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The doctor will see you now: Why men should take an active role in health care

Gentleman in a blue jacket

Gender stereotypes about men and the idea of masculinity can range from stubbornness to the ever-popular tough-guy attitude. Any one of these mindsets could be used to explain why men often don’t go to the doctor to address worrisome symptoms as frequently as women do.

“Getting men under the age of 40 to go to the doctor when there isn’t anything visibly wrong with them is virtually impossible,” explained Timothy Boone, M.D., Ph.D., vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Houston campus. No matter the reason for the phenomenon, Boone encourages male patients to rethink their aversions to health care.

Men under 40

Most men in this age category do not consider it important to go to the doctor unless there is something wrong with them. However, Boone says that establishing a relationship with a family doctor is important so the provider can learn about your personal and family medical history, which will make future appointments move along much faster than starting from scratch with someone new. The best way to start this relationship is to make an appointment with your doctor when something goes wrong instead of just visiting a walk-in clinic, even though this may be a more convenient option.

“People are more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices when they have a good relationship with their primary physician, who can help explain how different choices can affect your long-term health,” Boone said.

He suggests that healthy, active men under 40 should visit the doctor every three to five years. However, Boone warns not to overlook a mass, or blood in urine or stool, as these can be signs of a serious illness.

“Following the guidelines for screenings can catch diseases or illnesses before damage has been done and lowers the risk for developing a more serious disease,” Boone said.

The following health screenings are important for men under 40 to pay close attention to:

Testicular Cancer. The most common serious disease for men under 40 is testicular cancer. Self-exams are important because men that have this type of cancer often do not feel sick and in some cases don’t experience pain at all, Boone explains. Look out for lumps and changes in size.

Blood Pressure. Adults 18 and older should have their blood pressure checked regularly. Blood pressure can tell you if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), hypotension (low blood pressure), heart disease and other conditions.

The two important numbers included in blood pressure readings are systolic, the top number and diastolic, the bottom number. The systolic number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and the diastolic number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats. Normal blood pressure is considered to be below 120/80. Any higher and you may be at risk for hypertension.

Cholesterol. Men around the age of 35 should consider getting a cholesterol test, also called a lipid panel or profile. If you are at increased risk for coronary heart disease based on genetic, lifestyle or related fitness and health factors, start these checks at age 20.

Cholesterol is part of a larger category of fats in the blood called lipids.  A cholesterol test can determine the risk of buildup of plaque in the arteries throughout the body, which puts you at risk for high cholesterol and therefore heart disease.  High cholesterol does not generally present with any symptoms on its own and so it is important to have this test done every five years. There are four different calculations of lipids that the test checks for: total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Men over 40

At 40 men should start going in for a regular, yearly checkup with their primary care physician, paying close attention to the following screenings:

Diabetes. Men with sustained blood pressure greater than 135/80 should be screened for type 2 diabetes. Most people who develop diabetes first exhibit pre-diabetes, which means that blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes.

There are three types of tests to help diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes: A1C, or glycosylated hemoglobin test, fasting plasma glucose test and oral glucose test.  The  fasting plasma glucose test is said to be the easiest to access and likely to be covered by your health insurance.

Colorectal Cancer.  This type of cancer is the third most common cancer in men. Boone recommends getting a colonoscopy at the age of 50 and every ten years after, if the results are normal. If results show a cause for potential concern, follow up recommendations will vary depending on what is found.

Prostate Cancer. While this is the second most common cancer for men after skin cancer, some experts disagree on the necessity of screenings. Talk to your doctor about your family’s history of prostate cancer, and the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening to determine what is right for you.

It’s time to drop the age-old stereotype. At every stage of life – and not just when they’re sick – men should be seen for regular health screenings and checkups.

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