Both research and anecdotal evidence show that men avoid seeking health care. In fact, one study shows that among 1,174 men surveyed, 72 percent would rather do household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, than go to the doctor.
"Nearly one-third of men report not having a primary care physician," according to Nabeel Ali, MD, a family medicine practitioner at Westmed Medical Group, a Summit Health Company. But Dr. Ali stresses that it’s important for men to find a primary care provider whom they can see for an annual check-up and maintain preventive health. There is strong evidence that individuals with a strong primary care relationship tend to live healthier and longer.
Here's what men should expect from their annual doctor’s visit and how to prepare for them as they age.
Write down your questions so you don't forget to ask them. You should also know your personal history as well as your family history as best you can, recommends Paul Girardi, DO, an internal medicine specialist at Summit Health in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. Don’t forget to bring your list of medications, too.
“While we have an algorithm for when to start cardiovascular risk evaluation and screening for cancers in general, we might want to start sooner if there is a family history of certain conditions” Dr. Girardi says.
Dr. Ali agrees that history is very important. "This is where your provider will individualize your care and assess your risk," he says.
Screenings in Young Men
Boys start testicular screenings at age 15, explains Daniel Hermann, MD, a Summit Health pediatrician in Bedminster, New Jersey. During the annual exam, he looks for five characteristics:
- Different size testicles
- Hard testicles
- Lumps or swelling
- Pain or discomfort in the scrotum
- Abnormalities like pain on urination or blood in the urine
He teaches young men, whom he sees until they’re age 22, to inspect themselves monthly for these issues, too.
In addition, Dr. Hermann screens for noticeable weight gain or loss to check for diabetes, thyroid issues, or anorexia nervosa. He notes that teen boys start to sleep less, eat more poorly, and rely on electronics as they become young men. “I stress sleep, nutrition, and exercise,” he says.
Finally, he looks for psychological issues, drug and alcohol use, and sexually active behavior, and makes sure all vaccines, especially human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, flu, and COVID-19, are up to date.
Screenings for Older Men
Both Dr. Ali and Dr. Girardi similarly screen for what Dr. Ali calls "lifestyle risk," which includes alcohol misuse, tobacco use, poor diet, and lack of physical activity.
“Weight gain is one of the most common things we've seen in the past few years,” Dr. Girardi says. “We've had no commute and no calorie burn from walking around the city. Gyms were closed.”
But don't fear a scolding even if you know you've gained some pounds. Dr. Girardi prefers education, so he refers patients to a Summit Health registered dietician for practical help.
“Because one of the leading causes of death in men of all races is heart disease,” Dr. Ali says, "men over 18 should be screened for hypertension, and men 35-plus should have a cholesterol panel done. Anyone at high risk should be screened for type 2 diabetes, too. This will allow us to determine your cardiovascular risk."
Dr. Girardi reminds men that hypertension in particular is often symptomless. “You can walk around for years with elevated blood pressure and not know it,” he says.
Based on your risk factors and symptoms, your doctor will order tests to screen for certain chronic conditions and concerns. You should discuss the pros and cons of screening for prostate cancer based on your individual risks and preferences.
In addition, colon cancer screening begins at age 45. That’s why Dr. Girardi reminds his patients “not to fear the colonoscopy. It's the gold standard for a reason. It's diagnostic and therapeutic, meaning that we can remove polyps and take biopsies to catch cancer early in most cases.”
Finally, both physicians make sure their patients are up to date on flu, COVID-19, and other inoculations.
If Dr. Girardi does have to issue a diagnosis that requires a specialist, he has a "full and open discussion" with his patients. He encourages them to take notes during their visit and send follow-up questions through the doctor-patient portal.
"We like to create a no-judgment zone, so if you think there is something we are missing or something you'd like to discuss, we are more than happy to," Dr. Ali adds.
Don't feel like you must cover it all in one visit, either. All the doctors agreed that taking care of your health isn't just a one-shot deal. It's an ongoing and preventative process.