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Special Report: A Checkup on Women's Health

A Woman's Health Checklist

May 03, 1999

Major medical organizations generally agree on a list of procedures and topics that should be covered during an annual gynecological exam. They are:

1. Discuss your sexual history and sexual preferences, including: number of sexual partners you've had and current sexual practices; condom use; symptoms that might indicate the presence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); whether you could be pregnant.

2. Get a Pap smear, which is recommended every year beginning sometime between the ages of 18 to 22, or sooner if you've had sex. If you have had three normal Pap smears in a row, you can cut back to a Pap smear every three years.

3. Get a breast exam and instruction on how to do a breast self-exam.

4. If you are in your 50s or 60s, get a mammogram every year or two. Several medical organizations also recommend a mammogram every year or two for women in their 40s.

5. If you are in your 40s or older, discuss hormone replacement therapy, including pros and cons.

6. Discuss screening for STDs, whether or not you feel you are at risk for them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people 19 and under be tested for chlamydia as well as women in their 20s who are at risk. There are seven other STDs for which you can be tested.

7. Discuss your risk for HIV, how you can reduce it and whether you should have an HIV test.

8. Discuss birth control, including what methods you have used in the past and any problems you are having.

9. Find out how much calcium you should be getting.

10. If you are thinking about getting pregnant, discuss what you can do to prepare for the healthiest possible pregnancy. This includes taking folic acid and dropping unhealthy habits, such as smoking.

(Many other issues can be discussed during this exam, including douching, fibroid tumors, nutritional supplements, unprotected sex and unexplained pelvic pain.)

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation; American Medical Assn., American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Social Health Assn., the National Committee for Quality Assurance and the U.S. Preventive Task Force Report.

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