9 Health Tests Every Mom Should Have

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You worry about everyone else -- but have you had what you need? Plus, take Parenting.com's Health Pledge today!

By Hallie Levine

Periodontal Exam

What it is: A routine cleaning and examination of your gums by your dentist to keep your teeth and gums healthy and free of infection and disease

What it measures: The connection between teeth and gums and inflammation around your gums

Why you need it: Women who have gum disease have up to a sevenfold higher risk of premature birth. There's also a chance you could simply be more prone to gum disease if you're pregnant or on the Pill. "Hormone changes seem to cause your gums to become more inflamed, although we're not really sure why," says Kimberly Harms, a dentist and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.

How often should you have it? Twice a year, but some pregnant women may need to see their doctors every three to four months. "If your gums are bleeding frequently, it's a red flag that you need to go in sooner," says Harms.

Plus: 10 Health Emergencies and How to Deal with Them

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) Test

What it is: A blood test that screens for an underactive (hypothyroid) and an overactive (hyperthyroid) thyroid

What it measures: Whether your thyroid hormone levels are normal

Why you need it: "Pregnancy and the postpartum period tend to bring on these conditions," says Dana Simpler, M.D., an internist at Mercy Medical Center, in Baltimore. Still, mild forms of thyroid disease may affect from 5 to 10 percent of all women. It gets worse: More than half of all these cases may remain undiagnosed. Feeling tired, being forgetful, and gaining weight -- classic symptoms of being a new mom -- are all signs of hypothyroidism. The opposite condition, hyperthyroidism, usually shows itself with a racing heart, trouble sleeping, or weight loss, which might be dismissed as anxiety or stress. If you're trying to have another baby, this is a crucial test, since a thyroid disorder can stop you from ovulating and increase your risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. If you're diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you'll be put on a synthetic hormone supplement for life; hyperthyroidism is usually treated with radioactive iodine to reduce thyroid hormone production.

How often should you have it? Once a year.

Plus: Healthy Habits that Begin at Home

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

What it is: A blood test that evaluates how well your bone marrow and immune system are working

What it measures: White blood cells (high levels mean an infection), hemoglobin (low levels indicate anemia), and platelets (low levels signify your blood may have trouble clotting)

Why you need it: You're more likely to have heavy periods after having children, which can make you susceptible to anemia. "Just the other week, I saw a mom who'd been tired and short of breath for months," says Shari Midoneck, M.D., an internist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center, in New York City. "We ran blood tests, and she was severely anemic. I put her on iron supplements immediately, and after a week she said she couldn't believe how much better she felt."

How often should you have it? Every year.

Plus: The Top Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Cholesterol, Pap, and Skin Exams

Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Tests

What they are: Two tests that assess how healthy your heart is and your risk of heart disease

What they measure: A blood pressure "cuff" test measures how hard your circulating blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries. Cholesterol tests measure the HDL ("good" cholesterol), LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides in your blood.

Why you need them: "Moms often think of heart disease as occurring later in life, but studies show you can have dangerous plaque buildup as early as your twenties unless you have a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, exercise, and no smoking," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., chief of the Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. Blood pressure less than 120/80 is ideal. But don't panic if yours is slightly higher. Simple lifestyle changes can often bring it down. Your LDL cholesterol should be below 130 and your HDL above 50.

How often should you have them? Blood pressure should be checked annually. Cholesterol screening should start at age 20 and be repeated every five years, but you'll need to be tested more frequently than that if it's elevated. Know you're at risk? Ask your doctor whether you should have the c-reactive protein test. It measures levels of a substance your liver makes called c-reactive protein (CRP), which can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, increasing your risk of heart disease or a heart attack. "I recommend it for women over thirty with two or more risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, being overweight, and a family history of the disease," says Dr. Midoneck.

Plus: 16 Early Signs of Pregnancy

Pap Smear

What it is: A swab test to detect precancerous and cancerous changes in your cervix. Your doctor may also ask the lab that analyzes your Pap smear to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. Certain strains of HPV, when left unchecked, can lead to cervical cancer over time.

Why you need it: Just because you're married doesn't mean you don't have or couldn't get HPV -- or cervical cancer. "You or your husband could have gotten the virus earlier in life, but it might not show up on a Pap smear for years," says Holly Nath, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center. If the results come back abnormal, the laboratory may run an HPV test. If the Pap's abnormal, your doctor may biopsy suspicious areas on your cervix to check for precancerous cells.

How often should you have it? If you have a normal Pap smear three years in a row and you're in a monogamous relationship, you need this test only every three years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But if you've recently had an abnormal Pap smear, or recently tested positive for HPV, you'll need to get one every three to six months.

Skin Examination

What it is: A visual exam of your skin by your doctor or dermatologist to check for signs of skin cancer

Why you need it: Malignant melanoma is the most common cancer among women 25 to 29, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. "Women also experience a lot of skin-pigmentation changes during and after pregnancy. Most of them are absolutely harmless, but it's something you definitely want a physician to look at," says Lisa Corum, M.D., a family physician based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Your doctor will biopsy any suspicious moles or skin patches (a small sample of tissue is removed from the area and sent to a laboratory for examination).

How often should you have it? Each year at your physical.

Plus: 12 Friends Every New Mom Needs

Blood Sugar and Bone Density Tests

Fasting Blood-Sugar Test

What it is: A test that screens for diabetes

What it measures: The sugar in your blood after an eight-hour fast

Who should get it: Women who have a family history of diabetes, have high blood pressure, or are overweight (yes, that includes those who've packed on the pounds during or after a pregnancy). Those who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have up to a 50 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. If you're diagnosed with diabetes, it most likely will be controlled through a combination of diet, exercise, and, if necessary, insulin injections.

How often should you get it? Most women should be tested at age 40, and then every year or two afterward. But if you've got any risk factors, most doctors recommend starting screening around age 30. Know you're at risk? If you're diabetic, ask your doctor about a blood test called the A1C, which measures the percentage of glucose attached to red blood cells in the bloodstream. If your A1C level is above 7 percent, your risk of complications from diabetes is much higher.

Bone Mineral Density Test

What it is: A test to check for osteoporosis, a disease that affects about 8 million American women each year and occurs when the bones become thin and weak

What it measures: Bone density, using a machine called a dual energy photon absorptiometer, or DEXA Who should get it: Normally, this test isn't recommended until a woman hits menopause. But you should ask your doctor about a baseline bone scan at age 35 if you have a family history of osteoporosis, are on thyroid medication, or are taking steroids to treat asthma or even eczema. "All of these medications accelerate bone loss," says Melba Ovalle, M.D., director of Osteoporosis Centers of America in Chicago and Orlando. This problem can also be compounded by lactation. If you don't get enough calcium during this time, your body takes it from your own bones to give it to your baby. If your scan reveals early bone thinning (a condition known as osteopenia), your doctor may recommend preventive measures ranging from weight-bearing exercises to calcium supplements to Fosamax, a medication that helps prevent further bone breakdown.

How often should you have it? It depends on your test results. If you don't have early signs of osteoporosis, you may not need to be screened again until you hit menopause.

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