Men’s Health IssuesMens Health Issues

It’s Men’s Health Week! To celebrate, we take a look at some men’s health issues, and how they become increasingly important as you age.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but sometimes you should go in anyway, no matter how healthy you feel. Regular screenings and preventive care are important for everyone, especially those of us over 65, but men are about 80% less likely than women to see a doctor for checkups. That’s unfortunate, because many of the health problems that plague older men in particular, such as heart disease, cancer, and lung disease, have better outcomes when they’re detected and treated early.

Two of the most common health problems in men over 65 — high blood pressure and diabetes — can be detected by routine screenings.

  • High blood pressure affects 62% of men age 65 to 74 and three quarters of men age 75 and older. Untreated high blood pressure can cause heart attacks, clogged arteries and other potentially lethal or disabling conditions. Doctors recommend that older men get their blood pressure checked at least once a year.
  • Diabetes affects nearly 27% of Americans age 65 and older, a figure that includes people who don’t know they have it. Like high blood pressure, untreated diabetes can lead to heart attacks, atherosclerosis and strokes. Diabetes can also cause vision loss, kidney damage, nerve pain, and skin damage. Uncontrolled diabetes may also contribute to dementia. Healthy older men should be screened for diabetes at every 3 years.

There are a number of other reasons to check in with your doctor once a year. The National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and other health agencies recommend the following schedule:

One-time procedures

An ultrasound screening for aortic aneurysm is recommended for men at age 65, especially those who have smoked. The screening can detect potential weak points in the aorta that need repair or monitoring. Men (and women) age 60 and older should get a shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine to prevent painful nerve inflammation.

Yearly screenings and preventive measures

Along with a blood pressure reading, your doctor will want to evaluate you for possible depression or substance abuse — both common in older adults — and ask about your diet, fitness, and sleep habits. If you are or were a heavy smoker, your doctor may also recommend an annual lung scan. A yearly flu vaccine is strongly recommended for people age 65 and up, who account for 90% of flu-related deaths.

Every few years

The National Institutes of Health recommends that men age 65 and older with normal cholesterol levels should get those levels checked every 5 years. Some form of colon cancer screening — a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy — should be done at least every 10 years until age 75. And of course, diabetes screening at least every 3 years can prevent serious problems.

Vaccines you may need include a pneumococcal vaccine every 5 years and a TDaP booster every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and the risk of passing whooping cough to children and babies too young to be vaccinated.

Other tests your doctor may recommend

Any of the procedures above may be recommended more often for you, depending on your health history. In addition, your doctor may want to screen you for osteoporosis. Most of the information about bone health is aimed at women, but men can lose bone mass as they age, too, which increases the risk of fractures and falls. And though prostate cancer is a major concern for many older men, the National Institutes of Health doesn’t recommend regular screenings for men without symptoms.

If you managed to get through childhood without getting some common diseases — measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox — your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated, as these diseases can be much more severe in adults than in children.

Finally, you may need testing for HIV, syphilis, tuberculosis and other infections if you are at risk.

Very few of us want to wear a paper gown or learn that we have a health problem, but the benefits of catching problems early are worth it. If nothing else, you’ll have peace of mind while you enjoy your daily apple.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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