A mother’s to-do list is never-ending. You’ve got school, work, feeding kids, carpooling, sports, pediatrician appointments… the list goes on and on. So it’s no wonder that doctor appointments for women often get pushed to the back burner. But just like you take the kids to the doctor for regular checkups, your own doctor appointments are just as important.
We often think of medical care as something we do in response to an injury or illness, but preventive care matters—possibly even more. These checkups can save time and money, but more importantly, they are life-saving if you catch a serious problem early on.
Think of what you’d tell your best friend or loved one—you’d want them to take care of their health, right? It’s time to grant that same gift to yourself.
Here are the top 5 doctor appointments for women, according to health experts
1. An annual physical
When asked, “What doctor appointments does a woman need?”, nearly all the health experts encouraged annual checkups with a primary care physician (PCP). Think of your primary care doctor as the navigator for your health. Dr. Elizabeth Boham, physician, nutritionist, and medical director at The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass., says women of every age should have a yearly full physical exam with a PCP. “It’s important to have a good relationship with a primary doctor,” she says. “So often people wait until they have an issue and then go to urgent care. This can result in inappropriate treatment.”
Dr. Soma Mandal, a board-certified internist and women’s health specialist, agrees that annual physicals are a must and can cover more than just your physical health. “A screen for depression and domestic violence should be done at that time as well.” Dr. Mandal encourages annual visits to establish trust with your PCP, who can provide physical health screenings and order tests and referrals as needed.
2. Blood work, including a full thyroid panel and blood sugar levels
While at your physical, your PCP will most likely order standard blood work, but there are a few extra tests women should ask for, according to Lizzy Swick, registered dietitian specializing in women’s health. She suggests requesting a full thyroid panel, including TSH, free T4, free T3, and thyroid antibodies.
“We want to cast a wider net and evaluate thyroid health, not only from the absence of diagnosable disease but from the perspective of optimal health,” Swick shares. Dr. Jolene Brighten, ND, a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist, also encourages a full thyroid panel annually, especially once you hit your 30s. “After age 35, these tests become much more important. We see the incidence of thyroid disease and metabolic disorders increase as we enter the perimenopausal window,” she explains.
According to Swick and Dr. Brighten, a deep dive into blood sugar balance is also a must-have. Fasting blood sugar is usually part of a standard blood work order, but fasting insulin and A1c are also important. “Before type 2 [diabetes] is diagnosed, insulin resistance occurs. Before fasting glucose levels rise, insulin rises,” Swick shares.
Prediabetes can be silent for years before progressing into type 2 diabetes—more than 1 in 3 American adults has prediabetes, and 80% of people don’t know they have it, according to the CDC—so early detection is crucial. According to Dr. Brighten, “Monitoring blood sugar with at least an annual hemoglobin A1C and fasting insulin can be incredibly helpful in catching metabolic issues early.”
3. Pelvic exam and pap smear with your OB-GYN
Sure it’s not everyone’s favorite appointment, but regular pap smears can be life-saving. Dr. Savita Ginde, CEO and Chief Medical Officer for Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, shares, “This is especially critical now recognizing that preventative cancer screening appointments have been missed by many as a result of COVID, and uninsured and underinsured women are even less likely to engage in preventative health screenings in the first place.”
Pap smears are recommended every three years, starting at age 21, and HPV testing every five years, starting at age 30, to screen for cervical cancer. Early detection is key, according to Dr. Ginde. “Both cervical and breast cancer are very treatable when caught early, making these screenings vitally important when it comes to preventative healthcare for women.”
4. Mammogram and breast exam
Following the same logic as early detection with cervical cancer, breast exams and mammograms are essential for women to get regularly. Dr. Damian “Pat” Alagia, a board-certified OB-GYN and Senior Medical Director for Women’s Health at Quest Diagnostics, tells Motherly, “A breast exam, often coupled with a mammogram in women over 40, will look for abnormal lumps, cysts, unusual skin changes, or nipple discharge to identify any potential early signs of breast cancer.”
Dr. Alagia shares, “The National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines recommend that women at average risk of breast cancer should have the option for an annual mammogram beginning at age 40, but you can work with your care provider to make sure you’re following a care plan that is personalized to you.” Family history, dense breast tissue, and other factors can affect how often you should get a mammogram.
5. Annual skin check
One of the less-talked-about doctor appointments every woman should make is an annual skin check. Dr. Mandal encourages women to schedule yearly skin checks starting at age 21. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with rates higher in women under 50 compared to men.
During a skin check, your doctor will look for changes in existing moles or new growths on the skin. While you can (and should) perform regular self-checks at home, an annual skin check with your doctor (which could be part of your annual physical) or a dermatologist can help ensure anything concerning is caught early, especially in harder-to-see areas like your back or scalp.
Bottom line? Put yourself first and schedule these doctor appointments for women. Your health depends on it.
- Damian “Pat” Alagia, MD, FACS, FACOG, is a board-certified OB-GYN, fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Senior Medical Director for Women’s Health at Quest Diagnostics.
- Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD is a physician and nutritionist who practices Functional Medicine and is the medical director at The UltraWellness Center is Lenox, MA.
- Jolene Brighten, ND, is a board certified naturopathic endocrinologist, clinical sexologist, and prominent leader in women’s medicine. Dr. Brighten is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth, and the creator of Dr. Brighten supplements.
- Savita Ginde, MD, reproductive health advocate and thought leader, is CEO and Chief Medical Officer for Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center and former Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
- Soma Mandal, MD, is a board-certified internist and women’s health specialist.
- Lizzy Swick MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian specializing in women’s health. She takes an evidence-based approach in designing dietary plans tailored to each woman’s specific needs.