There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under
Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
What can women do to promote a healthy pregnancy and birth?
Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy and birth. Before a woman gets pregnant, a preconception care visit can help her take steps for a safe and healthy pregnancy. This is important because early fetal development occurs often before women even know they are pregnant. Certain behaviors, such as exposure to tobacco smoke and drinking alcohol, can increase the risk for complications, while other behaviors, like taking the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, can reduce the risk for
neural tube defects, like spina bifida, by two-thirds.1
During pregnancy, a woman's prenatal care visits will include education and counseling about how to handle different aspects of pregnancy, the importance of good nutrition and physical activity, and what to expect during labor.
What health screenings are important for women?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force identified
that are important for adults at every stage. The screenings recommended specifically for women include2
Breast cancer screening. A mammogram (X-ray of the breast) is recommended for all women beginning at age 50, or earlier if a woman has a family history of breast cancer. Screening is recommended every 2 years.
Cervical cancer screening. Screening for cervical cancer should include a Pap test, a screening performed during a pelvic exam that checks for changes in the cells of the cervix, and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test, which finds certain infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer. The recommendations for cervical cancer screening include3:
The screening recommendations
do not apply to women who have had a hysterectomy (surgical procedure to remove their cervix and uterus). The recommendations
do apply to women who have had the HPV vaccine.
- Beginning at age 21, a Pap test is recommended every 3 years until age 29. An HPV test is not necessary if a woman has normal Pap test results.
- For women between the ages of 30 and 65, Pap tests should also be done every 3 years but should be combined with an HPV test every 3 to 5 years.
- Screening is not recommended for women ages 65 or older who have had three or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the past 10 years.
Osteoporosis screening. A bone mineral density test should begin at age 65 or earlier if a woman is at risk for osteoporosis. Risk factors include older age (post-menopause), a family history, low body weight or a small, thin frame, a history of broken bones, a lack of calcium and vitamin D, smoking, an inactive lifestyle, an unhealthy diet, and drinking too much alcohol.
The screenings listed above are just a few of the many tests that women should seek throughout their lives. Some screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks and colonoscopies (to screen for colon cancer) are important for both men and women. Other screenings, such as tests conducted during pregnancy at regular prenatal visits, help protect the health, and could even save the lives, of the mother and her fetus as well as prevent complications during pregnancy and beyond.
What unique challenges do women with disabilities face?
As many as 28 million American women have a disability, including physical,
learning, and intellectual and developmental disabilities.4 The challenges faced by women with disabilities increase as they age and their abilities become increasingly limited. Some of the challenges faced by women with disabilities include:
- Barriers to health care services, including a lack of knowledge among health care providers about disabilities.3 Younger women with disabilities are often less likely to seek health care5
- Increased risk for health issues such as depression, stress, being overweight, and high blood pressure5
- Decreased levels of physical activity6
- Fewer opportunities to be screened for cancer, blood pressure, cholesterol, osteoporosis, and sexually transmitted diseases and infections5
- Additional challenges faced during pregnancy, including a lack of health care providers who are familiar with managing pregnancy in women with disabilities and increased discomfort and health complications as the pregnancy advances7
Disability and Health special issue describes the latest research on sexual and reproductive health in women with disabilities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006).
A report of the CDC/ATSDR Preconception Care Work Group and the Select Panel on Preconception Care. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from
Department of Health and Human Services. (2011).
Screening tests and vaccines. Retrieved August 7, 2012, from
American Cancer Society. (2012).
New screening guidelines for cervical cancer. Retrieved September 10, 2012, from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2004).
Breaking down barriers to health care for women with disabilities.
Center for Research on Women with Disabilities. (2004).
Improving the health and wellness of women with disabilities: a symposium to establish a research agenda. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from http://www.crowdbcm.net/fnlrpt.htm
Altman, B., & Bernstein, A. (2008).
Disability and health in the United States, 2001-2005. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved August 7, 2012, from
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/disability2001-2005.pdf (PDF - 829 KB)
Center for Research on Women with Disabilities. (2012).
Sexuality and reproductive health—pregnancy and delivery. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from