10 Health Checks Women Should Consider In 2023
Our latest expert guide details 10 important and recommended health checks for women to consider, allowing them to make informed choices about their health!
Published: Tuesday 17 January 2023
A health screening is a test or examination that seeks to find out if an individual has a higher risk of developing a serious health problem. Although screenings can seem intimidating, having one can help to detect any serious issues so that early treatment can be given and informed decisions can be made. Regular health checks have saved the lives of many people in the UK and allow individuals to gain a sense of control over their health. There are a few cons to getting screenings done, however the general consensus is that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
What types of health screenings are recommended to women?
There are many health checks available to women across a range of ages and covering many different aspects of health. Some are offered for free by the NHS, but others can be done privately. In addition to this, some tests are offered automatically to those who may be at a higher risk of certain health issues, some are offered based on age, and some are offered based on gender. Health screenings are not mandatory, however the 10 listed below are ones that are recommended to women, across a variety of ages.
Invitations for breast cancer screenings (known as mammograms) are sent out to women between the ages of 50 and 71, with a screening invite sent out by the NHS every 3 years. After the age of 71, an invite may not be sent out automatically, but a screening can still be arranged if desired. The mammogram will take a few minutes and involves 4 breast X-rays (2 for each breast). The individual being scanned will need to undress and their breasts will be placed onto the X-ray machine, where each breast will be squeezed between two pieces of plastic during the X-rays.
Getting mammograms regularly can help spot cancers that are too small to see or feel. They save around 1,300 lives each year in the UK.
Breast cancer can affect everyone, including women, men and non-binary people, however there are some who may be more at risk. These people include those who have close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer, or those who have a gene mutation (BRCA1, BRCA2 or TP53).
2. Bone density scan (DEXA scan)
This scan involves low dose X-rays to check the density and strength of bones. The denser and stronger the bones are, the less likely they are to fracture. It’s quick, completely painless and proves a lot more effective than regular X-rays at identifying low bone density. Women who are more likely to need a bone density scan include those who:
- Are over 50 with a risk of developing osteoporosis
- Are under 50 with other risk factors (e.g. smoking or previous broken bones)
During the scan, a low dose X-ray called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is passed through the body, whereby some of the radiation is absorbed by the bones and surrounding soft tissue. Special detectors in the DEXA scan measure the amount of radiation that passes through the bones, which details the bone density. This result is then compared to the bone density of a young healthy adult.
3. Pap smears
This test checks the health of the vagina, and involves searching for abnormal cells inside of the cervix, which can be an indication of cervical cancer. Women are recommended to get this health screening every 3 to 5 years between the ages of 25 and 64. During the screening, a small number of cervical cells will be removed from the cervix and this sample will then be checked for strains of HPV (human papillomavirus) that can cause abnormalities to occur to the cervical cells, known as ‘high-risk’ strains of HPV. It’s important to get this test done as it can be used to prevent cancer by recognising and treating any abnormal cervical cells.
4. Colon cancer screening
This test is available on the NHS for those between the ages of 60 and 74, although this is currently expanding to those between the ages of 50 and 59 too. The test involves providing a faecal sample that is checked for small amounts of blood. If blood is found in the sample, further tests will be required and a colonoscopy may be offered, although this necessarily a confirmation of colon cancer - this could be a result of piles, but it’s recommended to get a follow-up test so the cause of blood in the sample can be confirmed. The test is offered every 2 years.
5. Blood glucose tests
A blood glucose test measures the levels of glucose in the blood, which can indicate type 2 diabetes, or if diabetes has already been diagnosed, help monitor it. Typically, this can be arranged through a GP and will involve a urine check and a blood test to measure blood sugar levels. Results are typically returned within 2 days, and if a positive test for diabetes is indicated, the test results will be explained by a GP and they’ll explain what next steps are required. Those who are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes include:
- Those over 40 (or 25 for south Asian people)
- Those who have a close relative with diabetes
- Those who are overweight or obese
- Those who are of Asian, African-Caribbean or black African origin (even if born in the UK)
6. Blood pressure screening
A blood pressure test looks at the pressure in the arteries as blood is pumped through by the heart. It’s a very simple procedure, involving an arm-cuff that wraps around the upper arm and fills with air until it becomes very tight. It typically lasts a few seconds. The machine attached to the arm-cuff will measure the systolic pressure (pressure of arteries when the heart pumps blood out) against the diastolic pressure (pressure of the arteries when the heart rests between pumps). The test may show results of a normal blood pressure, a high blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood pressure (hypotension). Having hypertension can increase the risk of developing serious health conditions in the future, and if this is picked up by the blood pressure test, there are several recommendations that can be given on how it can be lowered (e.g. lifestyle changes like eating healthier, exercising more and stopping smoking).
7. Cholesterol tests
This test typically involves either a blood test or a finger-prick test, both of which are very quick, simple procedures. Cholesterol tests measure the levels of cholesterol in the blood. High levels can mean an increased likelihood of developing health conditions in the future. If a high level is found, the GP will provide recommendations on ways to lower the cholesterol. It’s recommended to get this test done as there are several risk factors that can increase cholesterol levels, such as not enough exercise, smoking, being overweight, excess fatty food or genetics. It’s also important to get this done as having a high cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms, meaning a blood test is the only way to know the exact levels of cholesterol in the blood.
8. STI check
This test identifies any sexually-transmitted infections such as syphilis, HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhoea. The test can usually be done through a self-sampling kit which is provided for free by many sexual health services or ordered online. Regular testing is recommended to anyone who is sexually active, regardless of age or number of sexual partners. The kits include a combination of:
- a finger-prick test (for syphilis and HIV),
- anal, vaginal and throat swabs (for chlamydia and gonorrhoea) and,
- a urine sample (also for chlamydia and gonorrhoea).
After completing these tests, the kit containing the samples must be returned to a lab for analysis and will remain completely confidential. Results are often given within a few days via text message, and if any positive results are found, necessary treatments or support will be advised.
HIV PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) services can provide tests to those who feel they have been exposed to the virus and require a test urgently, and for out of hours support, A&E can also provide tests.
9. Dental check-up
This is a test booked with a dentist instead of a GP. During the appointment, the dentist will check teeth, gums and overall mouth health. An appointment with the dentist should typically be booked annually, or a maximum of every 2 years, but the time between appointments will ultimately depend on the dental health of the individual. If there are any issues, a further appointment may be required - emergency treatment, tooth removal or fillings may be recommended by the dentist. Having a check-up with the dentist is an effective way of keeping optimal mouth health.
10. Thyroid function test
This is a blood test that measures levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4). Having low levels of these hormones can change the way the body processes fat which can lead to high cholesterol and other health conditions. If a high level of TSH and a low level of T4 is found in the blood, this could be an indicator of an underactive thyroid. Alternatively, if the results show a high level of TSH but a normal level of T4, this could mean a likelihood of developing an underactive thyroid in the future, to which a GP may recommend having regular blood tests to keep this monitored. This screening also tests for an overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism.
How often should you do a health screening?
This depends entirely on what the test is screening for, and whether you are more at risk of developing certain health conditions. Some are recommended every year, whilst others can be done every few years.
Is a health screening necessary?
Health screenings are not mandatory, and it’s entirely up to you if you want to have one. They’re also not always 100% effective, but with that in mind, it’s also important to recognise that these screenings have a variety of benefits that outweigh the risks of having them. These benefits are listed below.
Why are health screenings recommended?
There are several reasons why health screenings that can detect underlying health conditions early on, are recommended, such as:
- They give you a sense of control over your body so you can be proactive about the choices you make regarding your health.
- The health examinations can give you peace of mind and stop you worrying once you know the results.
- They can help you save money in the long run as early identification of health conditions means more affordable treatments can be used.
- Getting regular health checks sets a good example for other people in your life and could inspire them to do the same, as they won’t feel as alone and isolated in getting them.
- Allowing you to take steps to control and monitor your health, which is empowering and necessary for living a healthy life.
There are many reasons why these tests are recommended, as they can offer an insight into your health, allow you to gain control over your life and can identify health issues early, saving you time and money.
- NHS, 2021. NHS screening
- NHS, 2023. Breast screening (mammogram)
- NHS, 2022. Bone density scan (DEXA scan)
- Johnson et al., 2006. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radic Biol Med
- NHS, 2021. Bowel cancer screening
- Gov.uk, 2021. Bowel cancer screening: programme overview
- Diabetes UK, 2023. Getting tested for diabetes
- NHS, 2021. Type 2 diabetes symptoms
- MayoClinic, 2022. Blood pressure test
- NHS Inform, 2022. High blood pressure (hypertension)
- NHS, 2022. High cholesterol
- UK Health Security Agency, 2022. Getting tested for an STI: your guide to how it works
- NHS, 2022. Dental check-ups
- British Thyroid Foundation, 2021. Thyroid function tests