If you’re in baby-making mode this decade, you may feel overly poked and prodded between ovulation predictors, pregnancy tests and all the screenings that crowd the 40 weeks or so you spend growing a kid. If you’re focused on your career, maybe you’re relying on the office vending machine for a midday pick-me-up and often don’t have the energy for a healthy grocery run after work. And what happened to that effortless metabolism you enjoyed 10 years ago?
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If you’re thinking: “It’s cool -- I see my OB/GYN every year,” think again; too many women put their overall health on the back burner while focusing solely on their lady-part health, not to mention that of their family. But this is a decade when health concerns you may have glossed over in your blooming 20s can rear their heads.
“Statistically, 30-something women aren’t getting heart attacks and strokes, but now is the time to be proactive about [behaviors] that will positively impact your health,” says Dr. Dana Simpler, a primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Get your weight in check, don’t smoke, exercise and try to fit in enough sleep.
Here’s what else you need now:
The American Heart Association recommends a fasting lipoprotein test starting at age 20, but since so few of us manage that, get to it now so you’ve got your baseline numbers going forward.
Keep in mind that cholesterol isn’t a disease or condition; it’s a factor that can indicate your risk of developing heart disease. What you should aim for is not just keeping your LDL low -- 100 mg/dl is optimal, but inching your HDL higher. Optimal here is over 50mg/dl, according to AHA standards. The total number to aim for is 200 mg/dl or less; a reading of over 240 is considered high.
The measure of triglycerides, the most common type of fat in your body, is a key number -- inching over 150 mg/dl should send up a red flag because a high triglyceride level combined with low HDL or high LDL may speed up atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke.
You’ll want to repeat this test every five years, more often if you have a family history of heart disease, if you smoke or are overweight or obese.
If you spent any carefree summer days on the beach with just a bikini for protection -- or worse, any time in a tanning booth -- get yourself to a dermatologist for a full-body baseline skin check. Your doctor will examine any freckles or moles and biopsy or remove those that look suspicious.
The American Academy of Dermatology outlines an ABCDE approach when assessing moles on your body that require a professional’s eye: A for asymmetrical; B for bleeding; C for (changing) color; D for diameter (greater than 6mm); and E for evolving. Fair-skinned women are at higher risk for skin cancer than those with darker skin. People who’ve had blistering sunburns before age 18 and those with a close family member diagnosed with melanoma are at higher risk for skin cancer.
Don’t tune this out: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats, melanoma rates among women increased significantly between 1999 and 2008.
Don’t assume it’s the kids or the boss or the husband or the laundry if you’re feeling chronically rundown. Thyroid issues, while they usually crop up later in life, are sometimes triggered by having a baby, says Simpler, and can wreak havoc with your energy levels.
The gold-standard thyroid test is a blood screen for TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, which detects hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, causing insomnia and weight loss; or hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, causing sluggishness and weight gain. Thyroid tests can also reveal autoimmune conditions such as Graves’ disease. Get checked if you have symptoms such as unexplained changes in mood, weight, sleep habits or cholesterol level.
You have that familiar BP cuff check every time you go to a doctor’s office, but now’s the time to start paying closer attention, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease or stroke -- a strong family history, being overweight or smoking.
Numbers to worry about: a systolic, or top reading between 120 and 139 and a diastolic, or bottom reading between 80 and 89 puts you in a pre-hypertensive state, according to the American Heart Association. Hypertension -- high blood pressure -- is defined as 140/90 or higher.