June is Men’s Health Month, intended to raise awareness about health issues that affect men and underscore the importance of regular check-ups and health screenings. According to the National Institutes of Health, men are more likely to skip or delay regular health screenings and forgo medical attention when something may be wrong.
“Men are more prone to ignoring their symptoms and avoiding checkups and screenings,” says Dr. Charles Carlton, an internal medicine physician. “We tend to focus on how busy we are with our careers and families as justification for not taking care of ourselves – that can be a big mistake.”
Get Yourself Checked Out
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one killer of men in the United States is heart disease. In addition, cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory disease are leading causes of death.
Underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and obesity are among the most common contributors to heart disease. As these conditions are often caused by inadequate exercise and poor diet, lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on the likelihood of developing heart disease.
Smoking – a deadly habit more often associated with men than women – is also a major contributor to heart disease, as well as cancer, stroke and chronic respiratory disease.
“The first thing every man should do to protect his heart and overall health is to see a physician for an annual checkup,” says Dr. Curtis Evans, an internal medicine physician. “Your physician will tell you if you’re due for any routine screenings, as well as visit with you about how you are feeling and if you’ve noticed any changes in your body since the last time you were at the doctor.”
“Regular screenings are essential for maintaining good health,” says Dr. Norman Davenport, an internal medicine physician. “High cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension do not generally produce obvious symptoms, so the only way to know if you have one of these conditions or are at elevated risk of developing them is to visit your doctor and get a simple and quick checkup.”
Your doctor will advise you when it’s time for various screenings and tests based upon your age, medical history and family health history. In general, men should have:
- A cholesterol screening every four to six years, if no history of heart disease
- A blood pressure screening ages 18-39, every three to five years and annually age 40 and older
- A diabetes screening at age 45 and every three years afterwards.
For additional details on recommended tests and screenings, see our comprehensive article on this topic.
“When a patient has elevated cholesterol or blood sugar, the first thing I do is review the steps they can take to reverse those trends through a healthier lifestyle,” says Dr. Charles Cook, a family medicine physician. “We can often move the needle through dietary adjustments: eating more fruits and vegetables and less fatty and sugary foods, while watching overall calorie intake. In addition, getting more exercise makes a difference, even if that just means going for a 30-minute walk once a day. Patients who make these types of lifestyle adjustments will often see improvement on their cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose numbers, thereby lowering their chances of heart disease, cancer and stroke.”
If cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure are too high, your physician may also prescribe medication in order to manage those conditions and lower the risk of developing heart disease.
“The other added benefit of eating right and getting regular exercise is that you’ll not only be healthier, but you will feel better, too,” says Dr. Jason Ledbetter, an internal medicine physician. “You’ll have more energy throughout the day and feel better physically and mentally.”
Men’s Reproductive Health
There are several health conditions specific to the male reproductive system:
Testicular cancer is relatively rare and primarily affects younger men, between ages 20 and 39. Men who have a family history of the cancer or an undescended testicle are at greater risk for the disease. Symptoms include bumps on the testicles, as well as pain and swelling in the groin area. While these symptoms can be caused by something else altogether, it is very important that a man experiencing these symptoms see a physician right away.
Lab tests, imaging and a biopsy are all used to diagnose testicular cancer. The good news is that treatment for testicular cancer – including surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy – have proven to be quite effective if the cancer is discovered and treated early.
The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland located below a man’s bladder. Its purpose is to create the fluid that transports sperm.
Prostate cancer is one of the more common cancers in men over the age of 50. However, prostate cancer often causes no serious health problems, due to the fact it grows very slowly. While there are tests that can be done to detect prostate cancer or gauge whether there is an elevated risk of the disease, there is a lack of consensus in the medical community on the merits of routine screening. Some contend that the risks of testing and treatment outweigh the benefits.
Privia Medical Group North Texas recommends that men visit with their physician about the risks and benefits of a screening and that a decision should be based upon family and personal medical history and other factors the doctor and patient think are relevant.
There are other common prostate issues men may experience. An enlarged prostate – Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) – is a common condition in men over age 50; roughly half of men between ages 51 and 60 have BPH and 90 percent of men over age 80 do.
Since the prostate is located next to the bladder, enlargement can cause urinary complications, such as having to urinate more frequently and difficulty fully emptying the bladder. Men experiencing these symptoms should visit with their physician to determine if there are steps that can be taken to improve the situation.
There is some evidence that a healthy diet can reduce the likelihood of BPH, including eating more fruits and vegetables. Obesity and lack of physical activity may also play a role in developing BPH. It is important to note that BPH is neither a cause nor a result of prostate cancer; however, it is possible to have both conditions at the same time.
Another prostate condition – one which primarily affects men under the age of 50 – is prostatitis. Prostatitis is a bacterial infection of the prostate, which can lead to painful urination, difficulty urinating and pain in the lower back, groin area or testicles. Prostatitis can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Like BPH, prostatitis has not been shown to cause or be a result of prostate cancer.
A lot of advertising from various online marketers and “men’s health clinics” promise men they will feel younger, stronger and more vigorous simply by undergoing testosterone therapy. The truth is, it’s probably not that simple.
Testosterone is an important hormone, present in both men and women. In men, testosterone is produced in the testicles and helps to regulate a number of physiological functions, including hair growth, red blood cell count, bone density, muscle mass, fat distribution, sex drive and more.
Testosterone levels are at their highest in adolescence and early adulthood and gradually decrease over time. So while a man will have a lower testosterone level at age 55 than when he was 25, that does not necessarily mean his testosterone level is “too low.”
If you’re concerned about your testosterone levels, your physician can order a simple blood test that will determine what your levels are. In the event that testosterone levels are abnormally low due to a condition known as hypogonadism, your physician may recommend testosterone therapy as a treatment.
However, most men do not fall into this category and while their testosterone levels aren’t what they were in their teens and twenties, that does not mean there is a problem. It is unclear what, if any, benefits there are for healthy men to undergo testosterone therapy. In addition, there may be side effects to such treatment, so it is definitely something to discuss with your doctor.
“The reality is that if you’re feeling tired or unmotivated, there are a whole lot of things that are more likely to be the culprit than your testosterone level,” says Dr. Mark Hammonds, a primary care physician. “It could be a thyroid issue, diabetes, stress, lack of sleep or simply not getting enough exercise.”
The Healthy Man
The basic things men can do increase their likelihood of staying healthy are fairly straightforward: don’t smoke, consume alcohol only in moderation, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. “See your doctor once a year and get the recommended screenings at the right time,” says Dr. Kelly Felty, a family medicine physician.
“Finally, be sure to communicate openly with your doctor about how you are feeling – our medical training doesn’t include mind-reading!” adds Dr. Arnold Morris, III, a family medicine physician. “We really need our patients to let us know of anything that’s bothering you. Your regular checkup goes a long way in keeping you healthy now and into the future.”
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