Many men may be reluctant to visit their doctor.
An annual wellness exam gives men and their doctor the opportunity to discuss health changes and catch potential issues before they develop further.
This Men’s Health Month, commit to staying on top of regular cancer screenings.
[5 MIN READ]
Have you put preventative healthcare on hold during the pandemic?
Do you have a nagging feeling that you need to get something checked out?
Is the busyness of life – work, family, social life – causing you to forget about making an appointment?
You’re not alone. And, like other men in your situation, you may prefer to tackle that pesky home project or find any other excuse to reschedule, if it keeps you from stepping into an exam room. In fact, one survey found that 72% of men who responded to the survey would rather do household chores like scrub a toilet than see their doctor.
Even though an annual physical is one of the best things you can do for yourself, why is it so hard to make that appointment?
Even though an annual physical is one of the best things you can do for yourself, why is it so hard to make that appointment? No one loves to take time out of their busy day to visit the doctor, especially if they’re worried that they might find something. But a quick visit now can eliminate the need for more appointments later on due to poor health or developing conditions. Here’s why those visits are so important – and what you can expect at your annual wellness exam.
An annual exam for your good health
One of the most important steps you can take to stay healthy and well is to see your primary care doctor every year for a wellness exam. This appointment opens up the opportunity to discuss:
- Any changes to your health, your family history or any other concerns you may have.
- Warning signs that may signal you’re at risk of developing a serious health condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Resources, support and encouragement to help you melt away those pandemic pounds. (Hey – if Will Smith can admit to needing to change his post-quarantine habits, we all can!)
Although it may seem like you’re heading under the microscope, your annual exam is a judgement-free zone with one goal in mind: to keep you healthy, happy and well.
Although it may seem like you’re heading under the microscope, your annual exam is a judgement-free zone with one goal in mind: to keep you healthy, happy and well. Based on your current health and medical and family history, your appointment will likely include several different types of screenings.
Height and weight
This assessment calculates your body mass index (BMI). While BMI is an imperfect tool, it can help determine your body fat and risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases.
Your blood pressure measures how much blood your heart is pumping to your body and how much resistance it meets as it goes through your arteries due to plaque build-up or heart or vascular disease. Men are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at a younger age than women so it’s important to take steps to head off a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will check your blood pressure once a year, or more frequently if you have a history of hypertension.
A simple blood test can assess your cholesterol levels, which are an indicator of cardiovascular disease risk. If your levels are off, your doctor can help you develop an action plan that may involve simple dietary or activity changes. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone (men and women) over the age of 20 have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years, if risk remains low.
Blood glucose test
Based on age, family history and lifestyle, your doctor can recommend if it’s time for you to have a blood glucose (sugar) screening. If your levels are higher than normal, your doctor may classify you as “pre-diabetic.” The good news is that there are many steps you can take to get your blood glucose levels back to normal even if your tests indicate any level of diabetes.
About 21% of all individuals with diabetes don’t even know they have it. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications so it’s important to find out early if you may be developing this condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 34.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. Nearly 95% of those people have type 2 diabetes. Even more startling is that 21% of all individuals with diabetes don’t even know they have it. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications so it’s important to find out early if you may be developing this condition.
Vaccinations aren’t just for kids. Your annual wellness exam is the perfect time to talk with your doctor about what vaccines you may need, including:
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Shingles (adults 50 years and older)
- Pneumonia (adults 65 years and older or those with certain health conditions)
Basic metabolic panel and complete blood count (CBC)
These blood tests are often done together. A basic metabolic panel is a blood test that measures your metabolism, your body’s chemical balances and the function of your vital organs like the kidney, lungs and liver.
A CBC helps assess your overall health. It screens for anemia, infections, inflammation, bleeding disorders and blood cancers.
If you’re sexually active with multiple partners, talk to your doctor about your risk of sexually transmitted infections. It may not be easy to talk about, but your doctor can offer guidance on symptoms or tests you may want to take, like hepatitis C or HIV.
Cancer screenings help detect cancer earlier and save lives. In fact, cancer survivorship has skyrocketed in the past decade, largely due to advances in treatment and regular screenings that help find cancer earlier when it’s easier to treat.
Cancer screenings help detect cancer earlier and save lives.
During your physical exam, your doctor may discuss which cancer screenings may be best for you – and why. These are the most common:
If you are a current or past smoker between the ages of 50 and 80 and have a 20 pack year (or more) smoking history, your doctor may recommend a low-dose CT scan that screens for early-stage lung cancer.
Your doctor may perform a digital rectal exam during your annual exam to assess the health of your prostate. Sometimes, this can also identify lumps or growths around the prostate. Depending on your age, race and family history, your doctor may also recommend a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that can detect elevated protein levels that may suggest prostate cancer. Keep in mind that an elevated PSA test result does not mean you have prostate cancer but may be a reason for additional testing.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men who are 45 years old and above, and are at average risk of developing colorectal cancer, start regular screenings. If you are at higher risk because of family history or pre-existing conditions, then you may need to start screenings earlier. A colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer. In most people, colorectal cancer cells grow very slowly, and symptoms don’t arise until the disease is more advanced so it’s important to get screened regularly.
A colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer. In most people, colorectal cancer cells grow very slowly, and symptoms don’t arise until the disease is more advanced.
If you’re not ready to commit to a colonoscopy, your provider may discuss other alternatives, like Cologuard, an at-home fecal blood test. At-home tests are not as accurate as a colonoscopy, but it does offer a 93% sensitivity rate and is non-invasive.
Making healthy choices
Your provider will also discuss the importance of living a healthy lifestyle – one that includes plenty of exercise, a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking (if you’re a smoker). After all, your provider wants you to feel empowered and in control of your good health – long after you leave the exam room.
Don’t forget your teeth and eyes
Remember to schedule these appointments, too:
- Dental exams: Good oral health can affect your overall health, including your heart health and digestive health. See your dentist every six months.
- Eye exams: Visit an ophthalmologist once a year to screen for vision changes and issues, including cataracts or glaucoma.
Take control of your health
Phew. Although there is a long list of screenings that are aimed at maintaining your overall health, don’t worry. You may not need all of them at the same appointment, or even every year. And some of the blood tests listed above can often be done with one trip to the lab. The results of these tests can give you peace of mind or give you suggestions for making small, but powerful, changes to your lifestyle.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your health.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your health. Although it can feel daunting to head to the doctor because of the time commitment and worries about embarrassing conversations or scary test results, you may feel more empowered afterward.
When your doctor notices any red flags, they will help you make a plan to reduce your risk of certain conditions. And, rest assured, Swedish is taking steps to keep you safe when you visit – from wearing masks, encouraging physical distancing and disinfecting surfaces.
So, please, don’t put off your annual wellness exam or cancer screenings any longer. The doctor’s office is a safe place, free of judgement and full of encouragement and support.
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team