The human body is amazing in its abilities and is capable of great accomplishments. For optimal health and performance, people must provide their bodies with the proper care and attention. While some of the threats and changes to the human body are the same for women and men, it is not always the case. Often, women have needs and concerns that differ from those of their male counterparts. In some instances, certain problems or issues face by both sexes are a greater threat to women, while other concerns are unique to the female sex. To maintain a healthy body and tackle any potential health problems early, women must be aware of what problems they face and what to look out for. Because these problems may manifest at various stages in life, it is important for girls and women to understand and begin caring for their bodies from the moment changes begin to occur during their youth, and continue monitoring their health through the rest of their lives.
The preteen years are an important time period for a girl. It is a period during which her body begins to change. This stage of life occurs just before a child turns into a teenager, from the ages of 10 to 12 years old. During this time, hormones begin to create the changes associated with puberty; however, because changes occur differently for different people, the onset of puberty may not begin until after a child has turned into a teenager. During the preteen years, girls should expect changes in their body shape, such as the beginning development of small breasts. Typically, a girl will not start her menstrual cycle until roughly 2 years or 2 ½ years following the development of breasts. The onset of puberty may also cause the development of acne, genital hair growth, and changes in emotions.
During the teen years, some girls may start experiencing puberty, and others may be starting their menstrual cycles for the first time. Changes in the body, from the development of breasts to the appearance of more curves, may also occur. It is natural for girls to develop some additional fat around their stomach area, and hips may become fuller. This can sometimes become a problem if a girl feels she is becoming fat. Parents should talk with their daughters to help them understand that these are natural changes and not reasons for concern. Eating disorders are a common problem among teens that can cause a number of health issues and even death. When talking to one's daughters about body weight, the topic of positive self-image and unrealistic imagery in the media should also be addressed.
Teenage girls may become interested in dating, as well. Some teens may begin to explore their sexuality, which can result in a risk of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence or safe sexual practices are also topics that parents should broach with their teenage daughters. Girls should have their first gynecological examinations during their teen years, typically between the ages of 13 and 15. Often, this is an external exam only and does not require a Pap smear unless there are indications of an irregular or abnormal cycle or other signs of vaginal problems such as unexplained secretions.
For adult women, maintaining good health in one stage of life can help maintain good health in the next. There are specific examinations and lifestyle choices that are crucial for young women in their 20s looking to maintain good health. For instance, they should have a Pap smear performed once every three years from the time they turn 21 years old. In addition to the Pap test, women in this age group should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia. Women should talk to their doctor about how to perform breast self-examinations. These examinations can be done monthly at home. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are also crucial habits that should be developed and maintained. Women in their 30s should continue test schedules started in their 20s, but with a few additions and adjustments. Pap smears should also include the HPV test, which can be performed every five years. Women in this age group should also be tested for diabetes or pre-diabetes. This is particularly important if a woman is at high risk of developing the disease because of family history or excess body weight. Every five years women should also have their thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels screened.
It's recommended that a woman in her 40s get an annual mammogram in addition to a physician's breast examination. Even with the annual examination, women should continue with their monthly self-exams at home. Other good ideas for women in their 40s include having blood pressure tested, being checked annually for high cholesterol, and maintaining a healthy weight. Starting in their 50s, it's recommended that women get a colonoscopy every 10 years have bone density tests done. Women who are dating and sexually active, regardless of their age, should continue to implement safe sexual practices and be checked for STDs.
Women who are 60 years old or older often continue to lead very active lifestyles despite changes in their bodies. Testing and testing times often change for women in this age group, however. Annual breast examinations and mammograms should continue, but bone density screening for women who are 65 years old or older may be done every two years. Women who are 75 years old or older should discuss the need for continued mammograms with their doctors. Every three years, a diabetes test is recommended to measure glucose levels in the blood.
Body image can be a continuing problem, even for women who are older. Problems that seniors may face include loss of muscle, thinning hair, and loose skin. As in other periods of life, they should continue eating healthy and work exercise into their schedule. Women in this age group should also be cautious of emotional issues such as depression, grief, and anxiety. Maintaining a close network of loved ones and friends is helpful, as is continued visits with one's physician.
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