By DR. ENRIQUE ALFARO, MD
Research shows that men are four times less likely to consult a doctor when they experience medical problems. As a result, men are much more likely to need an emergency admission to a hospital with a serious or life-threatening condition which could have been prevented or dealt with at an earlier stage.
This Father’s Day, in conjunction with National Men’s Health Week, June 15-21, the care team at Mesa View Regional Hospital urges men to ‘man up’ and visit their doctors for an annual checkup.
National Men’s Health Week is intended to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men.
Many of the health issues that affect men are preventable, which makes these tests, most often at an annual checkup, even more important. Below are a few of the recommended screenings for men.
Why: Keeping a close eye on blood pressure levels can help with early detection of hypertension. If left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, strokes and kidney disease.
When: Men should have their blood pressure checked once every two years. Even men with normal blood pressure readings can develop high blood pressure in middle age and later in life.
Why: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels. Lowering cholesterol can reduce the risk of having a heart attack, needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty, and dying of heart disease.
When: Men should have their cholesterol checked every five years beginning at age 35 – or younger if he is a smoker and/or has diabetes, high blood pressure, or a genetic predisposition to heart disease.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Why: Depending on lifestyle and sexual history, men should talk to their doctor about whether they should be tested for certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, human papilloma virus (HPV), Hepatitis B, HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Early treatment can cure many STDs, lessen their symptoms and/or make the disease less likely to spread.
When: All men who are sexually active, as well as their partners, should be tested regularly for STDs. The CDC has no set recommendations for the frequency of STD testing, unless an individual engages in high-risk sexual practices or has symptoms such as genital sores, fluid-filled blisters, ulcerations or warts, or unusual discharge. The agency does advise yearly HIV testing for high-risk patients, such as individuals who have had unprotected sex with more than one sexual partner since their last screening.
Why: The rate of diabetes has dramatically increased. Of the 29.1 million people in the U.S. who have diabetes (about one out of 11 people), one out of four don’t know they have it. In the beginning, symptoms are so mild, the disease often goes undetected or is mistaken for some other ailment. Other health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, increase the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes can cause problems with the heart, eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves, and other body parts.
When: Men 45 years of age or older should be screened for diabetes every three years, according to the American Diabetes Association. If a man is overweight, has high blood pressure or high cholesterol, his doctor may advise screening at a younger age. Individuals with pre-diabetes should be checked for type 2 diabetes every one to two years after initial diagnosis.
Why: Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. The disease is rare before age 50, and, when caught early, (i.e., while symptoms are limited to the prostate), is curable. Age is a big risk factor for prostate cancer. More than 70 percent of all men are diagnosed at age 65 or older. The most common test is the digital rectal examination, a simple screening test in which a doctor checks the prostate gland for any abnormalities that may indicate the beginning of cancer.
When: A prostate check is usually performed annually, as part of a man’s annual physical, beginning at age 50. African American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer should discuss screening at age 45.
Why: According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in U.S. men and women. But if caught early, colorectal cancer is one of the most curable cancers. A colon screening provides both diagnosis and treatment, since any polyps found are removed and analyzed as part of the exam.
When: All men should have a colorectal exam, which includes several tests to check the colon and rectum, beginning at age 50. If there is a family history of colorectal cancer, screening should begin ten years earlier than the age at which the relative was diagnosed. The frequency of repeat exams depends on individual risk level.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Test
Why: The aorta is the main blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when an area of the aorta becomes very large or balloons out. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to burst. This can be life-threatening. Aneurysms can develop slowly over many years, often with no symptoms. While the exact cause is unknown, factors that can increase the risk of developing the problem include male gender, smoking, high blood pressure, and certain genetic factors. An abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is most often seen in males over age 60 who have one or more additional risk factors.
When: The good news is that an ultrasound can detect AAA. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends screening for men between 65 and 75 who have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in their lifetime.
Importance of the Annual Check Up
All of these tests circle back to the importance of visiting your primary care doctor once a year for a checkup, Your doctor will keep tabs on your age and what tests are needed, as well as your family history and possible predisposition for certain diseases.
Other screenings that may be performed during an annual visit may include a screening for depression, as well as an assessment of your weight and body mass index (BMI). Excess weight increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease. Your doctor may also check your skin for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, though highly curable when diagnosed early.
Men, don’t dodge the doctor any longer. Stay healthy for your friends and loved ones.
For more information on any of these tests, contact Mesa View Regional Hospital at 702-346-8040, or visit the Health Library on www.mesaviewhospital.com. To find a primary care doctor visit the “Find a Doctor” link on the hospital home page.
Dr. Enrique Alfaro is an Internal Medicine physician at the Mesa View Medical Group in Mesquite.