With health news breaking fast and furiously, it's hard to know if you're making the best stay-well decisions. This quiz can help. It's designed to test your smarts on a number of topics that are essential to your health (and a few that are just handy to know). The answers and tips will help you separate fact from fiction and diminish your odds of developing certain illnesses.
Grab a sharpened No. 2 pencil, then circle the correct choice. Each question has only one right answer (no tricks). Once you’ve completed the quiz, go to the answers page to see how you did.
1. A recent fitness walk left you breathless, and you’ve been having trouble sleeping. You’ve also been dealing with an upset stomach and occasional dizziness. These could be symptoms of:
B. Heart disease.
D. High blood pressure.
E. All of the above.
2. What’s the leading cause of death for women?
B. Heart disease.
D. Accidental injuries.
3. When should you have your first cholesterol screening?
A. At age 10.
B. At age 20.
C. At age 35.
D. At age 40.
E. It depends on your risk factors.
4. You’ve had yeast infections before, but in the past year they haven’t really gone away. This could be a sign of:
C. Stomach ulcers.
E. Food allergies.
5. What lifestyle changes may reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer?
A. Staying trim as an adult.
B. Drinking a glass of red wine each day.
C. Getting moderate to vigorous physical exercise regularly.
D. A and C.
E. There is little you can do to lower your chances of developing breast cancer.
6. What is the main reason women have trouble becoming pregnant after age 30?
A. Their ovaries release fewer eggs.
B. Their eggs have begun to degenerate.
C. They have sex less frequently.
D. The uterine lining thins.
E. It is a high-stress period in their lives.
7. How often should you have a Pap smear?
A. Once a year after puberty.
B. Once a year after either turning 21 or having sexual intercourse for the first time.
C. Once a year after age 21 and every two years after 30.
D. Once a year if you’re not in a monogamous relationship.
E. Once a year unless you’ve been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Then the screening is not necessary.
8. What is the number one cancer killer of women?
A. Colon cancer.
B. Breast cancer.
C. Lung cancer.
D. Cervical cancer.
E. Esophageal cancer.
9. When should most women have their first mammogram?
A. At age 30.
B. At age 35.
C. At age 40.
D. At age 45.
E. At age 50.
10. When should you have your first colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer?
A. At age 35.
B. At age 40.
C. At age 45.
D. At age 50.
E. At age 55.
11. Which of the following may cause your hair to fall out by the fistful?
A. A medical condition like lupus, a thyroid disorder, or a recent high fever or case of the flu.
B. A fungal infection on the scalp.
C. Tight hairstyles (braids, extensions, cornrows, ponytails).
D. Hormonal shifts caused by pregnancy, changes in birth-control–pill use, or menopause.
E. All of the above and more.
12. What percentage of your diet should fat make up?
A. About 10 percent of your daily calories.
B. About 20 percent of your daily calories.
C. About 30 percent of your daily calories.
D. About 40 percent of your daily calories.
E. There is no recommended amount of fat; you should strive to eat as little of it as possible.
13. How much exercise do you really need?
A. 45 minutes twice a week.
B. 30 minutes three or four days a week.
C. 60 minutes at least three or four days a week.
D. 30 minutes at least four or five days a week.
E. It depends on your age and overall physical-fitness level.
14. Since sunscreen-awareness campaigns began, have skin-cancer rates decreased?
A. Yes, fewer people are getting skin cancer.
B. No, skin-cancer rates and deaths from the disease are on the upswing.
C. No, skin cancer is on the rise, but fatalities are down.
D. Skin-cancer rates have been stable over the past decade.
E. Yes, but only among older women.
15. Do women have more headaches than men?
A. No, they get equal numbers.
B. Yes, but not that many more.
C. Yes, and the headaches are more severe.
D. Yes, but men tend to get more painful kinds that last longer.
E. None of the above.
16. Which of the following is not a good approach to managing stress?
A. Talking directly to the person who is causing the stress.
B. Giving yourself a treat, like comfort food or a cocktail.
C. Accepting that there are things beyond your control.
D. Trying cognitive-behavioral therapy to learn new coping skills.
E. Working out regularly.
17. What is a healthy blood-pressure level?
18. Which factors may increase your risk of having a stroke?
A. Hypertension and aging.
B. Being female and Caucasian.
C. Being female and African-American.
E. B and C.
19. What is a healthy body-mass index (BMI) measurement?
A. 17.5 or lower.
B. 18.5 or lower.
C. 18.5 to 24.9.
D. 25 to 29.9.
E. 30 to 34.9.
20. How many cups of fruit and vegetables should you eat daily?
A. At least one cup of fruit or vegetables.
B. One cup of fruit and one cup of vegetables.
C. One cup of fruit and 1 1/2 cups of vegetables, for a total of 2 1/2 cups.
D. Two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables.
E. Four to five cups of fruit and vegetables.
So How Did You Do?
Check your answers. If you got fewer than half right, consider brushing up on your medical knowledge by subscribing to a free and reliable health e-newsletter, like the one from WebMD.com or the federal government’s Healthy Woman Today (4women.gov).
1. B, heart disease. The kind of dramatic heart attack you see in movies isn’t always what happens in real life, especially to women. Women’s symptoms tend to be more subtle. “A woman headed for a heart attack may have increasing difficulty walking up a hill she walked up easily the week before,” says cardiologist Nieca Goldberg. “Then she may wake up in the throes of an attack, feeling breathless and nauseated and sweating.”
2. B, heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women overall, responsible for almost a third (28 percent) of women’s deaths. While it’s often thought of as an older person’s problem, young women should not be cavalier. Those who smoke and have poor diet and exercise habits can begin to have plaque buildup in their arteries in their teens, which can set the stage for cardiovascular disease. (See Are You at Risk? Websites with Disease Risk Assessment Tools for how to assess your odds of developing heart disease.)
3. B, at age 20. Early cholesterol tests may be important for staving off heart disease and stroke. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found that people between ages 18 and 30 with such risk factors as high cholesterol and high blood pressure were two to three times more likely to have coronary-artery calcium, a form of plaque, 15 years later. To keep “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol up and “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol down, stick to low-fat dairy and lean meats, consume fish twice a week, and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
4. A, diabetes. Four or more yeast infections in a year that do not respond well to treatment could be a sign of diabetes, a disease in which blood glucose levels are too high, due to either a deficiency of insulin or the failure of the body to respond normally to insulin. Sugar builds up in the blood and spills into the urine, explains endocrinologist Francine R. Kaufman. The connection: Yeast thrives on sugar, so if diabetes is untreated, excess sugar from the urine may get into the vaginal area.
5. D, staying trim and exercising. Women who avoid gaining a lot of weight as adults may be able to lower their risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. What’s more, regular exercise may curb their risk of breast cancer at any age. As for drinking, it’s wise not to exceed one alcoholic drink a day. And if you choose hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms, opt for the lowest dose for the shortest time possible. Why? In short, estrogen. The growth of some types of breast cancer is fueled by this female hormone. Alcohol raises estrogen levels, and hormone-replacement therapy includes estrogen.
6. B, their eggs have begun to degenerate. Female fertility largely depends on the quality and the quantity of a woman’s eggs, which decline with age. Also, ovulation becomes irregular as a woman ages. Some women over 40 conceive easily without medical intervention (and so should use birth control if they don’t want to get pregnant). And some women in their 20s may need fertility treatment.
7. C, once a year after 21 and every two years after 30. After age 30, as long as your tests have been normal, you need a Pap smear only every two to three years, says gynecologic oncologist Carolyn Runowicz. A Pap can detect precancerous or cancerous cells of the cervix. If you have an abnormal Pap smear, your doctor may run additional tests, including one for HPV.
8. C, lung cancer. Every year, nearly 99,000 American women are diagnosed with lung cancer, and more than 70,000 die from it. While breast cancer rates are higher (close to 180,000 U.S. women are diagnosed yearly), this disease kills fewer (approximately 40,000 a year). Most lung cancer is caused by smoking, but secondhand smoke is deadly, too. A recent study published in American Journal of Public Health found that nonsmokers who worked in smoke-filled offices were 24 percent more likely to get lung cancer than those who did not work in smoke-filled offices.
9. C, you should get your first mammogram at age 40. The exception: Women at high risk for breast cancer due to family history or a genetic mutation of the BRCA gene should start getting scans at age 30 or 10 years before the age at which the relative who had cancer was diagnosed. New guidelines also urge high-risk women to have both an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam and a mammogram every year because that combination is more likely to pick up suspicious spots earlier than a mammogram alone. An MRI is also more effective at detecting cancer in women under 50, who often have dense breasts. (An MRI, however, is not always covered by insurers.)
10. D, you should have your first colonoscopy at age 50. The prospect of fasting, taking laxatives, and having a scope inserted into you is nobody’s idea of a good time. But the test itself is “done under mild sedation, so a lot of people sleep through it,” says internist Durado Brooks. Colonoscopies do more than detect disease; they can help prevent it by removing precancerous polyps.
11. E, all of the above―and more―can cause hair loss. Hair loss is more than an appearance issue. It can also be a sign of a serious medical condition, so see a doctor ASAP. “If you can find and treat the underlying cause, the hair problem usually gets better, too,” says dermatologist Catherine C. Newman. For women in their childbearing years, hair loss may be the first sign of iron deficiency. Other culprits include heredity, inadequate protein intake, certain drugs, stress, and trauma. Sometimes hair loss occurs for fairly benign reasons, like shampooing and blow-drying too rigorously or using chemical treatments.
12. C, about 30 percent of your total calories should be from fat. That translates to about 60 grams for an active woman consuming 2,000 calories a day. Sorry―that’s not license to down a daily pint of Ben & Jerry’s. The kind of fat you eat is also important: Aim for no more than one to two grams a day of trans fats, found in many packaged snack foods, such as cookies, and fewer than 20 grams of saturated fats, found in meats, dairy (hello, ice cream!), and coconut oil. The healthiest choices are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are abundant in salmon, nuts, seeds, olive and canola oils, and avocados.
13. D, 30 minutes of exercise at least four times a week. That’s to maintain your weight, according to government guidelines. To drop pounds, you’ll need to work out at least 60 minutes a day on most days. Walking will suffice, especially at a brisk pace. (Walk as though you’re late for an important meeting.)
14. B, no, skin-cancer rates and skin-cancer deaths are on the upswing. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer (as opposed to nonmelanoma, which is less likely to spread), is expected to strike some 60,000 Americans this year and kill 8,000, up from 40,300 cases and 7,300 deaths a decade ago. Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher and “broad-spectrum coverage,” which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, and that contains either mexoryl, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or oxybenzone.
15. C, yes, and their headaches are more severe. Women suffer more frequent headaches than men, and according to the American Migraine Study, 18 percent of women suffer from migraines (pounders that can last for days and be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or noise); just 6.5 percent of men get migraines. Fortunately, migraines are treatable with drugs such as triptans, and there are even preventive prescription medications (check with your doctor).
16. B, treating yourself to comfort food or a cocktail is not a good way to deal with stress. That’s because neither of these approaches will help you learn new coping skills, says psychologist and stress-management specialist Michael McKee, Ph.D. of the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. That means the next time you get stressed you’ll be no better off. And over time cookies and Cosmos might even hurt your health. McKee recommends, instead, thinking about the “four C’s” of stress management:
1. Control. With a friend, discuss whatever is stressing you out and look for ways to control, or at least minimize, its impact on you. This may mean learning to accept that some situations are beyond your control and are simply not worth worrying about.
2. Challenge your thoughts. Learn to change the way you think about a difficult situation by viewing it as an opportunity or a challenge to overcome rather than a crisis.
3. Commitment. Identify your priorities and live by them. If family and friends are the most important part of your life, for instance, don’t overcommit to work or volunteer activities and shortchange loved ones. If you do, you will feel conflict, guilt, and frustration.
4. Community. Turn to your family and friends for emotional support, as well as for concrete help. For example, perhaps they can babysit your kids so you can have an hour to yourself to blow off steam on the jogging path.
17. A, 110/70 is a healthy blood-pressure level. Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Constant high blood pressure (140/90 or higher) is called hypertension and can be extremely dangerous, a chief risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease. Untreated, the disease can also lead to kidney failure and blindness (a blood-pressure level of 120/80 is considered prehypertension). You can’t feel hypertension, which is why you need to have your blood pressure checked and then be treated, if necessary. Luckily, blood pressure can be kept at a healthy level with medications, and if you eat right you may be able to lower your blood pressure without drugs. Cutting down on salt and eating lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and only small amounts of fat, sweets, and meats can help you bring your numbers way down.
18. A, hypertension and aging both raise your risk of stroke, as well as heart disease (see the answer to question 17, above). In fact, your chance of having a stroke more than doubles in each decade past the age of 55. A stroke occurs when something―typically a blood clot or a hemorrhage―stops the flow of blood to the brain. Younger women have a low risk of stroke, but there are things that can raise a woman’s risk: pregnancy, childbirth, and the use of oral contraceptives. All of these elevate estrogen levels, which may in turn increase blood clotting. Hormone-replacement therapy can also increase risk. So what should you do to help? Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels, avoid cigarettes and heavy drinking, stay slim, and exercise and you’ll greatly lower your odds.
19. C, 18.5 to 24.9 is a healthy BMI range. Your body-mass index, a ratio of height to weight, is a measure of how much body fat you have. Doctors use BMI to predict risk for certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some cancers. But BMI isn’t a perfect formula. If you’re very muscular and therefore weigh a lot, your BMI may indicate that you have a high percentage of body fat when you don’t. Still, the vast majority of women should aim for a BMI in the 18.5 to 24.9 range. Plug in your height and weight in a BMI calculator (like this one from MSN Health & Fitness) to calculate your BMI.
20. E, four to five cups total of fruits and vegetables each day is what you should be aiming to take in. The scientific evidence piles up every day: Fruits and vegetables are practically miracle foods, helping to stave off stroke, cancers, and heart disease. Dark, leafy greens and deep orange or red fruits and vegetables are the best choices―the deeper the color, the richer they are in nutrients and health-promoting antioxidants. Five cups doesn’t seem so daunting if you sneak in your daily dose: Throw some peppers or mushrooms into your breakfast omelet. Snack on cherry tomatoes or baby carrots dipped in hummus. The next time you go out to eat, order two sides of vegetables instead of one.