Have you ever felt rushed through a routine medical check-up with your doctor? If so, you are like many patients who often complain that they don’t get enough time with their doctors. And it’s not just the patients, lack of time is a relentless battle for doctors as well, who often complain that they are under constant pressure to manage their time strictly. That is why it is so important for patients to play a strong and active role in their own health care.
The Savvy Woman Patient: How and Why Sex Differences Affect Your Health
Edited by Phyllis Greenberger, M.S.W. and Jennifer Wider, M.D.
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“In today’s world, we’re all pressed for time,” said Jo Parrish, vice president of communications for the Society for Women’s Health Research, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy organization working to improve the health of all women through research, education and advocacy. “From our careers to caring for families, it is easy to lose site of the importance of caring for ourselves. But to excel in your career or personal life, you must first ensure your own well being and that requires taking charge of your health.”
Taking charge of your health is a recurring theme of National Women’s Health Week, which kicks off annually on Mother’s Day. It takes place May 13-19 this year.
“Women’s Health Week is a great reminder that we need to take time to care for ourselves,” Parrish said. “No one knows your body, your health and your history better than you do. You have to stay informed and be engaged in the decision making process about your care to improve or maintain your health.”
Some studies show that you cannot rely on health care providers to have all the answers and to know all of your needs. A 2005 American Heart Association study revealed that only 8 percent of primary care physicians and 17 percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.
But there are proven ways to protect yourself and safeguard your own health. Knowing your family’s medical history and sharing your history with your physician can go a long way. With that history, you can work with your health care providers to develop an individualized health plan that includes appropriate screening tests and preventative measures.
Screening for disease and detecting it early can save your life. According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, there are five important tests a woman needs to ask her doctor for:Blood Pressure and Cholesterol. To prevent heart disease, the number one killer of U.S. women. Optimal blood pressure with respect to cardiovascular risk is less than 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Your LDL or “bad” cholesterol should be below 100 and your HDL or “good” cholesterol should be 50 or higher.
Pap Test. To prevent cervical cancer. Women should have their first pap test within three years of their first sexual experience or not later than age 21. An HPV (human papillomavirus) DNA test is available for women over the age of 30 and for those under 30 who may have an abnormal pap result. This test can detect the virus responsible for cervical cancer. An HPV vaccine is now available for women for ages 9-26, which can protect against two strains of HPV responsible 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
Mammogram. To detect early breast cancer. Starting at age 40, women should get an annual mammogram. Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss additional options with a health care provider.
Colonoscopy. To detect early colon cancer, the third leading cause of cancer deaths in U.S. women. This test is recommended every 10 years, starting at the age of 50. Women with a family history of colon cancer should discuss additional options with their health care provider.
Skin exam. To detect early skin cancer, the most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is the most common cancer in women between the ages of 25-29.
In addition to annual check-ups and recommended screening tests, Parrish says communication with your health care providers important for good health.
“Communication between health care providers and patients is a two-way responsibility,” Parrish said. “As a patient, you need to be prepared for your doctors’ office visits so that you get the most out of the time available. The doctor’s office can be a little intimidating, even for highly educated and professional people.”
To reduce communication problems, Parrish suggests writing down in advance anything you want to discuss with your doctor. You can also call your doctor’s office ahead of time and talk to a nurse about your upcoming visit.
“Make sure you have all your bases covered,” Parrish said, “and don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Nothing is more important than your health. If you think your health care providers are not giving you enough time, let them know. If the problem persists, consider finding new providers.”
Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Society for Women’s Health Research