To Your Health: Calling all men: don’t be too patient; prioritize your health
Editor’s note: This series is written by practitioners in Summit Medical Group on health-
related topics. This column is by Montclair-based internal medicine physician, Marc Morresi, M.D., who specializes in a range of men’s health issues. Dr. Morresi enjoys caring for patients throughout their life span.
Every day at least one patient walks into my office who has not been to the doctor in 15 years. The majority of men who are in good health and are not experiencing any bothersome symptoms do not prioritize their yearly checkup. But it is these very patients who sometimes have an undetected problem and would benefit most from early intervention.
Finding the time to take care of your health can be daunting. As a physician and father of four, I find it challenging too. It does not matter if you are 20 or 70 years old — everyone learns something from a yearly doctor’s visit. Here are some of the common ways I help patients of all ages.
Patient 1: A young man who smokes
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in men. I tell any patient who smokes that they need to find a way to quit now. If you are having trouble kicking your habit, Summit Medical Group has behavioral therapists who specialize in smoking cessation. Until recently, there were no screenings for lung cancer. But today, if you are a heavy smoker between the ages of 55 and 80 and meet other criteria, your doctor may recommend an annual CT scan that can detect lung cancer.
Patient 2: A healthy 30-something male with no medical issues
Many of the conditions primary care physicians screen for, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol or diabetes, can be treated successfully if they are caught early. Getting screened by your physician is important because most patients do not have any symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms like headaches, nausea, or excessive hunger and thirst, typically your condition has become more advanced. When patients have elevated blood sugar levels, for example, they can often reverse their condition with lifestyle changes, including exercising regularly and following a healthy diet. When these interventions are not effective, medications may be considered.
Patient 3: A man in his 40s who is significantly overweight
Obesity is linked with many serious health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Most of my patients who lose a significant amount of weight are able to stop medications that help control their blood pressure or sugar levels. Maintaining a healthy weight is not just about the numbers on the scale; it is also important to make the time to exercise.
Patient 4: A 50-something male who wants to be screened for cancer
Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Unless there is a family or medical history, men should begin having a colonoscopy at age 50 to screen for precancerous growths called polyps. There are other screening options such as stool tests for men who want to avoid colonoscopy as the initial screening.
Patient 5: An elderly man in his 60s who needs vaccinations
Adults need vaccines too. Everyone should receive an annual flu shot and consider Tdap—a one-time vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also known as whooping cough) — followed by a Td booster every 10 years. If you have not been immunized against hepatitis B, now is the time. Individuals 65 and older should receive Pneumovax 23 or Prevnar 13 to prevent pneumonia. Patients with a history of smoking, heart failure, diabetes, or COPD should also be immunized against pneumonia, regardless of age. Your doctor may also recommend a shot that protects against shingles after age 50.
Medicine is as much an art as it is a science. While there are general guidelines for blood-pressure readings and ages for screenings, every patient has different risk factors. Nothing can take the place of a face-to-face interaction in the office with your doctor. Remember you cannot help anyone else if you are not healthy yourself.