10 Things Millennial Women Need to Know About their Health

Women of all ages tend to worry about others as opposed to themselves. We worry about our partners, our children, our parents—the list goes on. As a female internist with years of experience, I know that women never put their own health first. Without first taking care of ourselves, we are not effective caregivers to the ones that we love.

To ensure you’re taking proper care of yourself, there are 10 things every millennial woman needs to know about her health:

1. Your lifestyle today is setting the tone for the rest of your life

Healthy eating and exercise not only matters now but it will matter for years to come. If you eat well—lean protein, fruits, veggies and limited refined carbs—you will greatly reduce the risk of future diabetes and hypertension. Your current exercise program—30 minutes at least three days a week—not only allows you to look good now, but it can prevent heart disease and osteoporosis as you get older.

2. Get a routine resting electrocardiogram

A resting electrocardiogram (or, “EKG”) is a tracing of your heart’s rhythm and it can detect underlying heart disease that you don’t know you have. Without any new symptoms, one baseline EKG is enough until the age of 40. This simple heart test, usually covered by insurance plans and administered at your primary care doctor’s office, yields a great deal of information. For example, were you born with an abnormal rhythm of your heart or a weird configuration of your heart valves and you never knew it? Left undiagnosed, these types of “benign” congenital defects can cause problems, like heart disease and stroke, as you age.

3. Do monthly breast exams

Check for any new lumps or bumps the week after your period. Don’t panic if you find something—the majority of lumps in young women are benign, but see your doctor to be sure. Without a first-degree family history (either your mother or sister), there is no need for a mammogram until age 35.

4. Have an annual Pap smear—and an HPV test

Cervical cancer is a disease that’s most common in young women. It is important to see a gynecologist every year. There have been some controversial new recommendations that say a Pap smear is only required once every three years. The insurance companies are controlling this and, in fact, it is a dangerous recommendation for women of childbearing age. As long as there is estrogen around in young women, cervical changes can occur rapidly and a yearly Pap smear is your best defense against cervical cancer. Regardless of sexual activity, all women should have a Pap smear and an HPV test by age 21.

5. Get a routine physical exam

A primary care doctor will look at the whole picture. She will evaluate your body head to toe, do an EKG, run blood work and discuss and evaluate any issues like weight, stress, sleep and unhealthy relationships, among other things. I have found many early diseases in young women by doing routine physical exams yearly. It is important to discuss with your primary care practitioner exactly what is covered in your yearly physical exam. Be sure to ask for the tests mentioned in this section if they’re not already included.

6. Understand what you’re being screened for

When you receive the lab work results from your routine yearly physical, you should get an overall assessment of your heart, liver, kidneys and cholesterol. In addition, your thyroid will have been screened and an analysis will have been run on your urine. Many preventable diseases are detected in routine screenings. For example, how would you know if you’ve been exposed to Hepatitis C, a life-threatening liver disease? Hep C is sexually transmitted and shows no symptoms for years. Early detection and intervention can allow for early effective treatment. This is just one example of a lifesaving blood test, of which we are testing for dozens of abnormalities in your body.

7. Stress is the no. 1 lifestyle complaint

Millennial women constantly juggle themselves, their work and their families. Of course there will be stress. If you are eating and sleeping well, and generally happy, you’ve probably figured out how best to deal with your stress. If you are not coping well, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. If you’re having trouble sleeping and experiencing chronic insomnia, talk to your doctor. Sleep is an important factor in weight control, mood stabilization and general well-being.

8. There is nothing good to say about smoking, ever!

If you smoke, figure out how to stop. There are many methods of smoking cessation on the market and your doctor can help you figure out which one will work for you. The old reliable nicotine patches are still very effective. Currently there are several oral medications to cut the urge to smoke. All of these meds—Chantix, Wellbutrin, etc.—have side effects. Be sure to discuss all options with your doctor.

9. Binge-drinking in millennial women is on the rise

“Weekend binging” can cause serious liver damage. If over-consumption of alcohol is an issue, talk to your doctor about getting help. An easy way to begin to change a bad habit is to immediately cut your alcohol consumption in half. So an easy formula is, if you normally have four drinks on a weekend night, have two and drink them slowly. Your liver will thank you!

10. Positive energy is contagious

Wake up every day with a smile and actively work to find joy in something in your life. You will achieve great things by focusing on the positive!

Ben Kruger