When it comes to our health, it’s easy to just rely on doctor’s visits to tell us if something is wrong. However, sometimes things come up before we make it to our next appointment, so it’s important we do a number of health self-checks on ourselves regularly to make sure everything is working the way it’s supposed to. Catching changes in our body can sometimes make all the difference in our health, even if it doesn’t seem the change doesn’t seem that drastic.
“It is crucial for every woman to be aware of what their own body normally feels and looks like,” says Nesochi Okeke Igbokwe, MD to Bustle over email. “If you have a strong recognition of what is typically normal for you, it will be that much easier to detect changes in your body if they ever arise. Recognition of such changes should prompt you to seek medical evaluation.”
To help you track of all the aspects of your health you need to pay attention to, I consulted with Tsippora Shainhouse MD, FAAD to get the scoop on what you should be regularly be looking for. To make sure everything is OK within your body, you need to be doing these particular seven self-checks frequently.
“It is imperative to check your skin every month or so to know your baseline moles and spots,” says Shainhouse. “If you find a non-healing scaly or bleeding lesion, or a mole that is new or changing in size, shape or color, see your dermatologist for further evaluation and possibly a biopsy.” Some moles are benign, but others can be linked to skin cancer, making it important to regularly check your skin.
Like a mole check, women and other people with breasts should perform a check monthly. “Don’t depend on your annual mammogram to find something — be proactive to detect changes as soon as they develop,” says Shainhouse. “One week after your period, soap up in the shower and feel each aspect of your breast from the nipple out to the armpit. Go around the breast in a clock-wise rotation, feeling for any new or growing lumps and bumps. When you get out of the shower, examine your breasts in the mirror; look for any asymmetry, bumps, changes in texture, changes in nipple shape or direction, nipple discharge, or non-healing rashes.”
Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men, so it’s important to pay attention to your heart health. “Hold your second and third fingers together and place them on the side of your neck to feel your pulse,” says Shainhouse. “Count the number of beats for six seconds and multiply by 10 to get your beats per minute. At rest, non-athletes should have a range between 60-100. Feel for abnormal, irregular rhythms.”
“Consider getting your blood pressure checked at a pharmacy, if you don’t frequent the doctor or pick up your own blood pressure cuff,” says Shainhouse. “If your blood pressure reading is consistently above 120/80 mm Hg, see your primary care doctor for a check and to discuss how to lower it and keep you at a lower risk for developing stroke and other cardiovascular disease.”
“When you remove your nail polish…examine your nails,” says Shainhouse. “Look for thick yellow nails that suggest fungus, dark brown streaks along the nail, which could be a sign of melanoma, and spoon-shaped, indented nails that could indicate an iron-deficiency.”
“Subtle skin changes can be a signal of hormonal imbalances in the skin,” says Shainhouse. “Every few months, look for things like dark patches on the back of your neck on in your armpits (not related to 5 o’clock shadow), which could suggest insulin-resistance, that can lead to diabetes. Also look for hair growth on the chin, chest, and abdomen, which, in cisgender women, could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a common, manageable condition that could lead to fertility challenges. New dry skin and thinning hair, that could be a sign of thyroid disease.”
“It is important for women to become intimate with their own nether-regions,” says Shainhouse. “Most women have never actually looked at the skin on their vulva and vagina and do not know what their normal baseline is. Use a handheld mirror while sitting on the toilet to examine the skin for any bumps, that could be due to HPV, white or pink itchy or burning patches that could be an inflammatory skin condition, as well as for new or changing moles and potentially melanoma.” This advice goes for cisgender women, or anyone with a vagina.
If you ever notice anything abnormal, be sure to see a doctor right away. It may not be a cause for alarm, but you’re always better safe than sorry.
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