By Jeffrey Bramnick, Pure Matters
It's easy to get most men to a ball game or a hardware store. But for a lot of guys, a trip to the doctor is about as high a priority as a day of shoe-shopping.
One reason is pride. In a culture that equates being male with being healthy and strong, a hint of vulnerability to illness might be seen as a sign of weakness.
This is dangerous thinking. Waiting until you are ill before you see your health care provider can put your health in jeopardy.
If you let shortness of breath or chest discomfort go unchecked, you might face a heart attack. A change in bowel habits could warn of diseases like colon cancer. Headache or dizziness might stem from high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney damage and stroke. Blood in the urine can mean a kidney stone or prostate cancer, and it's always cause to visit a doctor.
But seeing the doctor also can aid your peace of mind. Symptoms that could signal a serious illness can also point to simple, easily treated problems. That blood in the urine, for instance, could come from an infection.
"I think men are getting better at seeing the doctor, but there's still hesitancy and denial," says Larry S. Fields, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "Many men still have to be pushed to the doctor by their wives or children."
It's not just better for a man's health if he visits a doctor. It's better for his son's health, too. Boys often model their father's behavior. If dad sees the doctor, there's a better chance his son will grow up to do the same.
"There's a rather good and simple reason for men to see their doctor," Dr. Fields says. "It gives the doctor and the patient the opportunity to catch a problem early, leading to a better quality of life—and a longer life, too."
Tests you need
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men get regular screening for certain diseases and medical conditions. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about which screenings are appropriate for you.
- Cholesterol. You should have your cholesterol checked at least every five years, starting at age 35. If you smoke, have diabetes or if you have a family history of heart disease, you should have your cholesterol checked beginning at age 20.
- Blood pressure. You should have your blood pressure checked every two years.
- Colorectal cancer. Screening for this cancer should begin when you are 50.
- Diabetes. You should be screened for diabetes if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Depression. Talk to your doctor if you feel sad or hopeless, or if you have lost interest in normal activities for two weeks straight. You may have depression.
- Sexually transmitted diseases. Talk to your doctor to see if you should be screened for any STDs, such as HIV.
- Prostate cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether you should be screened for this type of cancer.
Here are recommendations from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about how to quit.
- Follow a healthy diet. Your diet should eat a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Watch how much saturated fat you eat.
- Be active. Pick an activity you enjoy and stick with it. Try for a total of 20 to 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Balance the amount of calories you eat with the amount of activity you get.
- Don't drink or drink in moderation. If you drink alcohol, have no more than two drinks a day. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
- Keep your immunizations up to date. Talk to your doctor about which immunizations you may need.
Consider taking aspirin. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin to prevent heart disease if you are older than 40.
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