Importance of health screenings for women

Dr Th Dhabali Singh MD
Women lead very busy lives fulfilling roles professionally as well as personally, and it can sometimes be difficult to pay attention to one’s health. In addition to health issues that affect both men and women equally, there are some conditions unique to women or that affect women disproportionately. Hence, it is necessary to know more about these conditions and the ways that laboratory tests can help identify and/or monitor these conditions and what one could do to stay healthy.
Preventive medicine is one area of healthcare in which all women can exercise more responsibility and control over their health. Getting regular screening tests for common health problems is a simple and effective first step.
The screening tests are designed to give women and the healthcare provider the information needed to identify health risks and take preventive measures before they become more serious problems. Getting routine tests performed even though one may have no symptoms can help detect problems early and help one benefit with easier and more effective treatment. It can sometimes prevent disease.
Two panels of tests are frequently used as general health screening. These panels can screen for a number of health issues at the same time. They are

  1. Complete Blood Count (or Complete Haemogram) – this is used to screen for conditions like anaemia, infection, iron deficiency and bleeding disorders.
  2. Complete Metabolic Panel (comprising of Kidney Function Tests, Liver Function Tests and Blood Sugar Test) – used to screen for liver disease, kidney disease, electrolyte, acid/base balance, sugar levels in the blood.
    As mentioned earlier, women have unique health issues. And some of the health issues that affect both men and women affect women differently.
    Unique issues pregnancy, menopause, and conditions of the female organs. Women can have a healthy pregnancy by getting early and regular prenatal care. They should also get recommended breast cancer, cervical cancer, and bone density screenings.
    Women and men have many common health issues. But these problems can affect women differently. For example,
  • Women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men.
  • Women are more likely to show signs of depression and anxiety than men.
  • The effects of sexually transmitted diseases can be more serious in women.
  • Osteoarthritis affects more women than men.
  • Women are more likely to have urinary tract problems.
    Other than the common screening tests mentioned above, many other tests are used separately or as part of Comprehensive Health Check-up Plans to screen for other conditions like:
  • Diabetes – blood sugar tests and HbA1c.
  • Heart disease, high cholesterol – Lipid Profile
  • Osteoporosis – DEXA scan
  • HIV – HIV antibody tests
  • Cervical cancer – HPV test, PAP smear
  • Breast cancer – Mammogram
  • Fibromyalgia – Thyroid panel, ANA, Creatinine-Kinase
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Iron tests, Thyroid panel, ANA
  • Fibromyalgia – Thyroid panel, ANA
  • Infertility – Luteinizing hormone (LH), Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH), Progesterone, Prolactin, Estrogen
  • Menopause – FSH, Estradiol, Thyroid panel, AMH
  • Ovarian cancer – CA-125, BRCA mutation, Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease – Chlamydia, Urinalysis, Urine culture
  • Pernicious anaemia and Vitamin B deficiencies – Vitamin B12, Folate or Folic acid
  • Thyroid diseases – Thyroid panel, Thyroid antibodies
    Looking at the high number of health issues in women, the best way forward is to get informed and perform regular health check-ups. Many laboratories and hospitals provide special health packages for women designed to suit women of all ages. There are health issues that typically affect women after they attain a specific age. It is important that women are informed of these so that suitable tests could be conducted. For instance, the health exams for a women above 40 will be different from those in the 50s. Likewise, older women (60s and above) will have different health issues than someone who’s in her 40’s. With a busy life like that of a women and coupled with the variety of health problems that could affect her, the way forward will be to have regular health screenings and tests.
    (The writer is Consultant Pathologist, BABINA Diagnostics, Imphal)