Men: Don't Duck the Doc!
Men who would never be five minutes late to a baseball game or an important meeting are often five years late in getting recommended medical screenings. They aren’t much better about having unexplained symptoms evaluated by a physician, either. In fact, men see doctors for annual exams and preventive health services half as often as women. So it’s time to retire the “take it like a man” approach and get up to speed on prevention. Here are the most essential routine screenings, tests and symptoms that should prompt visits by men to a medical professional.
Half of all heart attacks occur when there are no previously diagnosed symptoms, which might have been noticed and treated in a routine physical. “Most of those heart attacks can be prevented or delayed, but men tend to come in only when they have a problem,” says Richard Stein, M.D., spokesman for the American Heart Association (AHA). He advises annual physical exams beginning at 35. “Elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels will prompt your doctor to recommend medications or behavioral changes that reduce those levels.”
Know this: The AHA calls for blood pressure to be checked at least every two years and cholesterol levels every five years when readings are normal. Your physician will increase the checkups if levels are elevated. You should also know the symptoms of a heart attack, which are usually mild at first. These include shortness of breath; discomfort or pain in the midchest or elsewhere that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes; cold sweat; nausea; and lightheadedness. If you experience any of these symptoms and they can’t be easily explained, call 911 immediately.
“Women are accustomed to preventive medical care,” says Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “But while they make regular OB/GYN visits in their 30s and 40s, many men may not see a doctor once during those years.” That’s one reason most women stay up-to-date later in life with breast and cervical cancer screenings—they’re in the habit—while most men never get a colorectal cancer screening, the only cancer examination proven to save lives in men, says Brawley.
Know this: Colorectal screenings range from providing fecal samples once a year to getting a colonoscopy once a decade, depending on your doctor’s advice. For men with an average cancer risk, these tests should begin at 50. That’s also when you can consider getting PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screenings that check for prostate cancer. Their necessity is widely debated, so discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. There are also several potential cancer symptoms that should be checked by a doctor—just in case. These include nodules under the skin (commonly on the neck, armpit or groin); any appearance change in moles; a lump on a testicle; difficulty urinating or ejaculating; fecal blood; a chronic cough; or unexplained abdominal pain or fevers.
No pain, no gain? That high school locker-room version of toughness is, unfortunately, never forgotten by many men. Real pain, unlike muscle aches and soreness, should be taken seriously at any age. “Many men feel that if they neglect a problem, it might just go away,” says Ronald Delanois, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “They also fear they’ll be told they need surgery. But by postponing a diagnosis, they’re actually increasing the odds they’ll eventually need it.”
Know this: Prolonged muscle or joint pain or instability and the inability to perform daily activities are the most common symptoms that should be checked by an orthopedist. Back, knee and shoulder pain are the most common parts of the body affected. “Symptoms are like the warning lights on your dashboard,” says Delanois. “The longer you ignore them, the more serious the problem becomes.”
Be manly, Be healthy
Want to know more? The Men’s Health Network offers a screening checklist at getitchecked.com and a free men’s health booklet at blueprintformenshealth.com (click “Downloads”). GMC offers comprehensive heart, oncology and orthopedics care. Click the links to learn more.