Experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) say a man's tendency to wait until the onset of sickness to see his doctor is a major detriment to health because key screenings are missed.
One-third of men in the United States over the age of 20 are considered to be obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, nearly one-third of U.S. men have high blood pressure (hypertension).
According to UAB Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine Stephen Russell, M.D., the simple act of seeing a physician is a critical to men's health.
"Generally, I see men putting off the doctor visits and oftentimes ignoring symptoms," Russell said. "Getting a yearly physical gives your doctor the opportunity to do necessary screenings and to potentially identify problems that put you at risk for things like obesity and hypertension."
Russell says it is best to start young when it comes to seeing a primary care doctor. Children generally see their pediatrician each year, and adults should do the same.
"We think it's important for all people in their twenties to establish relationships with a primary care physician, because that's when we can get baseline health information, discuss family health history, talk about lifestyle changes and evaluate for obesity-related illnesses," Russell said.
In addition to the health benefits, regular check-ups also result in significant cost savings.
"Evidence is clear that we can save a tremendous amount of money through primary prevention," Russell said. "Silent conditions can be identified, and we can intervene and save on long-term health-care costs."
Important screenings start even before the age of 20. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) screening guidelines suggest blood pressure checks every two years starting at 18 years old.
"Those in their teens and twenties are usually in pretty good health, but blood pressure needs to checked," Russell said.
Around age 35, all men should start getting screened for fasting cholesterol levels. Those with a strong family history or personal history of obesity or diabetes, or people at higher risk, may need to be targeted sooner.
The USPSTF recommends men start screening for colon and prostate cancer at age 50, but Russell says the discussion about risk should start in their 40s, especially if there is a family history of either disease.
The CDC, as well as UAB Division of Infectious Diseases Associate Professor Turner Overton, M.D., recommend men in their 40s get a one-time blood test for hepatitis C.
"The largest population at risk is those born between 1945-65, so it's critical to approach this age group for screening because they may be asymptomatic yet infected," Overton said.
"People benefit from evaluation for hepatitis C because it doesn't necessarily cause symptoms until they have end-stage disease identified by cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer," Overton said. "Unlike some infections, there is a curative treatment."
Overton also suggests that all adults, regardless of age, should be screened at least once for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
"HIV is a disease that may also be asymptomatic until the end stage, when a patient develops AIDS or opportunistic infections," Overton said. "Early recognition and diagnosis can prevent many complications of HIV infection. Those at risk for HIV due to ongoing unprotected sexual activity should be screened more frequently."
Overton and Russell agree: men should see a doctor and be proactive about their health.
"A relationship with a primary care doctor is important, as is a full physical examination," Russell said. "They give people the power to make health choices, and Americans are independent and like to make decisions based on information. A health assessment provides a patient with knowledge to understand where interventions can be made, and that empowerment goes a long way in taking control of health and seeing it improve."
University of Alabama at Birmingham