MAY 31, 2016
“I don’t need to go to the doctor, I’m fine.”
How many times has a man said something like this to his wife after complaining of feeling under the weather? Too many to count – and the statistics prove it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, men are more likely to skip or delay regular health screenings and not seek medical attention when something is wrong.
“We’re busy with our careers and taking care of our families and we too often put our health on the back burner,” said Dr. James Parker, a primary care and Internal Medicine physician. “And sometimes, men are prone to ignore pain or discomfort we view as minor, but there’s nothing tough or smart about ignoring our bodies’ warning signs.”
June is Men’s Health Month, a good time to explore some of the top men’s health problems and how they can be prevented, as well as remind all men that regular checkups and screenings are an important part of staying healthy.
You Can’t Know if You Don’t Get Checked
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common causes of death among men in the Unites States are cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory disease and heart disease, which is the leading cause 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 tremendous impact on one’s odds of developing heart disease.
Smoking – a habit more often associated with men than women – is also a major contributor to heart disease, as well as other top threats to men’s health, including 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. Paresh Patel, a primary care 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.”
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, though, men should have:
- A cholesterol screening every five years, age 35 and older,
- A blood pressure screening every two years, ages 18-64, and every year at age 65 and older and
- A diabetes screening at age 44 and every three years afterward.
See our January article, Healthy You: Your 2016 Checklist, for additional details on recommended tests and screenings.
“Regular screenings are extremely important for maintaining good health,” says Dr. Isaac Watemberg, a primary care 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.”
Adds Dr. Wilder Diaz-Calderon, a primary care and Internal Medicine physician: “Often times, we’ll find that a patient has borderline high cholesterol, glucose (a diabetes warning sign) or blood pressure. I talk with my patients about steps they can take to reverse those trends through a healthier lifestyle. Usually, it’s not more involved than eating more fruits and vegetables and less fatty and sugary foods, watching overall calories and getting more exercise, which could just mean going for a 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 a lot better, too,” says Dr. Mark Bernhard, a family physician. “You’ll have more energy throughout the day and feel better physically and mentally.”
Men’s Reproductive Health
If you spend any time listening to news or sports talk radio, it would be easy to be convinced that you’ve got a problem with your prostate, your testosterone levels are too low or both, based on the number of commercials for services and products that claim to address these issues. But that’s not necessarily true, and promises of increased energy and a return to youthfulness by visiting a specialty “men’s clinic” or ordering a supplement should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Here’s a look at health issues specific to men:
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 types of 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 – can 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 determine if there is an elevated risk of the disease, there is a lack of consensus in the medical community about whether or not all men should be tested, as some contend that the risks of testing and treatment outweigh the benefits.
Texas Health Care 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 thinks are relevant.
There are other common prostate issues men may experience. An enlarged prostate – Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) – is a very 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 or 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.
There is a lot of advertising out there promising men they will feel younger, stronger and more vigorous is they undergo 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 mean he has an abnormally low testosterone level.
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 thought of getting a shot of testosterone and instantly feeling younger and more energetic is appealing, no doubt about it,” says Dr. Errol Bryce, a primary care and Internal Medicine physician. “But 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 – it could be a thyroid issue, diabetes, stress, lack of sleep or simply not getting enough exercise.”
The Healthy Man
“Fortunately for us men, the basic things we have to do improve our odds of staying healthy are fairly straightforward: don’t smoke, don’t consume alcohol in excess, eat a balanced diet while cutting down on carbohydrate intake and get regular exercise,” says Dr. Mark Hammonds, a primary care physician. “And see your doctor once a year and get the screenings he or she recommends at the right time. Just like those regular oil changes keep your car running, your regular checkup can go a long way to keeping your body on the road for years to come.”
This article contains information sourced from:
The National Institutes of Health
The American Urological Association
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion