A New Year’s resolution every woman should make—schedule a health maintenance appointment with your doctor

Margaret Riley, M.D., clinical lecturer of Family Medicine, U-M Medical School

In between those popular New Year’s resolutions to spend more time with family and start exercising regularly, don’t forget to add scheduling a check-up with your primary care physician. A thorough health maintenance exam will help prevent disease, promote healthy lifestyle habits, and encourage you to maintain a strong relationship with your doctor in case you are ill. This is also a valuable opportunity to discuss and stay up-to-date on immunizations and preventive health screenings for women.

Physicians at U-M Medical School have recently published a comprehensive clinical guide to women’s health maintenance in American Family Physician. To make sure you get the most out of your visit and take advantage of available preventive health services, the authors suggest scheduling a regular physical wellness exam. Their clinical recommendations also outline key areas that you and your doctor should be covering in order to keep you healthy and catch disease early.

“An annual examination is a chance for physicians to strengthen their relationship with patients and to discuss issues important to the individual patient such as family relationships or end-of-life care,” says lead author Margaret Riley, M.D., clinical lecturer of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School. “This is also an opportunity to improve delivery of preventive health recommendations and lessen the patient’s anxiety about any concerns they may have.”

The article reviews several recommendations to make the most out of the annual visit:

Social and Mental Health- for all women

• Screening for tobacco use. Patients who use tobacco products should review cessation options with their doctor.
• Screening for alcohol misuse and risky drinking behaviors.
• Screening for depression. Physicians should ensure proper diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.
• Screening for intimate partner violence. Women who screen positive should receive counseling and intervention services.

Sexual Health

• For high-risk sexually active women, screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
• For all sexually active women 24 years and younger, screening for chlamydia.
• Screening for HIV.
• A discussion on family planning. Physicians should discuss contraception options with women who are not planning on getting pregnant. Women considering pregnancy should be advised to take daily folic acid supplements.

Heart, Brain, and Bone Health

• Screening for high blood pressure.
• Screening for unhealthy body mass index and if needed, counsel about diet, nutrition, and physical activity to encourage healthy weight loss.
• For patients 20 years and older who are at risk for coronary heart disease, screening for high cholesterol.
• For patients with high blood pressure or increased risk, screening for diabetes.
• For patients 55 to 79 years, physicians should discuss taking low-dose aspirin to prevent the risk of heart attack and stroke.
• Screening for osteoporosis in women 65 years and older and in younger women at increased risk of osteoporosis.

Cancer Screening- for average risk women (different screening intervals may be recommended depending on personal or family health history)

• For women 21 years and older, screening for cervical cancer with a Pap test every 3 years until age 30, and then every five years in conjunction with HPV testing until age 65.
• For women 50 to 74 years, screening for breast cancer with mammography every other year. Discuss if a mammogram is right for the individual patient from ages 40 to 49.
• For patients 50 to 75 years, screening for colorectal cancer with a fecal occult blood test yearly, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.

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