8 vital health checks every woman needs annually

Want to ensure you’re getting the health checks every woman needs? We got expert medical advice for you.

05 February 2010
by The Clicks Health Team

You know that only running to the doctor when you’re riddled with flu isn’t really good enough, right? Much like visiting the dentist, it’s in your best interests to make an appointment for an annual health check-up. In fact, if you’re in certain high-risk groups you may need to go more often than you think – and your GP shouldn’t be your only stop. To ensure you’re getting all the right health checks, at the right time, simply follow our list.

1. Pop into the dentist 

According to Dr Andries Taljaard, a Port Elizabeth-based dentist, regular dental check-ups should begin the moment you get your first tooth. "Apart from preventing tooth decay and gum disease, regular check-ups can help prevent or catch oral cancer in its earliest, most treatable form," he says. When should I get it done? Dr Taljaard advises you see your dentist at least twice a year for a professional clean and check-up.

What else should I know?

If you feel any dull tooth pain or gum soreness in between check-ups, don’t wait until your next appointment to sort it out. An early check-up can be the difference between a filling and a root canal!

2. Schedule a pap smear 

A pap smear can be done at your local family planning clinic or by your gynaecologist or doctor. It involves painlessly collecting a few cells from the cervix. Examining these cells under a microscope is the best way to detect the first signs of cervical cancer. When should I get it done? According to Dr Martin Puzey, a Cape Town-based gynaecologist and obstetrician, all women should get a pap smear as soon as they become sexually active. "After your first test, get another one a year later. Then, if both show results that are normal, you can then get tested once every two to three years," he says.

What else should I know?

If you have a family history of cervical cancer or have a pap smear that shows signs of abnormal cervical cells, this puts you in a ‘high risk category.’ If this is the case, Dr Puzey recommends you get a pap smear ‘every six months to a year’ so your doctor can monitor you and ensure it doesn’t progress into anything serious. Still, he’s quick to add that every woman is different and treatment would vary on a case by case basis.

3. Test your eyes 

A routine eye test is important because it doesn’t just determine whether you need of a pair of glasses. According to optometrist Rob Hulbert, it’s also possible to diagnose advanced diabetes with a complete eye exam.

When should I get it done?

Optometrists recommend that adults get their eyes tested at least once every two years. 

What else should I know?

Symptoms of deteriorating vision include: constant headaches across the front of the forehead or behind the eyes, blurred vision and sore, red or tired eyes. Dr Hulbert says that if you’re experiencing any of those symptoms get your eyes tested ‘right away.’

4. Get a glaucoma screening 

This quick, painless test screens for a disease in which pressure builds up in your eye. Glaucoma can damage your optic nerve and lead to blindness, but if caught early, it’s highly treatable. 

When should I get tested?

According to ophthalmologist Dr Jacky Romano, if you’re over 40, you should have your eyes tested for the disease once every two years. If you’re over 60, you should get an annual test as eye pressure increases with age.

What else should I know?

"If you’re a high risk patient or already suffer from the disease, you should have your eyes tested every six months until you get your eyes’ pressure under control," says Dr Romano. "Once this stabilises, you can then have them tested just once a year." According to Dr Romano, a high risk patient would be anyone with a family of glaucoma or suffering from diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure).

5. Have a mammogram 

A mammogram is the most effective way to detect breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage.

When should I get it done?

According to Dr Puzey, if you’re over 40, you should get a mammogram every two to three years.

What else should I know?

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) advises that you don’t wear any deodorant on the day of your exam. It can interfere with the results of your test by showing up as white spots on your X-ray.

6. Beat bowel cancer 

Colorectal cancer (also called bowel or colon cancer) is the third most common cancer in the world. While the screening procedure isn’t the most pleasant and may include either a colonoscopy, barium enema or stool sample, it’s vitally important because colon cancer is much more treatable if caught in its earliest form. 

When should I get it done?

While this disease can occur in anyone, your risk is linked to your family history and increases as you age. Thus, if you’re over 50, the South African Gastroenterology Association (SAGES) recommends you ask your doctor to arrange a screening once a year. 

What else should I know?

Your lifestyle and diet can greatly decrease your chance of developing bowel cancer. To help prevent the disease, SAGES recommends you exercise regularly and maintain a low fat, high fibre diet that’s rich in fruit and vegetables.

Pharmacy Fact

According to the South African Gastroenterology Association, more women over the age of 75 die from bowel cancer than from breast cancer.

7. Screen your skin 

Skin cancer is the highest rated type of cancer in South Africa. To help ensure your safety, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) recommends that you carefully study your skin, take stock of your moles and keep an eye out for any changes. 

When should I do this?

According to CANSA, everyone, regardless of their age, should perform this skin ‘self-examination’ once a month. If you discover a mole that changes shape or colour, develops an irregular border or bleeds, get it checked out by a doctor.

What else should I know?

If you have a family history of skin cancer or many moles, consider visiting a Mole Screening Centre. They use a computerised scanning device to record all your moles, creating a ‘mole map’ that’s read by a dermatologist every time you visit.

8. Blood pressure test 

If your blood pressure’s too high, it could lead to very serious health implications like coronary heart disease, heart failure, kidney failure or stroke.

When should I get it done?

Regardless of your age, Dr Stephen Johnson advises you have your blood pressure measured at least once a year. However, if you’ve got a family history of heart disease of hypertension, you should be tested biannually.

Stay on track with your health with Clicks Clinics

Want to stay on track with your health? Every one of our Clicks Clinics offers a range of wellness consultations and primary healthcare services. The Comprehensive Health Risk Assessment includes a blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol test, as well as a Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement, lifestyle report, and meal and exercise plan.

Clicks Clinics also offer Family Planning Services.

Don’t forget that ClubCard Members earn Points on clinic services and that the services are covered by most medical aids. To make an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics Online.

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