National Men’s Health Week is an important reminder for men (and those who love them) that screening and prevention is the best way to stay healthy and happy for a long time. Screening recommendations for men change slightly as they age, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider annually. Here are a few basic screening recommendations.
1. Blood pressure
For men ages 18 to 64, blood pressure should be checked every two years. High or low blood pressure can be a “first alert” for other potential serious conditions, such as stroke. Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers: the systolic number (the top number) and the diastolic number (the bottom number). The systolic number should be between 120 and 139, and the diastolic number should be between 80 and 89. If either number is higher than recommended, schedule a visit with your doctor. It is important to note that men with diabetes, heart disease, or kidney problems should have their blood pressure checked more frequently. You can even check it yourself; many drug stores have a blood pressure machine by the pharmacy. While this is no substitute for seeing a healthcare provider, it can give you some idea of your baseline reading.
2. Cholesterol and heart health
High cholesterol is the leading cause of heart disease for men, and getting it checked is a great way to monitor heart health. Healthy men over 34 should have their cholesterol checked every two years, but men with a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes should have it checked annually as part of a routine blood screening. For more effective screening, doctors are now looking at the ratio of low density lipoprotein levels (“bad” cholesterol) to high density lipoprotein levels (“good” cholesterol). A ratio higher than 3.5:1 indicates an increased chance of heart disease.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in middle-aged men than in women. Research has indicated that men are diagnosed at a lower BMI than women, possibly because of where fat storage occurs in men’s bodies (around their internal organs). It is important that men at risk for this get screened annually with a simple blood test. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include family history, sedentary lifestyle, smoking/drinking, and diet. A doctor can help screen for pre-diabetes and advise on important lifestyle and dietary changes to help prevent this disease.
4. Cancer screening: lung, prostate, and colon
Men over the age of 50 should get screened for colon cancer annually with a stool test and every five to ten years with a flexible sigmoidoscopy. A colonoscopy is recommended every ten years unless there is ulcerative colitis or a strong family history of colon cancer, in which case a doctor may recommend screening before age 50 or more frequently. Men who have a history of smoking should likewise get a chest X-ray for lung cancer once every five years, but otherwise X-rays are not indicated without symptoms.
Screening for prostate cancer has become controversial in recent years. This cancer is very common in men but is also slow-growing, and a false positive can put men through many needless and potentially harmful additional tests. A manual exam combined with a PSA blood test may be recommended if there is a family history of prostate cancer or other risk factors, but many doctors choose not to screen unless there are symptoms.
Men over 50 should discuss screening for osteoporosis if they have one or more of the following risk factors: smoking, family history, low body weight, long-term steroid use, or heavy alcohol use.
Finding your doctor
Screening recommendations are great, but they may be difficult to follow through with if you don’t love (and trust) your doctor. There are many different ways to find a great doctor.
- Ask for recommendations: Male friends and family members are a great place to start. Ask friends who they use and why they like them (or who they tried and didn’t like!). You may find that friends recommend a health group rather than one specific doctor. Although building a relationship with one provider can be great, often a group practice makes it easier to schedule flexible appointments. If you are okay with seeing someone different every year, focus on finding a great group practice or clinic instead of just one doctor.
- Check your insurance company’s website: Insurance companies are the next place to go once you have some recommendations. Information on their website is usually the most up-to-date, but don’t be afraid to give them a call with questions if you have them. It’s always good to double check what services are covered, too.
- Meet more than one doctor: Although this can be time-consuming, if you can, meet more than one doctor or visit more than one practice. People often accept the first recommendation they get, but many times a bad fit can be prevented with a quick visit to the practice or phone call to the receptionist. You wouldn’t buy the first car you test drive; why would you spend even less time choosing a doctor?
- Go with your gut: If you visit your doctor or group practice and something seems off or doesn’t feel comfortable, keep looking. Some of the screening recommendations are sensitive, and it is important that you are comfortable enough to visit the doctor. If you are nervous or anxious about visiting your healthcare provider, chances are good you will put it off. Don’t take that chance.
Websites like ZocDoc and DoctorDirectory can get you started on your search for a doctor. Our “Find Your Pain Doctor” feature can help you find a local doctor who focuses on pain management. If you already have a great healthcare provider, tell us about them!
Image by James Theophane via Flickr