Women have never been healthier – our life expectancy has almost doubled in just one century. That’s good news, but it also means our bodies have to last a lot longer, so it’s up to us to make sure they’re fit for the task by keeping a careful watch on our health and lifestyle and noting any changes.
- The health checks that can save your life – part 1
- The health checks that can save your life – part 2
Bones and joints
e take our bones and joints for granted until they start to give us trouble, but it’s particularly important to look after them as we get older, as we need them to last! Osteoporosis causes fractures and leads to over a thousand UK deaths a month. If you have osteoporosis, a simple fall to the ground can be enough to cause a fracture, which wouldn’t normally be the case. These fractures are most often to the hip, wrist or spine, and can have serious repercussions; for example, around half of those who fracture a hip cannot live independently afterwards.
Osteoporosis can also lead to a loss of height, persistent back pain and a stooping posture.
Other problems that can occur with bones and joints as we get older include arthritis, which has more than 100 different forms, tendonitis (infmammation of the tendons), and fjbromyalgia.
- Make sure you consume at least 700mg of calcium daily – a pint of milk is enough.
- Get 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin daily, to help it make bone-building vitamin D.
- Are you on your feet enough? Weight-bearing exercise such as walking makes bones stronger.
- Are your shoes jolting your ankles, knees or hips? Wear shock-absorbing shoes or insoles.
- Measure your height each year – shrinking may be a sign of osteoporosis.
Zoledronic acid is a once-yearly infusion of bisphosphonate that removes the need for daily or weekly tablets.
Whats happens next?
You may need a DEXA scan to measure your bone density; if you have osteoporosis, this can be treated with bisphosphonates (bone-building drugs). If your joints seem infmamed, your doctor will arrange blood tests and X-rays to see what treatment you need.
- Losing more than a couple of inches in height
- Redness, heat or severe swelling in a joint
- Feeling stifg in the mornings for more than 15 minutes (may indicate infmammation rather than wear and tear)
- Fracturing a bone, even in a minor injury
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)
CVDcan affect arteries anywhere in the body, leading to strokes, kidney failure, circulation problems, such as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), and even gangrene.
- All those listed for heart disease (link).
Minimally invasive techniques, such as EVAR (endovascular aortic repair), which replaces a diseased section of the aorta (the body’s main artery), are reducing the need for major surgery.
Whats happens next?
You may need many of the tests listed under heart disease, plus scans to test artery blood fmow in the neck, tummy and legs. A damaged artery may need an operation to unblock or replace it and you may be offered medication to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, in order to prevent further damage.
- Swollen ankles can be a sign that kidneys aren’t working properly
- Blood in the urine may also indicate kidney damage
- Pain in the back of one or both calves when you walk could be PVD
- Discoloured skin may be a sign of poor circulation
Digestive problems are common as we get older, but they can sometimes be a sign of trouble. Almost 10,000 women are diagnosed with gullet, stomach or pancreatic cancer each year, while more than 17,000 more develop bowel cancer. Eating a lot of red or processed meats may increase the risk.
- Weigh yourself regularly and don’t ignore unexplained weight loss.
- Look out for changes in your bowel habit or stools.
- Find out if you have a family history of bowel cancer or polyps (in which case, you may be at increased risk).
- Accept any invitation you may receive as part of the national bowel cancer screening programme.
CT colonographies, known as ‘virtual colonoscopies’ are ofgered at many NHS hospitals. As they use a CT scan, they’re more comfortable than a traditional colonoscopy, and they can also pick up other abnormalities in the abdomen.
Whats happens next?
If you have indigestion, a stool sample may reveal an infection or helicobacter pylori, which causes duodenal ulcers. A course of antibiotics plus an acidregulator can cure indigestion for good.
If symptoms persist, you’ll need a colonoscopy (telescope examination of your bowel) or gastroscopy (stomach), plus X-rays.
- New or persistent acid indigestion or tummy pain
- Feeling of nausea, or vomiting blood
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or difficulty in swallowing
- Increased flatulence or bloating
- Blood in your stools and/or bleeding from the back passage (rectum)
- A persisting change in your bowel habit towards diarrhoea or loose stools
- Pain or a feeling of pressure in the rectum
- Losing weight