Forget forking out for fancy MOTs. We've found the best budget checks that monitor the most important aspects of a woman's health
Because chlamydia can leave you infertile. It might sound like something only teenagers need to worry about, but even if you've been in a relationship for years, you're still at risk of chlamydia - a bacterial infection that can lead to pelvic inflammation and damage your Fallopian tubes. 'Cases have risen by 300% in the last 12 years - it's the most common sexually transmitted infection in the UK - but 70% of people have no symptoms, so it can go unnoticed for months, even years before complications set in and lead to a diagnosis,' says Zest's GP Dr Pixie McKenna. Even if you do get symptoms, they tend to be unspecific - a change in vaginal discharge, cystitis or mild lower abdominal pain. 'Left untreated, it can lead to infertility,' warns Pixie.
Under 25s get free screening on the NHS but, for the rest of us, Clamelle, available from chemists, is the most sensitive, accurate test available. Simply send a urine sample in the pre-paid envelope, get your results in the post in seven days and, if you test positive, you can buy the same single dose antibiotic a GP would prescribe from your pharmacy. Easy.
Because you're more at risk of bowel cancer than cervical cancer. OK, so the majority of cases are in the over-60s, but considering it's the second most common cancer in women and it's hard to spot the signs, it's worth thinking about doing a test - especially if your toilet habits have changed recently or you have a family history of the disease. 'It has very few early symptoms so this test really could save your life,' says Pixie. Don't die of embarrassment - early intervention makes all the difference. Currently 90% of people who are diagnosed in the earliest stages of bowel cancer are treated successfully.
'This test is a bit more expensive than most, but it's much more accurate,' says Pixie. 'You send off small stool samples, taken over three days, and they're screened in a lab for hidden blood - one of the most common but difficult to spot signs of bowel cancer. It's the same method that's used on the NHS but you don't have the awkwardness of handing over your stool sample to the receptionist.' Of course, a positive result requires a follow-up with your doctor.
Because we've all wondered whether we'll be able to have a baby when the time is right. 'When it comes to fertility, the earlier you know if you have a problem, the better,' says Dr Marie Wren, deputy director of the Lister Fertility Clinic. The test measures levels of AMH, a hormone that's produced by cells in ovarian follicles. The amount of this hormone in your blood is thought to reflect the size of your remaining egg supply. 'Whether you've been trying for a baby without success or want an indication of your ovarian reserve for the future, an AMH test can give a much more accurate indication of your "egg pool". Ideally, you should have both an ultrasound ovarian scan and AMH test, but if you only go for one, this is the most accurate,' advises Dr Wren.
'It's a simple blood test, and you'll have your results within a few days,' says Dr Wren. The bottom line is you can't change your ovarian reserve, but knowing as early as possible if you have any issues can play a part in how successful you are in getting pregnant.
Because it's not just fat old men who have heart attacks - the death rate in women for coronary heart disease in the UK is one of the highest in the world. 'Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, and high blood cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors,' says Pixie. You can't feel high cholesterol, so unless you do a test, there's no way of knowing if you have it.
There are literally hundreds of DIY cholesterol tests on the market, and they're available via your GP, too. But if you're the type who never gets round to making an appointment, or know that you just don't have what it takes to jab yourself hard enough to draw blood, Pixie recommends the Lloyds Pharmacy check. 'For just a few pounds more than the others, the pharmacist takes your full medical and lifestyle history, which you won't get with an over-the-counter test, and does a fingerprick blood test, blood pressure check plus a full discussion of your results,' she says.
Because 50% of sexually active people will get HPV at some stage of their life - and it's responsible for 99% of all cervical cancers, so wouldn't you like to know if you've got it? The trouble is that the human papilloma virus usually has no symptoms, there is no cure and it isn't routinely tested for. But it's not all doom and gloom. 'HPV can clear up on its own and just because you're HPV positive it doesn't mean you'll get cervical cancer,' says Pixie. Only a few of the 100-plus strains of HPV can cause cancer. 'The point is that, if you test positive, you can ask your GP for more frequent cervical smear tests - on the NHS you're normally entitled to them only once every three years.'
This is one check where you need to see the professionals. 'It's a very simple test that's done in a similar way to a cervical smear,' says Pixie. You get your results within five days and, if positive, this check can be life saving.
Because an eye exam is pretty much a full body MOT with no needles or prodding required. As well as checking your vision and diagnosing eye problems, an eye test can spot everything from high blood pressure (hypertension) to early signs of serious conditions such as MS, eye tumours and diabetes, and even whether you have an increased risk of stroke. And, be honest, if you don't wear specs, when was the last time you had your eyesight checked?
'This Boots eye exam is a good choice, as it includes retinal imaging with high-tech Optos cameras,' says optometrist Carolyn Zweig. 'Alongside the usual checks, these cameras give the most comprehensive picture of your eyes available, which can reveal health problems in the earliest stages, and diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration as soon as they appear. The photograph will be stored and compared over the years so any deterioration can be caught and treated early.'
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