No, ignoring a problem will not make it go away. Syed Rizvi, M.D., an internal medicine physician at Northside’s Newtown Medical Associates in Alpharetta, says here’s why regular checkups can help guys stay healthy for the long haul.
Men who would never be five minutes late to a baseball game or an important meeting are often five years late in getting recommended medical screenings. They aren’t much better about having unexplained symptoms evaluated by a physician, either.
“Also, men are scared that if they go to the doctor, something will be found that they will have to deal with, so they would rather not see a doctor,” he adds. “If you don’t know something, you don’t have to worry about it.”
It’s time to retire the “take it like a man” approach and get up to speed on prevention. Here are the most essential routine screenings, tests and symptoms that should prompt men to visit a medical professional.
Half of all fatal heart attacks occur when there are no previously diagnosed symptoms, which might have been noticed and treated in a routine physical.
“We focus on prevention as well as treatment,” Dr. Rizvi says. “When somebody does not go to a doctor and he is living with high cholesterol, not knowing about it for years and years, then the damage is already done when he gets to be in his 40s and 50s.”
Know this: The American Heart Association calls for blood pressure to be checked at least every two years and cholesterol levels every four to six years when readings are normal. You should also know the symptoms of a heart attack, which are usually mild at first: shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, and discomfort or pain in the midchest or elsewhere that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes.
Women usually visit an OB/GYN for preventive medical care, which is one reason most stay up to date with cancer screenings later in life. Not so with men, unfortunately.
Screening for testicular cancer is most important for men ages 30 to 35, and for older folks, it’s prostate cancer screening, by far, Dr. Rizvi says. “If cancers are detected early, it’s easy to treat them or cure them,” he explains.
Know this: Colorectal screenings range from providing fecal samples once a year to getting a colonoscopy once a decade. For men with an average cancer risk, these tests should begin at age 45 to 50. That’s also when you can consider getting PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screenings that check for prostate cancer. And several potential cancer symptoms should be checked by a doctor, just in case: nodules under the skin (commonly on the neck, armpit or groin), any appearance change in moles, a lump on a testicle, difficulty urinating or ejaculating, fecal blood, a chronic cough, or unexplained abdominal pain or fevers.
No pain, no gain? Unfortunately, many men never forget that locker room version of toughness. Real pain, unlike muscle aches and soreness, should be taken seriously at any age.
“Most commonly, the arthritis we see in men is from injuries to their bones and joints when they were younger that present as degenerative arthritis when they get older,” Dr. Rizvi says.
Know this: An orthopedist should check out symptoms such as prolonged muscle or joint pain or instability and the inability to perform daily activities. Musculoskeletal pain most commonly affects the back, knees and shoulders.
4. Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, fear prevents many men from seeking help, Dr. Rizvi says. “Mental health is still looked upon as a stigma in society,” he says. “But the bigger factor is denial. People don’t realize that they could have issues.”
Know this: Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health disorders, and both have similar symptoms: unexplained mood or personality changes, irritability, low energy and unexplained physical problems. An increase in alcohol use is another warning flag. Bipolar disorder, a common condition, causes drastic mood swings between mania and depression. If any symptoms like these occur over several days or weeks, see your physician.
Men might dismiss worsening vision as a sign of getting old, but if they don’t visit an eye doctor regularly, they’ll fail to get ahead of potential problems such as glaucoma and cataracts, Dr. Rizvi says. “Unless the person gets regular eye exams, a lot of these conditions will go undetected until they have come down with serious eye problems or even blindness,” he adds.
Know this: Adults should get a complete eye exam at age 40 from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, who will then recommend the frequency of later exams (typically every one to three years). Also, seek a diagnosis immediately if you experience a sudden change in the quality of your vision, such as flashes of light or “floaters” (floating spots), or redness or a discharge accompanied by pain.