When is the Last Time he Saw a Doctor?
MAYWOOD, Ill. -- On average, men don't live as long as women, and are more likely to die of heart disease, cancer, stroke and AIDS.
Yet men are much less likely than women to see their doctors -- some are simply afraid of what their doctor might find. With Father's Day coming up, now is a good time for dads to take stock of their health, said Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, a Loyola University Health System family doctor.
"The earlier we diagnose such conditions as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer, the more successfully we can treat them," Michelfelder said.
Michelfelder urges his patients to come in at least once a year. While there has been debate over the benefits of an annual physical exam, a yearly visit at a minimum provides an opportunity to conduct appropriate screening tests, Michelfelder said.
There also has been debate over various screening tests. Recommendations vary on such exams as PSA screening for prostate cancer. Michelfelder advises the following screening tests for his patients, based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and other expert bodies:
Body Mass Index. This is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI under 18.5 is underweight. Normal is 18.5 to 24.9. Overweight is 25 to 29.9 and obese is over 30. BMI should be checked yearly.
Colorectal cancer. Men should be screened beginning at age 50. The gold standard is a colonoscopy. A doctor uses a slender, lighted tube to examine the entire colon. A colonoscopy can find and remove precancerous growths called polyps. If a colonoscopy is normal, it's good for 10 years. Other screening exams include a yearly fecal occult blood test (which can find blood in the stool) or, every five years, a fecal blood test combined with an exam called a sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lower part of the colon.
Dental check-ups. See a dentist at least once a year -- ideally every six months. Bad teeth can affect other parts of the body. For example, dental disease is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes. Men with risk factors such as a family history of diabetes, being overweight, or experiencing diabetic symptoms should be screened with a fasting blood test. This test measures the amount of a sugar called glucose in your blood.
Hearing. If a patient or his spouse reports a hearing problem, or if the patient works in a job with excessive noise, Michelfelder will order a hearing test.
High blood pressure. Every man over age 18 should have his blood pressure checked at least once a year.
Cholesterol. Men ages 20 to 35 who have cardiovascular disease risk factors such as diabetes should be screened. After age 35, men should be screened once every five years if normal, or more often if levels are borderline.
Prostate cancer. Men age 50 or older who have a life expectancy of at least 10 years should get annual PSA tests and digital rectal exams.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is a bulge in the large blood vessel that supplies the abdomen and lower body. If it ruptures, it will cause severe bleeding that often is fatal. An aneurysm can be repaired with surgery. Men aged 65 to 75 who have ever smoked should be screened with an ultrasound.
Other conditions. Michelfelder also screens men for depression, smoking and alcohol abuse and talks to them about controlling their weight, getting enough physical activity and avoiding risky sexual behavior.
"Do your best to stay healthy," Michelfelder advises fathers. "It's a big part of being a good dad."