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Monday Medical: Preventive health — ages 20 to 49

Preventive health — ages 20 to 49

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a three-part series on preventive health recommendations. Part 2 covers preventive health recommendations for adults ages 50 to 64, and part 3 covers recommendations for adults 65 and older.

If you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s, you might feel like you’re in the prime of your life. But it’s important to take your health seriously.

“This is really the opportunity to set your health for the future,” said Dr. Jennifer Kempers, an internal medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Below, Kempers outlines steps for preventive health that 20- to 40-somethings should consider.

Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly paves the way for good heart health.

“If you’re not watching your weight, exercising and eating right, you are more likely to become obese or have an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Kempers said. “It may not bother you before you’re 50, but all of these choices can catch up with you.”

Get blood pressure checked every year, and between ages 20 and 25, have a baseline cholesterol panel. Most adults can repeat that test every five years, but adults at higher risk of heart disease may repeat it more frequently.

Women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21 with a Pap smear, repeating that test every three years through age 29. At age 30, a Pap smear with testing for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, is recommended – if both are negative, screenings can be done every three to five years.

Many women begin annual screening for breast cancer at age 40, but your provider can help you determine the right time for your first mammogram based on your risk factors and family history.

While the recommended age to start screening for colorectal cancer has usually been 50, that may be changed to age 45 given the increasing occurrence of the disease in adults in their 40s. Adults with a family history of the disease may start screening earlier as well. Talk to your provider to determine what’s best for you.

Regular skin checks to watch for skin cancer are also recommended.

“When it comes to detecting cancers or pre-cancers, it’s better to catch them early rather than later in the disease,” Kempers said.

Start with a yearly flu shot.

“It’s recommended that everyone have a flu shot every year, especially this year,” Kempers said. “We want to keep everybody as well as possible. Even if you’re healthy and don’t usually get the flu, a flu shot helps protect the whole community by reducing the level of flu in the community.”

Adults should get a one-time Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus and pertussis, followed by a tetanus shot every 10 years. The Tdap vaccine is also recommended with each pregnancy.

Some adults should consider vaccines for chicken pox, HPV, pneumonia and meningitis. Talk with your provider about what’s best for you.

Screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia is recommended for some women and men, and a one-time screening for Hepatitis C and HIV is recommended for all adults up to age 75.

“Those diseases can lay silent for a long time, which is why screening is recommended for everyone,” Kempers said.

It’s important to keep tabs on your mental health and seek help if you have symptoms of depression, such as having little pleasure in doing things or feeling down or hopeless.

“It may be a difficult subject to bring up, but primary care providers are trained to address those sensitive questions,” Kempers said.

Keep in mind that many health insurance plans cover preventive health screenings and tests, and the goal is to catch and address issues before they become a bigger deal.

“If you’re 30 and have high blood pressure, you may not have any symptoms at all. It’s the same with high cholesterol,” Kempers said. “But that’s something you need to know. Preventive health is about preventing problems in the future.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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