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Men who would never be five minutes late to a baseball game or an important meeting are often five years late in getting recommended medical screenings. They aren't much better about having unexplained symptoms evaluated by a physician, either. In fact, men see doctors for annual exams and preventive health services half as often as women.
Why the hang-up? According to experts at the Men's Health Network (MHN), it all begins in childhood.
"When a boy skins his knees he's told that boys don't cry, and when he gets hurt in a ballgame he's told to take one for the team," notes an MHN spokesperson. "So it's no surprise that boys taught to ignore pain because they're told it will go away become men who avoid doctors. But beginning at middle age, pain and illness often won't go away on their own, and catching a problem early can be critical."
So it's time to retire the "take it like a man" approach and get up to speed on prevention. Here, we highlight three priority health concerns that men would be wise to proactively address with their physicians. An annual physical exam and routine screening will identify potential problems, as well as opportunities to change lifestyle habits for the better. So read on, and then schedule an appointment with your physician today.
Half of all heart attacks occur when there are no previously diagnosed symptoms that might have been noticed and treated in a routine physical. Most of those heart attacks can be prevented, but men tend to see their physician only when they have a problem, says the American Heart Association (AHA).The AHA recommends annual physical exams beginning at age 35. Elevated blood pressure or cholesterol levels will prompt your doctor to recommend medications or behavioral changes that reduce those levels.
Know this: According to the AHA, men should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years and cholesterol levels every five years when readings are normal. Your physician will increase the checkups if levels are elevated. You should also know the symptoms of a heart attack, which are usually mild at first. These include shortness of breath; discomfort or pain in the chest that often radiates to the back, arm or neck; pain in the jaw or stomach; cold sweat; nausea; and lightheadedness. Call 911 if you experience any of these warning signs.
Women are accustomed to preventive medical care, according to the American Cancer Society. But while women make regular OB/GYN visits in their 30s and 40s, many men may not see a doctor once during those years. That's one reason most women stay up to date later in life with breast and cervical cancer screenings—because they're in the habit of doing so—while most men never get a colorectal cancer screening, the only cancer examination proven to save lives in men.
Know this: Colorectal screenings range from providing fecal samples once a year to getting a colonoscopy once a decade, depending on your doctor's advice. For men with an average cancer risk, these tests should begin at 50. That's also when you can consider getting PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screenings that check for prostate cancer. Their necessity is widely debated, so discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. There are also several potential cancer symptoms that should be checked by a doctor—just in case. These include nodules under the skin (commonly on the neck, armpit or groin); any appearance change in moles; a lump on a testicle; difficulty urinating or ejaculating; fecal blood; a chronic cough; or unexplained abdominal pain or fevers.
No pain, no gain? That high school locker-room version of toughness is, unfortunately, never forgotten by many men. Real pain, unlike muscle aches and soreness, should be taken seriously at any age. Accordig to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, many men feel that if they neglect a problem, it might just go away. They also fear they'll be told they need surgery. But by postponing a diagnosis, they're actually increasing the odds they'll eventually need it.
Know this: Prolonged muscle or joint pain or instability and the inability to perform daily activities are the most common symptoms that should be checked by an orthopedist. Back, knee and shoulder pain are the most common parts of the body affected. Symptoms are like the warning lights on your dashboard. The longer you ignore them, the more serious the problem becomes.