1. Cholesterol screening/lipid profile
Cholesterol is a type of fatty protein in your blood that can build up in your arteries, so knowing how much cholesterol is present is a good predictor of your risk for heart disease. And women need to pay close attention to cholesterol levels, because they tend to rise after menopause. If you were already high or borderline before or at menopause, there's cause for concern.
There are two kinds of cholesterol: HDL, or high-density lipoproteins, and LDL, or low-density lipoproteins. Confusingly enough, HDL is "good" and protects against heart disease, and LDL is "bad" and poses a risk to your heart. Your total cholesterol reading combines the measures of both and is used as an overall reading. The profile also measures triglycerides, which are fats in the blood; you want your triglycerides below 150 milligrams per deciliter.
What it is: A blood test for cholesterol, measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dl); usually measures triglycerides as well
When to start: Age 20
How often: Every five years. If testing reveals your levels are high, your doctor will recommend retesting every six months to one year. If you have risk factors for heart disease in your family, the regular cholesterol test may not be specific enough; ask your doctor for an additional test called the lipoprotein subfraction test. It's more sensitive and checks the size of the cholesterol particles as well as the amount.
2. Blood pressure check
It seems simple, but checking your blood pressure regularly is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health, present and future. Many people make the mistake of thinking men are at more risk for high blood pressure, but actually half of the 75 million people who have it are women! And ever since the stress scales started to tip back in the 1980s, more women than men have died of heart disease every year.
When your blood pressure readings are higher than the cutoff of 140/90, it puts stress on your heart, leaving you at risk for heart attack and stroke. Many experts believe 120/80 is a healthier target to shoot for.
What it is: A physical reading using an arm cuff
When to start: Any age; best to begin during childhood
How often: Once a year if readings are normal; your doctor will recommend every six months if readings are high or if you're taking medication to control hypertension.
3. Diabetes screening
To check your risk for diabetes, doctors check your tolerance for glucose absorption, which means how readily your body digests sugar. Diabetes puts a unique burden on women: Many women get diabetes while pregnant, and it's dangerous for both mother and baby. And although gestational diabetes goes away in most cases, it raises the risk that you'll develop regular (type 2) diabetes later in life.
What it is: A blood draw performed after drinking a sugary drink; a fasting glucose tolerance test requires you not to eat for nine hours prior to the test.
When to start: At the start of pregnancy or at age 45 if you have no risk factors or symptoms. If you're significantly overweight, have high blood pressure, or have other risk factors for diabetes, such as family history of the disease, it's a good idea to get tested younger. If your insurance doesn't cover it, free testing is available at most major chain drugstores.
How often: Every three years