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Exams women need in their 50s

By the time you reach your 50s, you know your body well - but you also know there are plenty of changes to contend with, including a slowing metabolism, menopause and new exams you need to add to your yearly check-up. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood changes are the primary concerns among female patients in their 50s, says Jacqueline Harris, M.D., a family medicine physician at Piedmont Physicians Group. “Those three things get people to the table,” she says. Physicians watch for signs of several conditions once women reach their 50s, including osteoporosis, increased risk of heart disease and psychological changes related to hormone fluctuations.

Hormone changes

For hormone fluctuations, there are many options available to relieve menopause symptoms, including prescription medications on and off label, as well as alternative medicine therapies.

Maintaining a healthy weight

When you reach your 50s, it may seem like your metabolism has come to a screeching halt. “As a result, it takes a lot more effort to lose weight and it takes a lot more to keep the weight off,” explains Dr. Harris. This means maintaining a regular exercise regimen and a healthy diet are paramount for lifelong health – and these things can help stave off some side effects of aging.

Heart disease risk

The exams to check for risk of coronary heart disease are not much difference from those in earlier stages of life. For patients with an average risk of heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol tests should be performed once a year, ideally at an annual physical, says Dr. Harris. If you have a family history or other significant risk factors, you may need these screenings more frequently.

To minimize your heart disease risk, aim for the following numbers:

  • HDL ("good") cholesterol: 60 or above
  • LDL ("bad") cholesterol: Less than 160, though this number should be much lower if you have certain heart disease risk factors
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 is considered normal
  • Blood pressure: Less than 120/80.

Colon screenings

One of the exams your physician will recommend in 50s* is a colonoscopy screening for colon cancer. Patients who are not at high risk for colon cancer should typically have a colonoscopy once every eight to 10 years.

Gynecological issues

“At the age of 50, there are some key gynecological issues that should be discussed,” says Dr. Harris. These include:

  • Pap smears once every three years, depending on the guidelines your physician follows
  • Mammograms once every two years

Accept your body

As you enter your 50s, accept the fact that you may need to see your doctor more often than when you were younger. Women are focused on taking care of their families, careers and community, but can often let their own well-being fall by the wayside, says Dr. Harris.

As your body changes, don’t be afraid to start a conversation with your doctor about your health concerns. “Start developing good habits so you can see yourself 10, 15 or 20 years down the road being healthy and okay with the changes that come about in your body naturally,” she says.

Schedule your annual physical with a Piedmont primary care physician. Save time, book online.

*The American Cancer Society updated its screening guidelines in May 2018, lowering the recommended screening age from 50 to 45.

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