When mom’s happy, everyone’s happy.
The same could be said for when mom’s healthy. But for many women, personal health falls to the wayside while juggling a busy schedule of school obligations, sports practices and appointments for the kids.
“A lot of times mothers put the health of their children ahead of their own,” says Dr. Jeffrey Gillum, an OB-GYN with the DMC Medical Group who sees patients at the DMC Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology in Detroit.
Even though they’ll rush to make an appointment when their children have symptoms, moms tend to put things off when it’s for themselves.
“They may have something going on and they’ll just put it off and off until they have an annual exam or it gets to the point where they have to do something – either calling the doctor’s office or visiting the urgent care or emergency room,” Dr. Gillum says.
And that’s a big problem, especially given the risks of delaying treatment. So with school out and family schedules usually slowing down a bit, the summer season is an ideal time for women to prioritize their own health and get in for some critical health screenings. Here’s a look at five screenings all women should schedule this summer.
1. The vitals
Your basic vital signs should be monitored every time you visit the doctor, whether it’s for an annual physical with your primary care provider or a visit with a specialist. This includes checking your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing and having any necessary discussions about weight management.
“That should be done at every doctor’s visit,” Dr. Gillum says.
But if you aren’t seeing the doctor regularly, that means something serious – like high blood pressure, which can lead to a stroke – could be missed.
“It’s really a shame to see young women who are in their late 30s or 40s who are victims of strokes due to their blood pressure,” he says.
2. Pap smear
While recommendations have changed for pap smears – new guidelines say they can be done every three years instead of annually for some women – you should talk with your OB-GYN about the best plan for you, Dr. Gillum says.
“A lot of us like to see women once a year because there’s more involved to women’s health than just the pap smear,” he says.
Depending on the individual patient, more regular screening for sexually transmitted infections, chronic yeast infections or other screenings might be considered.
3. Breast exams or mammogram
It’s recommended that women begin yearly mammograms by age 40, Dr. Gillum says. “Earlier if there’s a strong family history of breast cancer,” he adds.
Before that, women should be performing regular self breast exams to monitor for any changes. “What I’ve found is a lot of women won’t do a breast exam and they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m not sure what I’m feeling.’ That’s not the purpose of them doing the exam,” he says. “You’re not doing this exam to make a diagnosis, you’re doing this exam to see if there’s a change.”
If you notice changes or have concerns, you should be seen right away. “If you do breast exams on a fairly regular basis, and something new shows up, hopefully we’re able to pick it up early so we can investigate,” Dr. Gillum notes.
4. Birth control check
Women should have a regular check-in with their OB-GYN about their birth control needs, Dr. Gillum suggests. “At least a yearly evaluation,” he says.
This is important in the event of expired birth control such as an IUD or implant, any issues with oral contraception or concerns about side effects. “Those things need to be evaluated on a fairly frequent basis,” he says.
5. Safety check
You might have noticed that the questions you’re asked during a doctor’s visit go beyond medical screenings. Questions about domestic violence and whether you’re in a safe environment may also come up – and that’s a good thing, since it’s a lifeline for some women.
“We’ve had some patients say they didn’t feel safe, and that puts us into a position of trying to refer them to someone or something, some agency for help,” Dr. Gillum explains. “This is an opportunity where they can speak confidentially to someone who may not be a person of authority but a person who has the responsibility to pass this information on to the authorities if necessary.”
Other important screenings to discuss with your doctor include skin cancer self-exams, signs of diabetes or a thyroid problem and any blood work that may be needed. Exercise and diet should also be a regular discussion, and women should be sure to share any new symptoms or concerns with their physician.
“These conditions are out there. Cancer is out there,” Dr. Gillum emphasizes. “They can’t really be ignored … All of us are going to be leaving this place, and I don’t know anyone who dies of good health. Usually there’s a cause. If you want to live a long, healthy life, you should make sure that someone is looking at you to make sure that you’re maintaining your health.”
As difficult as it can seem to make time for seeing the doctor – especially if you aren’t noticing symptoms – it’s something that shouldn’t be postponed.
“No one that I know of can diagnose themselves at home. That’s why the medical profession is here, to try to make these diagnoses and keep people healthy,” Dr. Gillum says. “It’s a very important reason to see a physician on a regular basis.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Gillum, visit DMC Medical Group online where you can book appointments in minutes. Or call the DMC Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology at 313-993-0909.