With October being Women’s Health Month, it is a good time for women to take a look at self-care, according to Bertha Gaytan, MD, Primary Care, Family Medicine.
Women tend to be the caregivers in the family, not only in raising children, but by acting as caretakers for spouses and elderly parents. It’s important they also take care of themselves.
“A lot of time, women forget about themselves,” Dr. Gaytan said. “They are usually the one bringing in their children for wellness checks and immunizations, and reminding their husbands about their physicals. So taking care of themselves tends to fall to the bottom of the list.”
Dr. Gaytan points out that self-care starts with preventive care. Always a good practice, it is even more important during these times. She encourages women not to put off annual physicals, regular health screenings, or immunizations. Those include screening mammograms, colonoscopies, PAP tests, and vaccinations for flu, tetanus, meningitis, and pneumonia, always according to age-appropriate guidelines.
Annual visits are especially critical, because early detection still matters.
“With annual visits, we can measure and track your vital signs,” she said. “We monitor your blood pressure, body mass index, weight, and all the important factors, managing your well-being and keeping you healthy.”
She specifically warns patients not to postpone a doctor visit simply because they are “feeling well.”
“High blood pressure is what we call ‘the silent killer.’ You might feel fine, but it could still be elevated. The longer you wait, by the time you feel ill from elevated blood pressure, you could be at high risk for related conditions.”
She also encourages patients not to be hesitant due to fears of COVID-19. With tele-health, virtual visits, and other options for mitigating exposure to the virus, there is no excuse to forego a visit with a health care provider.
One aspect of health often not talked about is mental health. According to Gaytan, depression screening should begin as early as age 12.
“As part of your yearly physical, you should always be screened for depression,” Dr. Gaytan said. “It’s always been important, but because of being cooped up due to COVID, people are
really struggling. Even if you have not suffered from depression or anxiety before, you might feel you are struggling with it now.”
She also reminds women to be assertive in having a say in their own health assessments. Dr. Gaytan suggests putting together a list of questions to bring into the office for every visit.
“It is important for the patient to have a list before their annual wellness visit, with questions they might have,” she said. “Having a list helps the patient feel like they have had a productive visit, because that way we as physicians can address all their concerns.”
Most important is leading a healthy lifestyle, regardless of gender, age, or time of year. That includes exercise, eating as healthy as possible, getting good sleep, and finding ways to “destress.”
“It could be finding a hobby or something you like to do, hiking, reading, taking baths. The point is identifying what helps with your own stress. These can be things you can do at home, inexpensively and easily. We have to get creative about what we can do while keeping social distance.”