After recently completing my fifth decade in life, my doctor recommended I get additional preventive health screenings. “If you have time to get your 50,000-mile maintenance screening for your car, you have time for your body’s health screening,” he told me.
Studies show that men are less willing to get preventive screenings than women. Getting the right screening at the right time can catch diseases early, when they’re easier to treat.
Since June is Men’s Health Month, and Father’s Day is June 18, let’s take a minute to review the essential health screenings for men.
Blood Pressure Test
Healthy blood pressure can help us live longer by preventing heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. A man in his 50s with a normal blood pressure will live five years longer than one with high blood pressure.
A simple cuff wrapped around the arm provides a blood-pressure reading. If it’s normal (less than 120/80), then it’s best to get tested at least every two years. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 139/89, then be sure to test it every year; if it’s greater than 140/90, then discuss it with your doctor.
The cholesterol level in our blood is a good indicator of our heart and brain health. High levels of bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL), leads to sticky plaque on the walls of our vessels which supply blood to our heart and brain, causing atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).
There are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, so it’s best to get screened by age 35, and then regularly based on your doctor’s suggestion. If you’re at increased risk for heart disease, such as having someone in your family with cholesterol problems, then it’s best to start by age 20. A healthy diet and medications can lower your cholesterol level to normal values.
Prostate Cancer Screening
Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among men after skin cancer. Men over the age of 50 should discuss prostate cancer screening. African-American men and those with a family history of prostate cancer need to consider screening at an earlier age of 45.
The screening test may involve a prostate exam and a blood PSA test. While there have been some variations in the recommendations on the PSA blood test, it is now recommended to have it done each year.
Colon Cancer Screening
Colon cancer can be prevented with early screening. Men under the age of 50 need to be screened if they have a family history of colon cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. Starting at age 50 until the age of 75, men need to be screened for colon cancer with some of the following common tests: a stool occult blood test done every year, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years with a stool blood test every three years or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
One in four Americans who have diabetes don’t know it. And diabetes can cause heart attack, stroke and kidney problems as well as blindness, nerve damage and impotence.
A simple blood sugar test can catch diabetes early. Men who are 45 and older should have blood sugar testing done every three years, and those who are overweight or have high blood pressure need to be screened at an earlier age or more frequently.
While I get my routine blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar tested each year, starting at age 50 I had a screening colonoscopy and PSA testing done as well. As a doctor and a patient, I know simple prevention is quick, easy and saves lives.
Dr. Jain is a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee network provider.