Pop quiz, just for men: What’s your doctor’s name?
Wait, you do have a doctor, right?
Too many men don’t have a family physician and don’t get regular checkups, says Culley Carson, MD, a urologist with UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill. This problem is especially bad among younger men, he says.
Between ages 18 and 30, healthy men should see a doctor every two to three years. Men 30 and older should go annually.
“The majority [of men] don’t [see a physician] until they get sick or have some significant problem in their 40s, 50s or 60s,” he says. “To some extent, there’s a denial of their need for physicians. That’s part of the problem—a macho feeling that there’s nothing a physician can do for you.”
On the contrary, well-patient visits are critical to a healthy life, mostly because they are a chance to catch health issues early.
For example, discovering hypertension in your 30s or 40s might allow your doctor to intervene and decrease the chances of sudden death or cardiac issues later.
“Even if you’re not sick, if you’re a male in your 30s or 40s, you absolutely should have annual visits,” Dr. Carson says.
With health, many things are connected. Issues such as sleep apnea and erectile dysfunction can signal a high risk of future cardiac problems. If you experience these conditions, you should tell your doctor during a regular checkup. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. In fact, 1 in 4 people die of heart disease every year.
The primary reasons for having checkups change as you get older. Even when you’re under 18 and seeing a pediatrician, well-patient visits can help doctors assess things like early onset diabetes, risk-taking behavior and substance abuse.
These issues never become irrelevant for men. “Men are much more likely to die from accidents resulting from risk-taking behavior than women,” Dr. Carson says. “Men are much more likely to die from suicide, for example, although women are more likely to try it.”
So what are the key health issues men should address at different ages? Use this timeline as a guide.
- During regular checkups, your doctor will evaluate you for:
- Heart and vascular health (including checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and family history of heart disease)
- Risk-taking behavior
- Substance abuse
- Weight issues
- Your doctor may also recommend routine vaccines, including:
- Tetanus and diphtheria booster
- Shingles vaccine
- Pneumonia vaccine
- Flu shot
- Talk to your doctor about how to start managing your weight, heart health and stress now, while you’re young.
- Get screened for sexually transmitted infections.
- Your doctor will become more concerned with your cardiovascular risk factors; now is the time to make lifestyle choices to set yourself up for a healthy middle age.
- Many people are raising families and dealing with hectic careers in their 30s. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you feel overwhelmed with stress; he or she can refer you to a therapist or prescribe medication.
- Your cardiovascular risk factors are now more important than ever to check: blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking.
- If you’re an African-American man or have a close relative who has had colon cancer, talk to your doctor about a colonoscopy. If your doctor thinks your risk is heightened, he or she may have you begin screening at age 40 or 45.
- This is the time when erectile dysfunction can start. Make sure to tell your doctor, because early erectile dysfunction is associated with an increased risk of heart issues. It can be treated, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed.
Your 50s and 60s
- At this stage of life, your risk factors for disease—especially heart disease and cancer—continue to rise. Keep getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and ask your doctor about prostate cancer screening.
- Get screened for colon cancer, regardless of your family history. If you’re at average risk, get your first colonoscopy at age 50 and repeat every 10 years.
- If you smoke or have smoked, talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men (and women).
- Erectile dysfunction is more common in your 50s and 60s. Let your doctor know if you’re having a problem; it can be treated.
- Get screened for diabetes.
- Have your weight assessed, and ask about weight control methods.
Your 70s and Beyond
- Continue to be screened for diabetes.
- Have your weight assessed, and inquire about weight control methods.
- Talk to your doctor about whether to continue screening for colon and prostate cancers.
- If you’re interested, talk to your doctor about sexuality and how to maintain intimacy during the aging process.
- Bring a list of your prescriptions and doses, or the prescription bottles themselves, to each appointment. This will help your doctor assess any drug interactions or side effects.
- Make sure your doctor is evaluating your mental health; older adults are especially prone to depression.
Have a question about your health? Find a doctor near you and get answers.