- Annual physical and gynecological exams are an opportunity for women in their 40s to have important preventive health screenings.
- Women in their 40s should monitor their health and report any concerning symptoms or changes to their healthcare clinician.
- Vaccines are an essential part of preventive care for women in their 40s, including annual flu vaccines and Tdap booster shots. Women should also discuss their HPV vaccination status with their healthcare clinician.
As women in their 40s begin to approach menopause, it’s important to follow recommended guidelines for preventive care and keep an eye on health changes that may warrant a visit to a primary care clinician or OB/GYN.
Dr. Rachel Chung, a family medicine physician at Western Connecticut Medical Group New Canaan Primary Care, works closely with women in their 40s to help them monitor their health. In the wake of the initial COVID-19 surge, ensuring that women in their 40s resume routine health screenings and preventive care is another way they can set the stage for a lifetime of health. Patients can expect positive changes during their next visit to a Nuvance Health Medical Practices primary care office. For more information, visit nuvancehealth.org/safecare.
Dr. Rachel Chung, Family Medicine Physician, Western Connecticut Medical Group New Canaan Primary Care
Here’s a checklist of important health screenings that Dr. Chung recommends for women in their 40s:
Women in their 40s should have their blood pressure checked at their annual exams. Women in their 40s will also need to have blood work to check their cholesterol, glucose/A1C, and thyroid levels.
“It’s important for women in their 40s to have annual physicals that include blood pressure and blood work so we can see how the test results are trending over time,” said Dr. Chung.
In addition to physical health screenings, healthcare clinicians may also use annual exams as an opportunity to screen for mental health conditions. For example, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends depression screenings for all adults.
An annual physical is also a good time for women to discuss their overall well-being and lifestyle with their healthcare clinician.
“Annual exams allow us to look at how each woman’s current diet and exercise habits are working to help her maintain her health,” said Dr. Chung. “It’s important for women to follow recommended guidelines for diet and exercise in their 40s to reduce the risk of developing other health conditions as they age, such as diabetes or heart disease.”
Although an in-person exam is typically required during an annual physical, women in their 40s may be able to conveniently access follow-up or sick care services from the comfort of their home using Virtual Visits. For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a clinician, visit nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.
Screenings for HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections
Healthcare clinicians may test women in their 40s for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if they are having sexual intercourse with different partners, have a personal history of engaging in high-risk behaviors, or if they have concerning symptoms.
“We do recommend screenings for women before they initiate sexual intercourse with a new partner,” said Dr. Chung.
Pelvic Exams and Gynecological Tests
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the USPSTF, women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test together — called co-testing — every five years. The guidelines state that it’s also acceptable for women to have a Pap test alone every three years.
However, a healthcare clinician’s specific recommendations for testing depend on a woman’s HPV status and the number of normal Pap test results she has received.
“If you have HPV, you may be screened more often,” said Dr. Chung. “It’s also important to note that women should speak to their healthcare clinician about what screenings are best for them — and they should see their healthcare clinician if they notice any unusual symptoms that could suggest a more serious gynecological problem.”
Menopause — or the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles — typically occurs around age 48 to 52. Every woman experiences different menopause symptoms caused by changing hormone levels, and these symptoms can range from nonexistent to extremely bothersome.
If women in their 40s begin to have symptoms that significantly impact their quality of life, they should speak to their primary care clinician or gynecologist about available treatments.
“Although we’re not routinely recommending hormone replacement therapy to balance hormone levels in menopause, it’s something that a woman can talk to her healthcare clinician about,” said Dr. Chung. “We can also help our patients monitor their weight as they head into menopause because these hormonal changes can make weight gain more likely.”
Bone Density Screening
Bone density screening is a type of x-ray that measures the strength of your bones and can be used to diagnose a type of bone loss called osteoporosis.
“We don’t usually screen for bone density until menopause unless a woman has bone disease, calcium disease, or other risk factors for osteoporosis,” said Dr. Chung.
Mammograms and Breast Exams
USPSTF guidelines state that women should have the option to begin receiving mammograms every other year starting at age 40. Women in their 40s should let their healthcare clinician know if they have a family history of breast cancer or any other personal risk factors and discuss the risks and benefits of starting to receive mammograms.
Women in their 40s should also receive a clinical breast exam during their annual physical or gynecological exam.
“Many women may not know that self-breast exams are no longer recommended because they were resulting in higher rates of unnecessary biopsies in all age groups,” said Dr. Chung. “However, a clinical breast exam during the annual physical is still recommended.”
Women in their 40s should be sure to keep up with routine vaccinations, including:
- An annual flu vaccine
- A Tdap booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) or a Td booster to protect against only tetanus and diphtheria
- The HPV vaccine, if recommended
The Food and Drug Administration approved the HPV vaccine for kids and adults ages 9 to 45. Although the HPV vaccine is most beneficial if it’s given before someone is sexually active, recent data show that there may be some benefit for those who are already sexually active and have not yet received the vaccine.
“Women in their 40s who have not had the HPV vaccine should talk with their healthcare clinician about whether or not it would be beneficial for them,” said Dr. Chung.
Dental, Hearing, and Eye Exams
Women in their 40s should receive a dental exam and cleaning every six months. Women should also schedule a baseline eye exam at age 40, even if they aren’t having any vision problems. A hearing test should be scheduled every 10 years.
Women in their 40s who have fair skin, freckles, a family history of skin cancer, or other skin cancer risk factors should see a dermatologist for annual skin exams.
“I check my patients’ skin during annual exams,” said Dr. Chung. “Especially their backs, because they can’t see it easily.”
The Bottom Line
Women in their 40s may begin to experience a variety of health changes related to menopause and aging. In addition to receiving routine preventive care, women in their 40s should keep an eye out for bothersome symptoms or other health changes that may warrant a visit to their healthcare clinician.
This health checklist is a great starting point to prepare women for what they may expect health-wise when they’re in their 40s. But remember, everyone is unique. Women should speak with their healthcare clinician about their own personal health history, family health history, race/ethnicity, and lifestyle to know what types of screenings, tests, and support makes sense for them.
To schedule an appointment with a Western Connecticut Medical Group primary care clinician, visit our website or call (203) 739 4700.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org