Stories of Science, Care & Wellness
Close Menu

The Essential Women’s Health Checklist

The latest guidelines for the tests, screenings, and exams women need at all stages of life.

When it comes to maintaining their health, women face more complexities than men. Not only do women have to account for factors like childbirth and menopause, but many common health conditions affect women differently. For example, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., but women are more likely to die after a heart attack. The good news is that women are typically proactive with preventive health visits. Still, it’s challenging to stay on top of the latest women’s health guidelines when it comes to exams and screenings.

“It can seem overwhelming, but the earlier women start with preventive care, the better,” says Dr. Mary Rosser, an OB-GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Early patient-centered care for screening and prevention is crucial to maintain positive health outcomes. We need to address women’s overall health in a comprehensive, personalized manner, so that the care is focused on the individual patient, her risk, and her needs.”

Dr. Rosser is chair of a new American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) task force created by ACOG’s president to focus on providing women more efficient, personalized care throughout their lives. The campaign is called “Revist the Visit.” She spoke with Health Matters about the exams, tests, and screenings women should prioritize at every stage of life.

Checklist for Girls in their Teens

Expert’s Take: “These health visits are also an opportunity to talk about alcohol, drug use, and tobacco use as well as topics such as anxiety and depression,” adds Dr. Rosser.

Checklist for Women in Their 20s & 30s

Note: Screening for STIs during pregnancy occurs at specific intervals.

Expert’s Take: “Many women generally see their gynecologist as their primary care provider, especially those leaving their pediatrician and moving on in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s,” says Dr. Rosser. “This is an opportunity to use these OB-GYN visits to focus on the whole woman. It’s a paradigm shift, but we have the opportunity to leverage these visits so that we can make a difference in women’s lives with a comprehensive holistic approach.”

*These guidelines are updated regularly by different research-based organizations and vary depending on whether a woman has had a hysterectomy, a history of high-grade precancerous lesions, or is immunocompromised. For the latest guidelines, ask your OB-GYN or visit ACOG’s Women’s Preventive Services Initiative.

Checklist for Women in Their 40s & 50s

Expert’s Take: “African American women are more severely hit by many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer,” says Dr. Rosser. “In fact, more than 85% of African American men and women are likely to develop hypertension in their lifetimes. I make a point to tell African American patients this not to alarm them but rather to arm them with information, so they are more aware and empowered about their health.”

Checklist for Women in Their 60s & Older

Expert’s Take: “If you’re over 65 and would like to continue with regular Pap smears because of HPV risk or other concerns, speak with your OB-GYN so that they can evaluate your risks and you can come up with a plan together,” says Dr. Rosser.

Dr. Rosser is a staunch supporter of women being involved at every stage of their health. “People are either really engaged in their healthcare or they are worried and nervous and may avoid certain screenings and visits,” she says. “We want to engage women in their own healthcare so they are empowered to live long and healthy lives.”

Mary L. Rosser, M.D., Ph.D., is an OB-GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. She has been a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist for 23 years. Primary care and heart disease in women have always been areas of focus for Dr. Rosser. She conducted basic science research on heart disease during graduate school and was the chair of the “Women & Heart Disease Physician Education Initiative” for District II of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). She continues to conduct clinical studies around patient awareness and understanding of heart disease and well-woman care. Dr. Rosser serves on the Medical Leadership Team of the Go Red for Women movement of the American Heart Association and is ACOG’s liaison to the American College of Cardiology.