Don't wait for your yearly check up to take control of your health! Here are 8 important health checks women should do at home.
Breast self-exams are one of the most talked about self-health checks for women. There's an ongoing debate over the effectiveness of breast self-exams. For instance, a 2008 medical study of nearly 400,000 women in Russia and China reported that breast self-examination did not reduce breast cancer mortality, and they might even cause harm by promoting unnecessary biopsies.
In spite of ongoing uncertainty, many breast cancer organizations still recommend women screen themselves for breast cancer through a combination of self-exams, doctor's exams and mammograms. In fact, approximately 20% of all breast cancers are found by physical examination rather than by mammography. Here's how to do breast self-exams:
- Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area.
- Check both breasts each month feeling for any lumps, thickening, or hardened knots.
- Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
1. Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides and then with your arms raised overhead.
2. Look for:
- Changes in the shape.
- Dimpling of the skin.
- Changes in the nipples.
3. Place your hands on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Look for any dimpling, puckering or changes, particularly on one side. Note: most women's breasts aren't perfectly symmetrical.
1. Lie on your back and place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm and behind your head.
2. Use your left hand examine the right breast. Move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
3. Use light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple, check for discharge and lumps.
4. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Heart-Rate and Blood Pressure Checks
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. Fortunately, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent heart disease. Plus, you can monitor your heart health in between regular checkups by taking your heart rate and blood pressure from the comfort of your home. If you notice changes in your typical numbers, consult your physician to see if it could indicate a problem.
Heart Rate Exam:
1. Find your pulse: place your index and middle fingers on the underside of your opposite wrist, just below the base of the thumb.
2. Count your heartbeats for one minute. It's best to use a timer or a clock with a second hand to ensure accuracy.
3. A resting pulse for adults should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
4. If your heart rate is consistently higher or lower, or if you detect an irregular heartbeat, call your doctor.
Blood Pressure Check:
To monitor your blood pressure from home, you'll need to purchase a home blood pressure monitor. Here are some tips to ensure you get an accurate reading:
- Measure your arm before you buy a monitor to make sure the cuff size fits your arm properly.
- Buy a model that's easy to use. We recommend a digital monitor.
- Ask your doctor’s office to check it for accuracy at every visit.
Skin Self-Examination for Women
1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Early detection allows physicians to treat skin cancer when the cancer is in the early stages and almost always treatable. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends everyone perform a head-to-toe self-examination of their skin every month, so that they can find any new or changing lesions that might be cancerous or precancerous.
- Stand in a brightly lit room with a full-length mirror, a hand mirror, two chairs or stools, a blow dryer, body maps and a pencil.
- Examine your face, especially nose, lips, mouth, and ears—front and back. Use the hand mirror and the full mirror to get a clear view.
- Thoroughly inspect your scalp, using a blow dryer and mirror to expose each section to view. Get a friend or family member to help if you can.
- Carefully inspect your hands: check the palms and backs, between the fingers and under the fingernails. Continue up the wrists to examine both front and back of your forearms.
- Stand in front of the full-length mirror, start at the elbows and scan all sides of your upper arms. Remember to check your armpits.
- Next, take a closer look at your neck, chest, and torso. Lift your breasts to view the underside.
- With your back to the full-length mirror, use the hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper back and any part of the back of your upper arms.
- Use both mirrors to scan your lower back, buttocks and backs of both legs.
- Sit on a chair and prop up one leg on a stool or chair. Use the hand mirror to examine your genitals. Inspect front and sides of both legs, thigh to shin, ankles, tops of feet, between toes and under toenails. Examine the soles of your feet and heels. Switch legs and repeat this part of the exam.
Health Tests Women Can Take at Home
There are several medical test women can take at home with the help of over the counter kits. These tests include:
Urinary Tract Infection Test
These tests can be bought at most pharmacies. If you test positive, contact your doctor as you may need to take an antibiotic.
At-Home Ovulation Test
Ovulation predictors can help you pinpoint the best time to conceive a child. If the test is positive, it means you’re likely to ovulate in the next 24 to 36 hours, and now is the time to have sex.
Home Pregnancy Test
These are highly accurate if used properly and at the right time. If you test negative but still suspect that you're pregnant, make an appointment with your doctor. If you test positive, schedule a visit with your OB-GYN to confirm the results.
The U.S. government has approved a home HIV test called “The Home Access HIV-1 Test System” or “The Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System.” This test is available at pharmacies, by mail order and online.