When men should go to the doctor — and why

June 18, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera Health.

When it comes to health care, some men get their annual exam like clockwork. Some get in only with prodding or coaxing.

Others wait until something is “really wrong.” But for men’s health to improve, regular exams and screenings have to become more than just a now-and-then thing.

“Men have to do a better job of owning their own health. They can’t expect a mom, girlfriend or wife to schedule appointments and herd them to the clinic,” said Dr. Tad Jacobs, Avera Medical Group chief medical officer. “A great place to start is family history.”

Jacobs said some slow-developing conditions, including some cancers, may begin and be detectable long before they’re found.

“If someone in your family had a cancer when they were in their 40s or 50s, depending on the type of cancer, it could have started in their 30s,” he said. “That’s why starting with family history is smart. Did your mom have high blood pressure? Did your siblings?”

Many basic health exams and vaccinations are age-specific. So gain a good handle on all those recommendations in conversation with your provider.

Making the medical match

Men who are passionate about a pastime may shop for the new gear that goes with it much more than they would for a doctor. But maintaining your good health is what’s key to enjoying that pastime and all the good things of life.

Health system video profiles and word of mouth are tools that can help find the best provider for you.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all appointment for all patients. Every guy wants a little something different at a visit,” said Dr. Mark List, Avera Medical Group family medicine physician. “The relationship you build with a patient requires trust – especially on the patient side. Getting along with your provider is the most important thing.”

List said some patients want almost full control of all aspects of their care. Some defer to him, and others want more of a collaboration.

“I’ll meet them where they are and make sure they know the basics about screenings, exams and vaccinations,” he said. “But there are tons of doctors and providers, and all have different personalities. Don’t settle for one that you do not get along with.”

Maximize the visit

It’s human nature to maximize trips to the store. It’s why we make lists.

But when you’re getting ready for your annual checkup or wellness exam, be sure you’re realistic.

“We do want to address every question you have, but it’s best to prioritize the top one or two things to cover during your visit to make the most of time,” List said.

At the same time, it is important to get to the bottom of all health concerns – sometimes an offhand comment might lead to an important diagnosis. It also could lead to another appointment.

Developing a relationship with a provider you can trust and work with over years or decades is important.

“Having a true primary care provider who can guide you and who you can talk to easily – that’s the gold standard,” he said. “If it takes a few tries to find the one who fits your personality, it’s worth the effort.”

A quick guide to men’s health

  • Blood pressure: Have this checked at least once a year. If the top number is 140 or above, make an appointment for an exam. If you have significant family history of high blood pressure, get in earlier.
  • Cholesterol screening: Once every five years and more often if you face a chronic condition such as diabetes.
  • Diabetes screening: This should be a regular exam – once every three years – if you are 45 or older. If you are overweight, ask your doctor about how often you should have it.
  • Colorectal cancer: This screening should start at age 50 and earlier if there’s a family history. Colonoscopy is best because it can find and remove precancerous polyps in one procedure. DNA tests are available as an alternative.
  • Vision: Men who are age 40 to 54 should have an eye exam every two to four years, and men who are older than 55 should see an eye care professional more often.
  • Vaccinations: Get a flu shot each year, and a tetanus-diphtheria booster every decade. Get the shingles/herpes zoster vaccination once when you reach age 50. At 65, men should begin the two vaccines that can stop pneumonia.
  • Bone health: Men age 50 to 70 should discuss osteoporosis risks such as smoking, low body weight and alcohol use with their provider.
  • Prostate health: Discuss this with your provider when you reach age 50 or earlier if family health history includes cases of this illness.

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When men should go to the doctor — and why

For men’s health to improve, regular exams and screenings have to become more than just a now-and-then thing. Use this quick guide to see what you might be missing.

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