Men’s Health 101
It’s a well known fact that men use health care services much less than women. In fact, a survey from the American Academy of Family Physicians found that more than half of all men have not seen their primary care physician in the past year. While this may be due to many factors, men’s health is no less important than women’s health. Many top causes of death are preventable and can be avoided with regular physical exams and screening tests, along with living a healthy lifestyle. It is important to see your primary care doctor and remain engaged in your healthcare.
Once you enter adulthood at 20 it’s especially important to start regularly caring for your body and health. For better or worse, this is the only body you’re going to get! You should establish a relationship with a primary care provider. This is true regardless of if you feel healthy. You may not need to see them except for a yearly check-up but it’s good to have one office caring for you. Urgent care and emergency room departments should not be used for general health needs. Screening tests help detect diseases early when they are easiest to treat and cause the least disturbance to your life.
You should have a physical exam that reviews your current and past health status. You should have your blood pressure checked every year. If you are young and healthy, you may only need screening tests every few years, however if you have risk factors like diabetes, history of heart disease, tobacco use, high blood pressure or obesity, you may need screening tests performed ahead of the recommended schedule or more frequently.
Blood and urine tests screen for various diseases before symptoms occur. Results help to screen for infections, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney and thyroid problems.
High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the number one cause of death in America. A simple baby aspirin helps lower your risk of a heart attack. How much aspirin you should take depends on your age and your current health status. Always discuss medication changes with your provider.
If your blood pressure is higher than 135/80, you should be tested for diabetes. Diabetes can cause problems with your heart, eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves, and other body parts. Diabetes also greatly contributes to spine disease.
An EKG is a painless test that looks at your heart conductivity and can detect heart problems. You should have a baseline EKG done at 30 and then more frequently as you age to yearly at 50 years old.
All sexually active men should discuss the need for sexually transmitted infection screenings. This is especially important for men with multiple partners and those who have unprotected sex.
Immunizations keep you and those around you healthy. This is especially important for the very young, very old and those who are sick with compromised immune systems. Vaccines save lives. You should receive a flu vaccine every year. You should have a tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccination every 10 years. You may also receive a shingles or herpes zoster vaccination once you are 60.
As you reach middle age, you should have annual exams that include a rectal exam to screen for hemorrhoids, colon and prostate cancer. At the same time, a hemoccult screens the stool for microscopic amounts of blood that can be a first indicator of colon cancer. Annual lab tests may additionally include a PSA level to screen for prostate cancer and testosterone levels.
Once you hit the ‘big 5-0’ there are other screening tests that become important. Colorectal cancer screening is one of them. As much as you may try to avoid this exam, a standard colonoscopy detects polyps, benign growths that can progress to cancer if not detected early. Breathe easy, if normal, this test is usually repeated only every 5-10 years.
If you are a smoker, a chest x-ray may be done to screen for lung cancer. Smoking is extremely detrimental to your overall health and especially causes rapid degeneration of your spine. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) is screened for in men at 65 years and older with a history of smoking. AAA is an abnormally large blood vessel in your stomach that can expand and burst without warning, causing death. Please discuss ways to stop smoking with your doctor and learn more about the negative effects smoking has on your spine.
Don’t forget about your bone health! Assessing your risk for bone fractures becomes important as you age. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends all men over the age of 70 should get a bone scan, or DEXA, to assess for osteoporosis.
If you see a primary care provider or internist, rest assured you will not have to remember all of these! Each annual exam allows you time to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor and make sure you have all the tests you need scheduled. The big take away message is that screening saves lives! Stay tuned for easy at-home screening tests you can do each month to help keep you healthy.