They probably fall at the bottom of your to-do list. But those all-important health screenings you’ve been putting off could warn you of medical problems to come.
By identifying issues early, you can reduce your risk of developing serious diseases that could take years off your life. Starting at age 18, men should have a physical exam annually to assess their health risks, update vaccines and ensure they’re on a healthy track. During these annual check-ups, your doctor may suggest changes to your diet, exercise routine or lifestyle to keep you going strong. If you don’t have an annual physical, at minimum you should have the following screenings:
|BMH's Dr. Dan Smith consults with a patient.|
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the big risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke—two of the leading causes of death in the United States. You can have high blood pressure and not have any symptoms. Have it checked every two years.
High blood cholesterol also is a major risk factor for heart disease. Starting at age 35, you should have a lipid profile every five years. If you have a family history of cardiac problems or other risk factors for heart disease, you should begin testing at age 20.
Glucose tests are done to check for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease every year. Like your cholesterol, your blood sugar should be tested every two years starting at age 35. If you’re overweight or 45 or older, it should be tested more often.
Depending on your health history and lifestyle, your doctor may recommend screenings for infectious diseases, particularly sexually transmitted diseases, which are on the rise in all age groups. Last fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis had increased for the first time since 2006.
In addition, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently recommended that primary care physicians screen all adults for depression, the most common mental health condition in patients seen in primary care. Unless directly asked about their mood, few patients discuss depression with their doctors.
At age 50, men should have their first colonoscopy, considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening. For African-Americans, who as a group have a higher incidence of the disease, the recommended age is 45. A colonoscopy can detect inflamed tissue, ulcers and abnormal growths called polyps. Most colon cancers develop from polyps, a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the intestine or rectum. In most cases, polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy. If the screening turns up clear and there is no family history of the disease, you don’t need to be tested again for 10 years.
The risk of prostate cancer also increases with age. Although only 1 in 10,000 men younger than 40 is diagnosed with prostate cancer, the rate shoots up to 1 in 38 for men ages 40 to 59 and 1 in 14 for those 60 to 69. It’s the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting 1 in 7 men. Prostate screening involves a digital rectal exam and PSA blood test, which measures the level of prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men discuss the risks and benefits of prostate screening with their doctor before deciding whether to be tested. Guidelines differ on when you should start screening, but the general recommendation is age 50 for men with an average risk of prostate cancer. Men at risk of developing osteoporosis also should have a bone density scan starting at age 50. Risk factors include low body weight, steroid use, a family history of osteoporosis and heavy alcohol use.
Dan Smith, D.O., is a board-certified family medicine specialist at Beaufort Memorial Lowcountry Medical Group in Beaufort. A graduate of Oklahoma State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, he has more than 14 years’ experience as an ER, urgent care and primary care physician and ICU hospitalist. In addition to Dr. Smith, Beaufort Memorial Lowcountry Medical Group includes four board-certified primary care physicians, as well as several nurse practitioners. The practice also includes specialists in gastroenterology, gynecology, cardiology, and neurology. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Smith or any of the other health care professionals at Lowcountry Medical Group, call (843) 770-0404.