Men's Checkup 101
BY: Michael CastlemanAs New Year's Day approaches, thoughts turn to resolutions. The perennial top three are: Lose weight, get in shape and save money. Notice that two of them are health-related. It's great to drop extra pounds and focus on fitness. But for many men, something else should come first -- a checkup.
"A major obstacle to improving men's health is men themselves," says Rick Kellerman, M.D., past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). "They just don't make their health a priority." In fact, a recent AAFP survey shows that fewer than half of men see a doctor each year. When do men get checkups? Typically, it's when the women in their lives insist on it. This is one reason why married men live longer than men who are single, divorced or widowed. University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, Ph.D., explains that compared with married men, single men are less likely to visit doctors and "are far more likely to die from all causes: heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, many cancers, cirrhosis and suicide."
The good news for guys who are doctor-averse is that, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, annual checkups are not always necessary. But checkups every few years can be lifesavers. Here's what the AAFP and the American Medical Association recommend:
Men 20 to 29 Years
Blood pressure Every two years. If you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes or kidney disease, you should have your blood pressure checked annually or as recommended by your doctor.
Complete physical Twice in your 20s. This should include blood tests (for things like high cholesterol), urine tests and a testicular exam, since most cases of testicular cancer develop before age 30.
Men 30 to 49 Years
Blood pressure Every two years. If you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease or smoking, you should have your blood pressure checked annually or as recommended by your doctor.
Cholesterol Every five years if it's in the normal range, or as recommended by your doctor. If you have high cholesterol or a personal or family history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity or smoking, you should have your cholesterol checked annually, or more frequently as recommended by your doctor.
Fecal occult blood (hidden blood in stool, which can indicate colon cancer): Discuss with your doctor.
PSA Discuss with your doctor.
Complete physical Every one to five years as recommended by your doctor.
Men 50 and Older
Blood pressure Annually or as recommended by your doctor.
Cholesterol Annually or as recommended by your doctor.
Colon cancer screening Fecal occult blood test annually, plus either a sigmoidoscopy every three to five years or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
Complete physical Every one to two years as recommended by your doctor until age 65. After 65, an annual physical.
Immunizations The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adult men get a flu shot every year, plus other immunizations, such as tetanus and hepatitis B, as recommended by your doctor.
Vision exam Don't forget to see an optometrist at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, wear glasses or have other vision problems, you should have your eyes checked annually. After age 50, go for a vision exam every year and make sure it includes screening for glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Dental exam Have your teeth cleaned and examined every six months or as recommended by your dentist.
Hearing If you're exposed to loud noises, either occupationally or recreationally (e.g., loud music), you should have your hearing checked as recommended by your doctor.
Once you get to the doctor's office, don't play the strong silent type. Now is not the time to show how stoic you can be. And don't play "test the doctor," thinking he should be able to figure out if anything is wrong simply by examining you and running a few tests. If you're experiencing any unusual or disconcerting symptoms, speak up! You wouldn't want to make important decisions without all the facts -- so don't make your doctor do it either!
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.