Cholesterol, Pap, and Skin Exams
Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Tests
What they are: Two tests that assess how healthy your heart is and your risk of heart disease
What they measure: A blood pressure "cuff" test measures how hard your circulating blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries. Cholesterol tests measure the HDL ("good" cholesterol), LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides in your blood.
Why you need them: "Moms often think of heart disease as occurring later in life, but studies show you can have dangerous plaque buildup as early as your twenties unless you have a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, exercise, and no smoking," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., chief of the Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. Blood pressure less than 120/80 is ideal. But don't panic if yours is slightly higher. Simple lifestyle changes can often bring it down. Your LDL cholesterol should be below 130 and your HDL above 50.
How often should you have them? Blood pressure should be checked annually. Cholesterol screening should start at age 20 and be repeated every five years, but you'll need to be tested more frequently than that if it's elevated. Know you're at risk? Ask your doctor whether you should have the c-reactive protein test. It measures levels of a substance your liver makes called c-reactive protein (CRP), which can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease or a heart attack. "I recommend it for women over thirty with two or more risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, being overweight, and a family history of the disease," says Dr. Midoneck.
What it is: A swab test to detect precancerous and cancerous changes in your cervix. Your doctor may also ask the lab that analyzes your Pap smear to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. Certain strains of HPV, when left unchecked, can lead to cervical cancer over time.
Why you need it: Just because you're married doesn't mean you don't have or couldn't get HPV -- or cervical cancer. "You or your husband could have gotten the virus earlier in life, but it might not show up on a Pap smear for years," says Holly Nath, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center. If the results come back abnormal, the laboratory may run an HPV test. If the Pap's abnormal, your doctor may biopsy suspicious areas on your cervix to check for precancerous cells.
How often should you have it? If you have a normal Pap smear three years in a row and you're in a monogamous relationship, you need this test only every three years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But if you've recently had an abnormal Pap smear, or recently tested positive for HPV, you'll need to get one every three to six months.
What it is: A visual exam of your skin by your doctor or dermatologist to check for signs of skin cancer
Why you need it: Malignant melanoma is the most common cancer among women 25 to 29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. "Women also experience a lot of skin-pigmentation changes during and after pregnancy. Most of them are absolutely harmless, but it's something you definitely want a physician to look at," says Lisa Corum, M.D., a family physician based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Your doctor will biopsy any suspicious moles or skin patches (a small sample of tissue is removed from the area and sent to a laboratory for examination).
How often should you have it? Each year at your physical.