- Annual exams are an opportunity for women in their 50s and 60s to have preventive health screenings.
- Diet and exercise are an essential part of preventive health for women in their 50s and 60s.
- Women in their 50s and 60s should have cancer screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies, with follow-up intervals based on their individual risk profile.
- Routine gynecological exams are essential for ovarian and uterine cancer screening and to address issues such as menopause and incontinence.
Women in their 50s and 60s lead active and productive lives — raising children and grandchildren, managing careers, contributing to their communities, and often caring for elderly parents. These are all important tasks, yet it’s equally important for women to make time for their own health.
Dr. Jasmina Krstic, an internal medicine physician at Western Connecticut Medical Group Wilton Primary & Specialty Care, shares the health maintenance checklist women in their 50s and 60s should follow so they can stay healthy.
Dr. Jasmina Krstic, Internal Medicine Physician, Western Connecticut Medical Group Wilton Primary & Specialty Care
In the wake of the initial COVID-19 surge, ensuring that women in their 50s and 60s 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.
Women in their 50s and 60s often see their primary care clinician more than once a year for various screenings and health concerns.
“However, it’s still important for women in this age group to have an annual physical,” said Dr. Krstic.
During an annual physical, a woman’s primary care clinician will review her personal medical history and family history to determine which tests and screenings she needs. For example, women in their 50s and 60s should be screened for cardiovascular risk factors. Their clinician will calculate body mass index based on height and weight and will check blood pressure to make sure it’s within normal range.
“If the patient exercises regularly, doesn’t have any heart disease symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath with exercise, and their physical exam is normal — no irregular heartbeat, no swelling in their legs, no significant family history of heart disease — then they don’t need further evaluation with a specialist,” said Dr. Krstic. “For anyone else, I’ll recommend they follow up with a cardiologist to have an echocardiogram and stress test done.”
Blood work should be done to check for anemia, elevated cholesterol, kidney function, and liver function. Certain blood tests such as hemoglobin A1c to rule out diabetes, and thyroid function tests to rule out hypo- or hyperthyroidism, may not be routinely performed unless the patient has a personal or family history that places them at higher risk for these diseases. A urinalysis should also be done to assess for blood, protein, or signs of infection in the urine.
Women can also be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during their annual exam.
“We offer patients STI screenings if they are sexually active with different partners,” said Dr. Krstic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the incidence of STIs has increased in adults age 50 and older, and STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis may not cause noticeable symptoms. Women in their 50s and 60s should feel comfortable discussing any concerns they have about STIs with their primary care clinician.
Lifestyle counseling related to diet and exercise is also a vital part of the annual exam. When counseling patients, Dr. Krstic said she stresses the need for regular exercise, drinking ample water, and a diet that focuses on eating more fruit, fibers, nuts, and vegetables and fewer carbs, red meat, and fatty foods.
“Healthy habits become more and more important as we age,” said Dr. Krstic. “I recommend the Mediterranean or plant-based diet because of its longevity benefits, its decreased risk for coronary heart disease and diabetes, and because it helps maintain a healthy weight.”
Although an in-person exam is typically required during an annual physical, women in their 50s and 60s 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.
Women in their 50s and 60s should be up to date with certain vaccines:
- An annual flu vaccine is usually given at the start of the flu season, which can vary from year to year. The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend getting vaccinated by the end of September or in October.
- The pneumonia vaccine is usually recommended at age 65, but may be recommended sooner for patients with certain risk factors.
- A one-time shingles vaccine after age 50 is also recommended; this includes the initial vaccine and then a booster
Breast Exams and Mammograms
Women may choose to receive mammograms every year starting as early as age 40, according to the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Women should talk with their healthcare clinician about their personal and family history of breast cancer and risk factors they may have to determine when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.
Annual Gynecological Exam
Yearly pelvic exams are important for women in their 50s and 60s.
“I want my patients checked for ovarian cancer and other tumors or fibroids,” said Dr. Krstic. “Pap tests can be done every three years, or every five years if you’re also tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. More frequent Pap tests may be necessary if you have an abnormal test result.”
Many women in their 50s and 60s complain of incontinence.
“It’s not unusual to have this issue later in life, especially if you’ve had pregnancies and vaginal deliveries,” said Dr. Krstic. “Make sure to speak to your gynecologist about Kegel exercises, medications, and procedures that can treat incontinence.”
According to the CDC, the average age of menopause is 51 in the United States. Many women notice weight gain during and after menopause, which may be hormone-related.
“We’ll counsel women about healthy eating, exercise, and getting proper sleep,” said Dr. Krstic.
Getting enough sleep also may be an issue during menopause due to hormonal changes. Healthy sleep habits such as going to bed at the same time every night, not eating too close to bedtime, and avoiding caffeine before bedtime may be helpful.
Women can start bone density screenings at age 65 to detect osteopenia or osteoporosis.
“We may recommend bone density screenings earlier than 65 years old if patients have any risk factors, such as a family history of osteoporosis or fractures, and if the patient is a heavy alcohol drinker, smoker, or is on steroid treatment,” said Dr. Krstic.
Screening for colorectal cancer typically begins at age 50, or earlier if a patient is at increased risk of colon cancer. Healthcare clinicians will review a patient’s personal and family history to determine their risk profile. Patients with normal risk and normal colonoscopy results will have additional colonoscopies every 10 years. Those at increased risk, or who had polyps removed, should have colonoscopies more frequently.
Hepatitis C Screening
The USPSTF recommends screening for hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) in adults aged 18 to 79 years. Baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) are more likely to have Hepatitis C than other people. Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by HCV.
Vision and Oral Health
Visual acuity is checked yearly in patients with glasses or contact lenses; otherwise, a vision screening is done every two years. Patients should see the dentist for a dental exam and cleaning every six months.
“I do a skin exam, but it’s important for patients to go every year or every two years to a dermatologist for a full-body scan,” said Dr. Krstic.
If a woman has fair skin or if the primary care clinician finds any abnormalities, she should see a dermatologist for a more detailed skin exam.
The Bottom Line
By making time for routine and preventive healthcare, women in their 50s and 60s can identify and address health issues before they may lead to something more serious. This health checklist is a great starting point to prepare women for what they may expect health-wise when they’re in their 50s and 60s. 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.
CONTACTAmy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org