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It's time to talk about men's health

It’s no old wives’ tale: Women really do tend to be the healthcare gatekeepers for the men in their lives. A study from the University of Chicago, for example, found that older married men were 20 percent more likely to have gotten a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer in the past five years, compared with men who were single.

The percentage went up to 40 percent if the men were happily married and their wives had high levels of education. The researchers concluded that women’s health decisions influence their partners, especially if a man views his spouse as supportive.

“When is the last time you had a checkup?”

“Checkups can catch problems he’s having even before symptoms show up, such as diabetes or pre-diabetes, when blood sugar is high but not high enough to be diabetes,” according to Dr. Douglas Spotts, Chief Health Officer for Meritus Health.

For example, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but 1 in 4 of them don’t know about it because they haven’t been tested.

Because men tend to have less contact with the medical system, they’re especially at risk.

“The good news is that if you catch and treat diabetes earlier, it’s easier to control, and an early diagnosis can also reduce the risk of common diabetes complications, such as blindness,” Spotts said.

“Let’s check out your risk for heart attack.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States, and 1 of every 4 deaths is heart disease related.

If his risk of having a cardiovascular event is at least 20 percent, he’s in the high-risk category.

“Encourage him to do what he can to reduce his risk and to see how his risk percentage changes if he quits smoking, for example, or loses 10 pounds,” Spotts said.

“Prostate screening?”

According to Spotts, if the man in question is older than 40, urge him to discuss prostate screening with his primary care doctor or urologist, particularly if he’s at increased risk for prostate cancer, which will affect about 1 in 7 U.S. men during their lifetimes.

The American Urologic Association doesn’t recommend routine protein specific antigen (PSA) screening—a blood test that can help determine a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer—for men younger than 54. But a man between ages 55 and 69 should discuss the benefits and limitations of PSA testing with his doctor and consider screening, because a PSA check can be lifesaving, especially if prostate cancer runs in the family.

It is recommended that all men between ages 55 and 69 consider a PSA screening. A baseline PSA test at age 45 is recommended for men with at least one first-degree relative, such as a brother or father, who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“Similarly, a man with one or more first-degree relatives diagnosed with prostate cancer when they were younger than age 65 should get a baseline PSA at age 40,” Spotts said.

PSA testing needs to be a discussion that men have with their primary care physician or urologist so they can understand the benefits and potential shortcomings based on their situation.

Certain health numbers are important to track like cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings and monitoring weight in proportion to height, so the men in your life can monitor their health from year to year and stay motivated to take care of themselves by, for example, eating a plant-based diet, losing weight if they need to and exercising regularly. Free resources are available on the Healthy Washington County website’s “Go for Bold” campaign page healthywashingtoncountyy.com.

Finally, remember to inquire as to what vaccines or other screening tests are needed based on age – these include but are not limited to the shingles vaccine, pneumonia vaccines, and routine diphtheria and tetanus boosters, not to mention the annual influenza vaccine and current COVID vaccine recommendations as well as screening for Hepatitis C and lung cancer if an active smoker or with a significant past history of smoking.

Most important, develop a relationship with your doctor and health care team! For more information, talk to your healthcare provider.

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