Many women pay close attention to their gynecological health during their younger years and start to ignore it after menopause. Your wellness plan after menopause should include at minimum annual visits to a health care professional. As part of those visits, the following tests should be done:
- Annual breast examinations by a health care professional
- Annual mammograms
- An annual gynecologic exam and a Pap test every one to three years, depending on your personal health history; HPV testing (human papillomavirus DNA testing) may be offered if you have atypical or 'funny' cells. Recommendations regarding how frequently Pap test screening should occur after age 65 vary. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against routine Pap test screening for women older than age 65 if they "have had adequate recent screening with normal Pap smears and are not otherwise at increased risk for cervical cancer." It also recommends against routine Pap screening for women who have had a total hysterectomy for benign disease. (Note: Screening for cervical cancer should begin within three years of becoming sexually active or at age 21, whichever comes first, according to USPSTF.) The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that beginning at age 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row get screened every two to three years. Women who have certain risk factors such as diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth, HIV infection, or a weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic steroid use should continue to be screened annually. Women who are age 70 or older, and who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having cervical cancer screening, according to ACS.
- Annual fecal occult blood test, which checks for blood in your stool (a symptom of colon cancer); this test is recommended beginning at age 50
- Colon cancer screening with either flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 unless you or someone in your family has had benign colon polyps or colorectal cancer or an inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease.
- Annual blood pressure and blood cholesterol screening every five years; ask your health care professional for guidance
- Bone density screenings, such as a DEXA-scan (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) if you are over age 65 or at a younger age if you are at risk for developing osteoporosis; ask your health care professional about how often you should have this test ; in some parts of the country, peripheral screening for bone density is available using PIXA ( peripheral DEXA) or ultrasound of calcaneus (heel).
- Annual screenings for diabetes (again, your health care professional may tell you this test is needed less frequently, depending on your risk factors)
- Thyroid function testing every five years
Discuss any unusual or uncomfortable symptoms with your health professional. Keep track of medications that you take and ask your health care professional or pharmacist about potential drug interactions, if you are told to take a new medication. Be sure to discuss with your health care professional any alternative medical treatments or herbal products you use or may wish to use.
The Menopause Transition
As your body transitions into menopause (a process that typically lasts about five years) you may notice some physical and emotional changes. The most common include:
- irregular menstrual periods
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- urinary tract infections or painful urination
- stress incontinence
- night sweats
- heart palpitations
- mood changes
- anxiety and irritability
- diminished concentration