When You Should Get Checked for What
With the Movember fundraiser program occurring every year to raise awareness about prostate cancer and other men’s health issues, November is always great time to discuss this important topic. So while you’re sitting around growing that mustache, check out these important recommendations about taking care of your health. You may see you need to call your doctor sooner than you think!
Let’s be honest. As men, we all know the last thing we want to do is go see a doctor to have our heath checked or even go out of our way to get screenings for various health concerns such as blood pressure, colon cancer or diabetes. An article in Medical News Today featured a June 2022 study completed in the United States by The Harris Poll for Orlando Health in Orlando, Florida, that found some startling facts that all men need to consider:
- 33% of men do not feel the need for yearly health screenings.
- The survey also found that 65% of men believe they are healthier than others.
- Almost 40% of the men interviewed said they get their medical advice from social media.
A different national survey conducted in the U.S. in early May 2022 in the United States confirmed that one-third of men do not think they need annual health screenings.
Thomas Kelly, M.D., a family medicine specialist at Orlando Health Physician Associates, believes most of these men are deceiving themselves because it “is statistically impossible for the majority of men to be healthier than the majority of men.”
According to Dr. Kelley: “Even if you think you’re healthy and you’re not experiencing any symptoms, there can be developing issues that often go unnoticed and can also be life-threatening if left unchecked [including] rising blood pressure that can be a ticking time bomb for a heart attack or stroke, as well as colon cancer, which is one of the most deadly yet preventable cancers that exist.”
The following fact is not new: Doctors caution people – that includes all men – to go for regular checkups, so undetected and minor issues do not escalate into more serious conditions.
With all of that in mind, let’s review eight key health screenings that men should be receiving on a regular and ongoing basis:
Regular Physical Exams
Start with the easiest to do and remember: Men older than 50 should have a yearly physical exam, while men younger than 50 should have a physical exam every three to five years. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, “even if you’re feeling healthy, a regular checkup with your health care team is a good way to validate your health or identify a problem in its early stages,” which makes treating any problems significantly faster and more effective. Annual checkups provide an ideal opportunity to discuss all of your health screenings with your primary care physician.
According to Brigham Health Hub, if you are a man aged 35 or older, you should get your blood cholesterol levels checked regularly. That is especially important for “men who use tobacco, are overweight or obese, have a relative who had a heart attack before the age of 50,” the information states. Also, men who “have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a history of heart disease should get their cholesterol checked much earlier, beginning at the age of 20. There are several measures of cholesterol, and all are important in determining heart disease risk.”
Brigham Health Hub and pretty much every other men’s health expert says, “Every man should have their blood pressure checked regularly, and patients with other cardiovascular risk factors should check their blood pressure more frequently. This can be performed at your doctor’s office. High blood pressure is the biggest risk for heart disease and a significant risk for other serious health conditions.” Outside of your annual physicals or other doctor office checks, you can test your blood pressure at home. Home blood pressure testing equipment is simple, fast, and readily available at your local drug store, Target, Wal-Mart or Amazon or other online sources. These devices are no substitute for a doctor visit, but are reliable enough to give you results that may indicate if it’s time to talk to your doctor about a problem brewing.
If you’re older than 45 or have a body mass index above 25, no matter your age, the American Diabetes Association recommends you be screened for diabetes. Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes symptoms can happen slowly and may not be noticeable, so staying aware of your blood sugar levels and risk of developing diabetes is important. Early detection is key, as diet changes and exercise can often reverse or slow the progression of diabetes if you catch it in time.
According to the Mayo Clinic, colon cancer screening should begin at age 45, or 10 years prior to the diagnosis of colon cancer in an immediate relative. For example, get screened at age 36 if your mother was diagnosed at age 46. A colonoscopy is a traditional, effective procedure to identify colon cancer or precancerous polyps. A more recent noninvasive option available is a take-home test to screen for colon cancer.
You should always discuss which option is best for you with your health care professional.
Many organizations advise men to be screened for prostate cancer starting at age 50. However, the subject is somewhat controversial. It may vary for you based on other risk factors, family history, or even race…African American men are recommended to ask about prostate cancer screening at age 45. Because of these variations, the best course of action for you is something you should consult with your healthcare team about.
The most common screening tool for prostate cancer is a simple blood test performed by your doctor or a medical lab that looks for elevated levels of Prostate Specific Antigen. This substance is normally produced in the prostate, but too high of a level may indicate a problem. Regular prostate cancer screenings after your recommended age can help catch anything before it becomes more serious.
To obtain a true reading of your whole health status, you must understand that your mental and emotional health is as important as your physical health. “If you have felt ‘down,’ sad, or hopeless over the last two weeks or have felt little interest or pleasure in doing things, you may be depressed,” according to Men’s Health. Talk to your doctor about being screened for depression, or any other mental or behavioral health challenges you are concerned about. Taking care of our emotional well-being should be just as commonplace and natural as everything we do to take care of our bodies.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Let’s continue our honest approach to the health conversation. Being a man reading this means you most likely are and have been sexually active for a good part of your life, and not always in a monogamous relationship. So, whether or not you’ve experienced specific symptoms, think about getting tested for STIs or at least talk with your primary care physician about it. Even if you always practice safer sex (which is frankly unlikely for most folks), it’s still especially important to discuss whether you should be tested for HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia or other sexually transmitted diseases.
“If you are having unprotected sex with anyone other than a long-term monogamous partner,” advises Men’s Health, “or if you suspect your partner is not monogamous and you are having unprotected sex with them, you should ask your doctor about getting tested.”