result, women should undergo bone density screening once they hit 65, or after menopause. Some women may need to repeat bone density testing every one to two years if they’ve begun or are on the verge of needing treatment to prevent further bone loss.

Bone density testing screens for osteoporosis determine how well osteoporosis medications are working, and can see if existing osteoporosis is improving or worsening.

3. Depression

Mental health can affect anyone, but women are almost twice as likely to experience depression as men.

Persistent low mood, lack of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities, and exhaustion are some of depression’s most recognizable symptoms.

There are certain times in a woman’s life when she may be at higher risk of mental health issues — like pregnancy or going away to school. But depression and anxiety are opportunistic and don’t always need a reason.

If you’re experiencing signs of mental health, seeing a mental health physician can help. These are specially trained physicians who can diagnose and provide treatment for mental health conditions.

For more sustained support, speaking to a therapist can provide additional evidence-based treatment options such as cognitive behavioural therapy and talk therapy.

4. Skin cancer

While non-melanoma skin cancer rarely causes death, it’s the most common form of cancer. Regular skin checks can help you spot new moles, growths, or other changes to your skin’s texture and colour that may signal skin cancer.

This can prove difficult if you have many moles. In this case, mole mapping may be a better tool to provide a full-body skin assessment. This involves having a professional examine your moles to alert you to any potential risks to your health.

5. Breast cancer

Breast cancer is another form of cancer that’s quite common — one in eight women develop it during their lifetime. The first signs are often a lump, or a change in the nipple or texture of the skin of the breast.

Women used to receive regular breast exams at their annual checkups, but guidelines have changed. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends that unless you have certain preexisting risk factors, you’ll only need breast screening with mammography every two to three years if you’re between 50 to 74.

For women under 50, the possibility of false positives generally outweighs any potential benefit from screening.

However, many organizations, including the Canadian Association of Radiologists, recommend screening beginning at age 40. Given the conflicting views, it’s understandable to feel confused. And, since breast cancer screening recommendations are reviewed every five years, the results may change.

In the meantime, any woman under 50 who would like to be screened for breast cancer should speak to her healthcare provider to determine the plan that’s right for her.

6. Cervical cancer

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI). While some forms of HPV cause genital warts, many have no discernable symptoms. This makes testing for HPV with regular Pap tests, or Pap smears, an essential part of every woman’s preventative healthcare.

If you’re sexually active or between 25 to 70, you should have a Pap test every three years to screen for signs of cervical cancer. However, your doctor will suggest more frequent testing if a previous Pap smear has come back as abnormal or if you’re immunocompromised.

7. Sexual health concerns

Testing for STIs is important for everyone who’s sexually active, and it’s a good idea to get screened each time you switch partners.

Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t let you off the hook. Some STIs can manifest months or even years after you contract them. Given that untreated STIs can result in fertility issues, organ damage, and cancer, see a doctor regularly for your sexual health and test at the first sign of an infection.

Certain groups benefit from more regular testing. For example, sexually active women under 25 or over 25 with certain risk factors should be screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year. Moreover, pregnant women should be tested for STIs, especially HIV and syphilis, in their first semester to minimize the risk of harm to the baby.

STIs aren’t always obvious because many have nonspecific symptoms or none at all. If you think you may have an STI, speaking to a doctor online can help. They may be able to diagnose your condition from your symptoms and history alone. From there, they can also order additional testing, or provide a prescription, if necessary.

What’s the healthiest diet for women, and how does it change with age?

Most women should eat around 2,000 calories a day to satisfy their body’s energy needs. But the composition of those calories matters just as much as their total number.

Choose whole, unprocessed foods over processed ones whenever possible and incorporate plenty of fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. If you prefer more concrete dietary advice, seeing a dietitian can help you develop the optimal meal plan to support your health goals.

Outside of dietary choices, women should ensure they get specific nutrients at certain times. For example, women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should take a multivitamin with folic acid.

Calcium and magnesium supplements are essential for maintaining good bone health, especially in later years. Postmenopausal women may benefit from taking both to help increase bone health and reduce density loss.

Most importantly, Canadian women of all ages should take a vitamin D supplement. That means 400 to 1,000IU daily if you’re between the ages of 19 to 50. Those over 50 or under 50 with certain health conditions should target an intake of 800 to 2,000IU.

What are the benefits of working out for women?

Exercise is key for maintaining strength, balance, and flexibility as you age. These, in turn, are crucial for preserving mobility and maintaining your independence. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises like yoga or lifting weights are optimal for targeting bone health to guard against bone loss, falls, and fractures.

Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity a week in segments of 10 minutes or more. Not only will it boost your mood and help fight depression and anxiety, but it’ll also help you maintain a healthy weight and good cardiovascular health.

What are the recommended health screening tests for women by age?

Your doctor likely doesn’t need to see you for a yearly physical, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook completely. Here are some lesser-known health screening tests every woman needs.

Blood glucose test

Gestational diabetes is a major concern for pregnant women, making screening for the condition a routine part of prenatal care.

But, blood glucose testing isn’t limited to pregnancy. According to Diabetes Canada, even without a family history of diabetes or other risk factors, turning 40 puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes. That means once you hit the big four-oh, you’re due for prediabetes and diabetes screening every three years. However, this screening may start earlier for women with more risk factors.

Eye exam

Even if you don’t wear glasses, the Canadian Ophthalmological Society still recommends an eye exam at least every 10 years — even more frequently once you pass 40. In addition to checking your vision, this also allows you to undergo glaucoma screening.

Colonoscopy

Unless you have additional risk factors for colorectal cancer, screening for the disease should begin at age 50. Don’t worry though; as long as your results remain normal, you’ll only need a colonoscopy once every 10 years.

How Maple can help women put their health first

Having a yearly physical is no longer recommended unless you have specific underlying health issues. That can leave many women feeling like they’re not addressing their concerns proactively. Getting a general health assessment gives you that full health evaluation you’re missing to help you understand your risk factors and identify and treat conditions before they become more serious.

During your assessment, you’ll discuss your medical and family history, as well as your overall health with a physician. They can also address any concerns you may have and order follow-up testing if deemed necessary.

If you’re looking to take a deep dive into your health, get in touch to schedule a general health assessment online today. Preventative care can alert you to any potential issues before they have the opportunity to progress and empower you to age in the healthiest way possible.

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