Moms: Taking charge of your health, a head-to-toe guide

Children. Family. Friends. Errands. Work. Church. Dinner. Karate lessons. Bake sales…

Moms routinely juggle long lists of to-dos from all facets of their lives, except the most important: themselves. Moms will drive their kids, and even other people’s kids, to regular pediatrician appointments. They take sick relatives to the emergency room late at night. They will visit sick friends in the hospital. But, doing the same for themselves seems impossible.

The important question is, how will everyone manage when mom is too sick to take care of them?

Squeezing more time into a jam-packed day takes an act akin to a miracle. And, taking time away from other responsibilities may feel selfish. But, it’s actually — in many ways — a selfless move for Mom and the people she cares for.

Mom should take one or two days at a set time each year (the month of May sounds like a great idea!) and line up appointments to keep herself healthy.

Here’s theGrio’s head-to-toe guide of what to check:

Yearly eye exams
It’s not just about vision — eye doctors can tell early signs of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes just by looking at the back of eye. Vision can also change with pregnancy or after birth. And around 40, seeing things close up becomes more difficult. Early screening for diseases like glaucoma and problems with the retina can prevent or delay blindness.

Sleep apnea testing
Snorers with daytime sleepiness should discuss the possibility of sleep apnea with their doctors. Typically classified by hundreds of moments of apnea — where a person stops breathing during sleep — the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen during these episodes. The condition can raise the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and mental health disorders. Obese men with certain types of nose structures are most affected, but women are not exempt.

Check those pearly whites
A new statement from the American Heart Association says that, while there’s a link between gum disease and heart disease as previously stated, there is no current proof that troubled gums cause heart attacks and stroke. There is still, however, a link between poor dental care and preterm labor — not to mention the cosmetic aspects. Regular dentist visits are even important for those with dentures: dentists can screen for signs of tongue or mouth cancers.

Thyroid screening
The thyroid gland, located in the neck, controls metabolism. Women are more likely to have difficulties with this organ, causing their metabolism to either speed up or slow down, and, in some cases, cause infertility. As the thyroid speeds up metabolism, women tend to be thin despite eating a lot, feel anxious with a fast heart rate, and have an intolerance to heat. When it’s slow, women tend to be overweight, with menstrual irregularities, frequently cold and sometimes depressed. Thyroid screening involves blood tests and a physical examination looking for lumps in the gland that signal a deeper problem.

Breast exams and mammograms
Despite the 2009 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations against self breast exams, many physicians and medical practitioners still encourage their patients to perform them. The best time to check is after each monthly period. If you don’t check faithfully, at least see have a physician check at your annual exam. That same task force suggests that the first mammogram should wait until age 50, but discuss your particular case with your doctor. If you have risk factors such as strong family history of breast cancer, the first mammogram could be indicated as early as your 30s.

theGRIO: Are self breast exams the best option for women?

Heart disease
At least once a year, have your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol checked for the three main risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, also called hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. If you already have one of those three conditions, keep your regular appointments and follow your doctor’s treatment plan. If you disagree, discuss it; don’t suddenly stop or start taking medication without guidance. Depending on your age or risk factors, your doctor may schedule a “stress test” to look for any major heart blockages or existing damage.Take a breath of fresh air
Pick a date to quit smoking. Quitting has both immediate and long-term benefits, even if you’ve been smoking for a long time. It’s well known that cigarette smoke raises the risk of cancer and several other diseases. Once your date is set, consider cutting down little by little each day. Try on your own or with the help of medications and nicotine patches. Call the 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline for help with quitting.

Kidney disease
Problems with the kidneys, resulting from diseases like hypertension, diabetes and lupus, can remain silent until major damage has been done. A simple blood test can clue doctors in to your kidney function, and spot trouble early on.

Colon cancer screening
Colon cancer may at first be present with no signs. Screening with a colonoscopy — a camera that looks inside of the intestines — usually begins at 50. Those with a family history of colon cancer or other medical problems may have their first done a few years earlier. Rectal bleeding can be a sign of colon cancer. So, yearly, the doctor may also check for tiny amounts of blood in the stool that can’t be seen by the naked eye, with a card and special solution.

Pelvic exams
Make a standing yearly appointment with your gynecologist, or local women’s clinic for a pelvic exam. Depending on age and risk, cervical cancer screening using the Pap test — short for Papanicoleau — should be done every 1 to 3 years. In addition, all sexually active women should discuss testing for sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis and HIV. The latter three are checked through blood.

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Moles
Have your regular physician or a dermatologist check once a year for moles, looking for lesions suspicious for skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests calling sooner if you’re concerned. Use the ABCD mnemonic to spot the suspicious ones: Asymmetry, where one half isn’t like the other; having an irregular Border; varying Color throughout the mole, including shades of tan, brown, white, red or blue; and a Diameter larger than a pencil eraser are all concerning characteristics.

Dr. Ty serves as health editor for theGrio. Follow her on Twitter at @doctorty

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