A mother’s to-do list is endless. You have school, work, feeding the kids, carpools, sports, pediatrician appointments…the list goes on and on. Therefore, it is not surprising that medical appointments for women are often relegated to the background. But just as you take the kids to the doctor for regular checkups, your own doctor’s appointments are just as important.
We often think of health care as something we do in response to an injury or illness, but preventive care is important, possibly even more so. These checkups can save time and money, but more importantly, they save lives if you catch a serious problem early.
Think about what you would say to your best friend or loved one: you would like them to take care of your health, right? It’s time to grant that same gift to yourself.
Here are the 5 best doctor appointments for women, according to health experts
1. An annual physical exam
When asked, “What doctor appointments does a woman need?”, almost all health experts recommended annual checkups with a primary care physician (PCP). Think of your primary care doctor as your health navigator. Dr Elizabeth Bohamphysician, nutritionist and medical director of The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., says that women of all ages should have a yearly comprehensive physical with a PCP. “It’s important to have a good relationship with a GP,” she says. “Typically, people wait until they have a problem and then go to urgent care. This can result in inappropriate treatment.”
Dr Soma Mandal, a board-certified internist and women’s health specialist, agrees that annual physicals are mandatory and can cover more than just your physical health. “You should also be screened for depression and domestic violence at that time.” Dr. Mandal encourages annual visits to establish trust with her PCP, who can perform physical health exams and order tests and referrals as needed.
2. Blood tests, including a complete panel of thyroid and blood sugar levels.
During your physical exam, your PCP will most likely order a standard blood test, but there are some additional tests that women should order, depending on Lizzy Swick, registered dietitian specializing in women’s health. She suggests ordering a full thyroid panel, including TSH, free T4, free T3, and thyroid antibodies.
“We want to cast a broader net and assess thyroid health, not just from the absence of diagnosable disease, but from the perspective of optimal health,” shares Swick. Dr. Jolene Clarify, ND, a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist, also recommends a comprehensive thyroid panel annually, especially once you hit your 30s. “After age 35, these tests become much more important. We see the incidence of thyroid disease and metabolic disorders increase as we enter the perimenopausal window,” he explains.
According to Swick and Dr. Brighten, looking deeper into your blood sugar balance is also imperative. Fasting blood sugar is usually part of a standard blood test order, but fasting insulin and A1c are also important. “Before type 2 [diabetes] is diagnosed, insulin resistance occurs. Before fasting glucose levels rise, insulin rises,” shares Swick.
Prediabetes can be silent for years before turning into type 2 diabetes: More than 1 in 3 American adults has prediabetes, and 80% of people don’t know they have it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—so early detection is crucial. According to Dr. Brighten, “Controlling blood sugar with at least an annual fasting hemoglobin A1C and insulin test can be incredibly helpful in detecting metabolic problems early.”
3. Pelvic exam and Pap test with your OB-GYN
Sure, it’s not everyone’s favorite date, but regular Pap tests can save your life. Dr. Savita GindeCEO and Medical Director of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, shares: “This is especially critical now that it is recognized that many have missed preventive cancer screening appointments as a result of COVID, and uninsured and underinsured women are even less likely to participate in preventive health screenings first.”
Pap tests are recommended every three years, starting at age 21, and HPV testing every five years, starting at age 30, to screen for cervical cancer. Early detection is key, according to Dr. Ginde. “Both cervical and breast cancer are highly treatable when detected early, so these screening tests are vitally important when it comes to preventive health care for women.”
4. Mammography and breast exam
Following the same logic as early detection with cervical cancer, breast exams and mammograms are essential for women to have regularly. Dr. Damien “Pat” AlagiaA board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and senior medical director for women’s health at Quest Diagnostics, tells Motherly, “A breast exam, often in conjunction with a mammogram in women over 40, will look for abnormal lumps, cysts, unusual skin changes, or nipple discharge to identify possible early signs of breast cancer.
Dr. Alagia shares: “The Guidelines of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that women at average risk of breast cancer have the option of having an annual mammogram starting at age 40, but you can work with your care provider to make sure you’re following a care plan that’s personalized for you.” Family history, dense breast tissue, and other factors can affect how often you should have a mammogram.
5. Annual skin check
One of the least talked about medical appointments every woman should make is an annual skin check. Dr. Mandal encourages women to schedule annual skin checkups starting at age 21. According to him Association of the American Academy of DermatologySkin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with higher rates in women under the age of 50 compared to men.
During a skin check, your doctor will look for changes to existing moles or new skin growths. While you can (and should) do regular self-checks at home, an annual skin check with your doctor (which could be part of your annual physical) or dermatologist can help ensure any problems are caught early, especially in more difficult-to-treat patients. see areas such as the back or scalp.
Bottom line? Put yourself first and schedule these doctor appointments for women. Your health depends on it.
- Damian “Pat” Alagia, MD, FACS, FACOGis a board-certified OB-GYN, a member of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Senior Medical Director for Women’s Health at Quest Diagnostics.
- Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD is a physician and nutritionist who practices Functional Medicine and is the medical director of The UltraWellness Center is Lenox, MA.
- Jolene Brighten, North Dakota, is a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist, clinical sexologist, and noted leader in women’s medicine. Dr. Brighten is the best-selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth, and the creator of Dr. Brighten supplements.
- Dr. Savita GindeA reproductive health advocate and thought leader, she is Executive Director and Medical Director of Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center and former medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rockies.
- Soma Mandal, MDis a board certified internist and women’s health specialist.
- Lizzy Swick MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian who specializes in women’s health. She takes an evidence-based approach to designing dietary plans tailored to each woman’s specific needs.