General Practitioner, Dr. Preeya Alexander, knows that going to the doctor can be a reason for anxiety for many but she wants you to be a woman in the driver’s seat of your health. She ran us through some of the most important tests we should head to the doctor for this year and they’re not as nerve-wracking as you think.

One of my favourite moments as a GP is when a patient asks for a “general health check.” I don’t often get to focus an entire consultation on preventative health like nutrition, exercise levels, sexual health and mental wellbeing. And it’s the perfect opportunity to check you are up to date with the standard tests that are recommended for your particular age group.

Most women know they should have a pap smear – but I commonly get asked, “is it every 2,3 or 4 years?” Some are aware they should have their blood pressure checked “at some point”. Let me break it down for you so you’re in the driver’s seat for your health and know what you should be having and when.

Blood pressure check

When’s the last time you had that tight cuff around your arm? Every person in Australia should be having their blood pressure (BP) checked at least 2 yearly from the age of 18. It’s a simple and quick test that tells us a phenomenal amount about your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

If you’re popping into the GP for a simple cold or pill script –why not get your blood pressure checked too? If the GP doesn’t offer it, kindly ask if you can have it tested because it’s been a while– trust me, sometimes we have so many things zooming through our head the gentle reminder will be much appreciated!

Pap smears

I tell many of my patients (because they seem to forget) that I am a human too and also need this pesky test every 2 years. When I tell you a pap smear “isn’t that bad” I mean it given I’ve had it many times before!

A pap smear is a quick test that looks for early cell changes on the cervix caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). With a pap smear we are aiming to detect changes and stop the cancer before it develops. There aren’t many tests that can do this and you would be crazy not to book an appointment and just get it over and done with.

And the words “sorry I’m here for a pap smear” or “I bet you hate this” are not needed – it’s my job, I’m not even thinking about (or judging!) your nether regions – I just want to make sure you don’t have cervical cancer.

Every sexually active woman should be having a 2 yearly pap smear starting from the age of 18 to 21, or 2 years after sexual activity starts – whichever of the 2 is later – so you may not have a pap smear until 25 if you started having sex at 23.

For women who are exclusively sexually active with women – sorry but you are not immune. The HPV bug that causes cervical cancer is passed through skin-to-skin contact in the genital region– so you need pap smears too.

Chlamydia testing

All you sexually active ladies (and men) under 30 should be having this test yearly. As simple as a wee in a pot or an extra swab during your routine pap smear. Most people with this sexually transmitted infection (STI) have no symptoms – no vaginal discharge and no pain – but given it can lead to infertility and nasty infections in the pelvis – this is one test you want to have every 12 months, trust me!

Again, if the GP doesn’t offer it kindly request it with the words “I know I should be having this yearly as per the guidelines until I’m 30– hello confident woman in the driver’s seat!!

Mammograms

For your 50th birthday you are gifted with mammograms every 2 years until the age of 69. These are funded by the Government and help to detect early breast cancer – the earlier we detect it, the easier it is to treat!

If you’re like me you’ll remind your mum, grandma, friends, colleagues – literally every woman over 50 you know. Don’t mind the annoying looks you get – you are bugging them to have a potentially life saving test.

Skin checks

The poor skin doesn’t get all the media attention that the cervix and breasts do. However, considering 2 in 3 Australians will have skin cancer by age 70 – the skin really should have its own billboards on the freeway.

The frequency of your skin checks depends on loads of things – have you had skin cancer before? Do you have a strong family history of melanoma? Have you had loads of sun exposure?

The easiest thing is to book in with your GP for a skin check- we will take a history, examine your skin and tell you if we need to see you again in 3, 6 or 12 months. It all depends on what we see and your risk.

This is just an overview of some of the main checks we should be having as women– there are loads of other things we as GPs will screen you for like mental wellbeing, osteoporosis and reproductive health. And if you feel your GP might have missed some of the ones I’ve mentioned don’t be shy to gently raise it during the next consultation– between the 20 other patient’s I’ve seen, my slight left sided headache and severe hunger pains – I might just have overlooked it and a gentle reminder won’t go astray! In fact I’ll love the fact that, for once, I’m not the one in the driver’s seat of your health.

preeya

Dr Preeya Alexander is a General Practitioner working in Melbourne. She is passionate about preventative health and believes strongly in educating patients so they have the tools needed to drive their own positive health changes. Preeya health blog, the Wholesome Doctor, covers a range of issues from nutrition and weight management to pregnancy and child health. Preeya’s can be followed on Instagram (@thewholesomedoctor).