- Annual exams are an opportunity for women in their 20s and 30s to have important preventive physical and mental health screenings and learn about establishing lifelong healthy habits.
- Women in their 20s and 30s should begin receiving gynecologic care, including pelvic exams and Pap tests, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings including for human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Vaccines are an essential part of preventive care for women in their 20s and 30s, including annual flu vaccines and Tdap booster shots. Women should also discuss their HPV vaccination status with their healthcare clinician.
Whether women are launching careers, pursuing higher education, traveling, or starting families, their 20s and 30s are often filled with important milestones, life changes, and new beginnings. But despite all the excitement, young women need to make time to take care of their health.
Dr. Khushali Shah, an internal medicine physician at Western Connecticut Medical Group Darien Primary & Specialty Care, tells her young female patients that their 20s and 30s are the perfect decades to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of good health.
Dr. Khushali Shah, Internal Medicine Physician, Western Connecticut Medical Group Darien Primary & Specialty Care
In the wake of the initial COVID-19 surge, ensuring that women in their 20s and 30s resume routine health screenings and preventive care is another way they can set the stage for a lifetime of health. Patients can expect positive changes during their next visit to a Nuvance Health Medical Practices primary care office. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/safecare.
Here’s a checklist of important health screenings that Dr. Shah recommends for women in their 20s and 30s:
For women who are living busy lifestyles, scheduling an annual exam may be challenging and may even seem unnecessary — especially for women who do not have any worrisome symptoms or health concerns. But the truth is that annual exams provide an opportunity for women in their 20s and 30s to check in with their healthcare clinician and have essential preventive screenings.
Women in their 20s and 30s should have their blood pressure checked at their annual exams. If a woman has symptoms or a family history of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, or thyroid problems, they may also need to have blood tests to check their cholesterol, glucose/A1C, or thyroid levels.
In addition to physical health screenings, healthcare clinicians may also use annual exams as an opportunity to screen for mental health conditions. For example, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends depression screenings for all adults.
An annual physical is also a good time for women to discuss their overall well-being with their healthcare clinician.
“I talk to my younger patients about developing healthy habits now to reduce the risk of developing health problems later in life,” said Dr. Shah.
For example, Dr. Shah said she often offers advice to younger patients on exercise and diet. Specifically, she tells her patients to avoid processed foods, eat healthier meals, read nutrition labels, and keep an eye on the amount of caffeine and the number of sugary beverages they are consuming.
“I also tell my patients to avoid smoking, and I screen my younger patients for substance abuse — especially alcohol,” said Dr. Shah.
Although an in-person exam is typically required during an annual physical, women in their 20s and 30s may be able to conveniently access follow-up or sick care services from the comfort of their home using Virtual Visits. For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a clinician, visit nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
Screenings for Sexually Transmitted Infections
The USPSTF recommends that women at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) get screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis. A person is considered to have increased risk if they engage in high-risk sexual behavior such as unprotected sex, having sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, having sex in exchange for money or drugs, or having sex with multiple partners.
“HIV and STI screenings are always recommended before initiating sexual intercourse with a new partner,” said Dr. Shah. “And, if you’re at higher risk of contracting HIV or another STI due to unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, or other high-risk behaviors, you should get screened no matter how old you are.”
Pelvic Exam, Pap Test, and Birth Control
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the USPSTF, women should start receiving pelvic exams beginning at age 21, regardless of whether or not they are sexually active.
Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years to check for signs of cervical cancer. Women in their 30s should have either a Pap test every three years or a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every five years; another option is to have co-testing, which means having a Pap test and an HPV test every five years. Women should talk to their gynecologist or primary care clinician about their personal preferences and risk factors to determine which testing schedule would be best.
“It’s important to note that these recommendations are for women at an average risk of developing gynecologic health issues,” said Dr. Shah. “If you have risk factors for diseases such as uterine cancer and ovarian cancer, you should talk with your healthcare clinician about the type and frequency of screenings that are best for you.”
Women in their 20s and 30s who are sexually active and want to prevent pregnancy should also discuss birth control options with their primary care clinician or gynecologist.
The USPSTF has found that current evidence is insufficient to assess additional benefits and harms of clinical breast exams.
“With the availability and frequency of clinical exams, self-exams, and mammograms, there was an increase in false-positive breast cancer test results,” said Dr. Shah. “Routine screenings at this age can lead to unnecessary testing, stress, and worry.”
For example, women in their 20s and 30s may develop lumps in their breasts after lactation due to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Young women on birth control pills can also have cysts in their breasts that come and go each month.
But, according to Dr. Shah, women in their 20s and 30s should still let their healthcare clinician know if they notice concerning breast changes — especially if they are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Women in their 20s and 30s should keep up with routine vaccinations, including:
- An annual flu vaccine
- A Tdap booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) or a Td booster to protect against only tetanus and diphtheria
- An HPV vaccine, if recommended
The Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine for kids and adults ages 9 to 45. Although the HPV vaccine is most beneficial if it’s given before someone is sexually active, recent data show that there may be some benefit for those who are already sexually active and have not yet received the vaccine. Women in their 20s and 30s who have not had the HPV vaccine should talk to their healthcare clinician to see if it might be an option for them.
Dental, Hearing, and Eye Exams
Women in their 20s and 30s should receive a dental exam and cleaning every six months. Eye exams should be scheduled yearly or once every two years, and hearing tests should be scheduled once every 10 years.
Women in their 20s and 30s who have fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or other skin cancer risk factors should see a dermatologist for annual skin exams.
The Bottom Line
Despite busy schedules and other commitments, women in their 20s and 30s should make time for routine and preventive health care. A few appointments and screenings each year can go a long way toward reducing a young woman’s risk of developing health problems later in life.
This health checklist is a great starting point to prepare women for what they may expect health-wise when they’re in their 20s and 30s. But remember, everyone is unique. Women should speak with their healthcare clinician about their own personal health history, family health history, race/ethnicity, and lifestyle to know what types of screenings, tests, and support makes sense for them.
To schedule an appointment with a Western Connecticut Medical Group primary care clinician, visit our website or call (203) 739 4700.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org