June 8, 2010 in Features

Time to ‘man up,’ gentlemen; visit the doctor

Dr. Alisa Hideg
 

A friend of mine in his mid-forties recently asked me whether he should worry about a new mole on his arm. It was not large, but the first thing I said was, “When was the last time you saw your doctor?”

It had been over two years. I told him to make an appointment for a full physical, and to be sure to bring up the mole.

Compared to women, only half as many men visit their primary care doctor every year. Men are more likely to consider the emergency room or an urgent care center their usual place of health care or they never go to the doctor at all.

These are expensive and potentially deadly habits. Some men are breaking these habits and getting routine physicals. Often this is because someone in their life urged them to do so, like me telling my friend to go.

If you are trying to get your husband, boyfriend, father or someone else you care about to go to the doctor, perhaps sending them this article will help.

If you are a man who “doesn’t go to the doctor,” it is time to “man up” and start getting those routine checkups that may involve tests you would rather avoid. No one wants blood tests, a prostate check or a colonoscopy, but preventing diseases is always easier and more effective than treating them.

Starting in your twenties, a routine physical exam should include checking blood pressure, weight and cholesterol and screening for skin cancer.

If you engage in high-risk sexual behavior, testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should also be part of your exam because it is possible to be infected and have no symptoms. Left untreated, STIs can seriously impact your health. For men without health insurance, you can go to Planned Parenthood.

Seeing the dentist and an optometrist regularly should also be a part of maintaining your health throughout your lifetime.

When you hit your forties, you should ask to be screened for prostate cancer (using the prostate specific antigen blood test and/or a digital rectal exam) and diabetes (by a blood test).

In your fifties, you want to begin getting screened for hearing loss and colon and rectal cancer (using the fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy and/or colonoscopy).

In your sixties, if you have a strong family history or risk factors such as smoking or thyroid disease, you should talk to your doctor about osteoporosis and a bone density test. Although it is more common in women, osteoporosis also happens in men.

At what age you begin to and how often you have these tests and screenings will depend on your family history, personal health history and overall health.

For instance, if you have a family history of colon cancer, you should talk to your doctor about colon and rectal cancer screening well before you turn 50. Likewise, if you have a family history of glaucoma, your eye doctor may want to check you for that more often.

If you have a health issue or symptom that causes you concern, but that your doctor does not ask about or bring up during your visit, do not be shy about bringing it up yourself.

Being open and honest with your health care providers about your personal and family health histories will get you the most out of your health care. If your doctor does not know that you quit smoking 20 years ago, he will not know to screen you for an abdominal aortic aneurysm when you turn 65.

Some men reading this are still not convinced. Why see the doctor when you do not feel sick?

Others will put it on their “to do” list, but it will stay on the list for some time. Then there are men who say that they will go in after they quit smoking, lose weight or change something else about their life.

I cannot promise that you will enjoy going to the doctor or that nobody is going to lecture you about how to be healthier, but I can tell you this: The people in your life who love you will be really glad if you make that appointment, and keep it.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to drhideg@ghc.org.


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