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Men's Health Month: Why get an annual physical exam?

There are so many activities to do in the summer months in Alaska.  Why should anyone be thinking about an annual, physical exam?

Great question!

For men, in particular, it is easy to put off going to see a medical provider.  Why go to the clinic if you’re not sick?

Getting on an annual schedule for a physical, however, can prevent big problems before they get out of hand and you are sidelined for a long period of time.  Here are eight, important annual screenings for men:

Man wearing a cap and sunglasses, sitting cross-legged on a hilltop, looking over a snow-covered valley. The photo has duct-taped border edges.

1. Blood Cholesterol

All men 35 or older should get their blood cholesterol levels checked regularly. For men who use tobacco; are overweight or obese; have a relative who had a heart attack before the age of 50; have diabetes, high blood pressure or a history of heart disease should get their cholesterol checked much earlier, at the age of 20. There are several measures of cholesterol, and all are important in determining heart disease risk.

2. Blood Pressure

Every man should have their blood pressure checked regularly, and patients with other cardiovascular risk factors should check their blood pressure more frequently. This can be performed at your doctor’s office. High blood pressure is the biggest risk for heart disease and a significant risk for other serious health conditions.

3. Colon Cancer

All men should get screened for colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer by age 40 if Alaska Native and age 59 if non-Native. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should get a colonoscopy even sooner. There are several different tests that can help detect colon cancer.  Talk to your provider about the best one for you.

4. Depression

Don’t ignore your mental health. An estimated six million men suffer from depression each year, and many of these men are under-diagnosed and under-treated. Talk to your doctor about getting screened for depression if you have experienced any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • A significant change in appetite or sleeping patterns
  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, restless, irritable, sad, or anxious
  • Decreased energy, motivation
  • Inappropriate feelings of guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking

If you’re having recurring thoughts of death or suicide, seek treatment immediately.

5. Diabetes

Men who have high blood pressure or take medication to control their high blood pressure should get screened for diabetes (high blood sugar). Anyone experiencing symptoms of persistently severe thirst, frequent urination, unexpected weight loss, increased hunger, and tingling in the hands or feet also should talk to their doctor about getting tested. The preferred screening for diabetes is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar over the last three months.

6. Hepatitis C Virus

A man should get a blood test for hepatitis C if he was born between 1945 and 1965; was born to a mother with the virus; needs dialysis for kidney failure; received a blood transfusion before 1992; received blood clotting factors before 1987; or ever injected drugs. Hepatitis C is the number one cause of liver cancer in the U.S.

7. HIV

All men 65 or younger, regardless of perceived risks, should get screened for HIV. Men over 65 should talk to their doctor about getting screened.

8. Obesity

Using a BMI calculator to determine your body mass index (BMI) is usually a reliable, but not conclusive, indicator of whether you’re at a healthy weight. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy, a BMI above 25 is overweight, and a BMI greater than 30 is obese. If you have a high BMI, your doctor may use one or more other methods to help further assess whether you are overweight or obese. These include: measuring waist circumference; using a caliper to measure skinfold thickness above the hip and estimate body fat percentage; or bioelectric impedance, which involves sending a safe dose of electricity through the body to measure body fat percentage.

Contact your SEARHC clinic in June 2019 to make your appointment and receive a free, handy, mini-tool to keep in your car or boat.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.