Men and women need different types of health screenings. Knowing what to expect and when will help keep you on track to know when you need to make that next in-person appointment.
Men and women have some of the same preventative health needs but also some distinct tests and screenings. Some providers suggest that if you are under the age of 49 years and have no chronic illnesses or ongoing health issues or concerns, you only need a checkup every 3 years. If you have any health issues or are 50 years old or older, this suggestion increases to yearly visits.
Screenings are dependent on a few things. Some are related to age and lifestyle but others have to do with your past health history and that of your relatives. Let’s hope Grandpa lived long and healthy. Talk to your provider about what is most appropriate for you. Routine screenings can be different for everyone but one thing to keep in mind is that these tests, screenings and lifestyle changes are meant to help prevent disease! Don’t delay taking care of your body.
What health screenings do men need and when?
An Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) is when the wall of your aorta, which is the vessel that connects your heart to the bottom part of your body, becomes weak and thin, can bulge and then can burst. AAA is usually silent and causes immediate death.
Those with a family history of AAA should be screened as well as anyone with any risk factors, which includes anyone ages 65-75 who has ever smoked. According to Harvard Medical School, a small history of smoking can increase your risk: even a total of 100 cigarettes over the course of your lifetime can be enough risk to trigger the need for the test. Chat with your provider to see if your history indicates you are at risk for AAA and need to be screened.
The test is a one time abdominal ultrasound to determine if you have any weakening or bulging of the aorta. If there are any concerns with your ultrasound, regular ultrasounds will be suggested to monitor any weak spots. If your aorta looks healthy, this may be the only test you will need.
Screening for type 2 Diabetes is done by simple lab tests:
- Hemoglobin A1C is a test that determines your average blood sugar over the last two to three months. This is a nice test to see how your blood sugars have been over time.
- A fasting glucose test measures how much sugar is in your blood at the time of the test, after not having anything to eat overnight.
Both tests can indicate if you have normal levels, prediabetes or diabetes. Knowing how your sugar levels have been and how they are with no food on board will indicate if you need a lifestyle change or medication to manage your sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes often has no symptoms and with early detection, you can minimize any long term complications.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that adults age 45 and older get screened for type 2 diabetes every three years by their health care provider. More frequent screening is recommended if you are overweight and have any risk factors including:
- Family history of diabetes (a parent or sibling with the disease)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- African-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander ancestry
- History of blood glucose problems
- High blood pressure
- Cholesterol problems
- History of vascular disease
Some groups suggest that starting screening at a younger age has benefits. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends that high-risk adults get screened annually beginning at age 30. Discuss these important and simple screening tests with your provider, especially if you have any risk factors.
Blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps blood to the body (circulation). It is important that these numbers are within normal limits to keep your heart from being stressed. High blood pressure is when these numbers are consistently too high. Having high blood pressure that is consistent can damage your circulatory system and put you at risk for heart attack and stroke (heart disease).
Getting blood pressure checked yearly is recommended for all adults, even with a history of normal blood pressures. This is especially important for men, as men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women (47% of men versus 43% of women). Talk to your provider to see if you can do this at home, or you need to come into the office for a blood pressure check each year. If you have a history of high blood pressure or have any risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, alcohol use, older age, high salt diet, or a sedentary lifestyle, then it is recommended to have your blood pressure checked twice per year.
People with high blood pressure usually will need a yearly checkup to be sure there are not any other complications being caused by the high blood pressure, and that the high blood pressure is not getting worse.
Cholesterol is a waxy-fatty substance found in the blood and in the cells of your body. Your liver makes cholesterol and you also get it from foods that you eat. A cholesterol test determines how much cholesterol and the types of cholesterol in your blood. There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or sometimes called “good” cholesterol. A cholesterol test will measure your total amounts of cholesterol as well as both the LDL and HDL. Abnormal levels of these types of cholesterol can determine your risk for having buildup of plaques and blockages in your arteries and indicate higher risk for heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends that all adults 20 or older have their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every four to six years. This may be done more frequently depending on your health history and family history, so be sure to discuss this plan with your provider. After age 40, risk can increase and your provider can calculate this risk based on your medical history, as well as determine how frequently you need your Cholesterol checked.
Cancer of the colon or rectum is called colorectal cancer, or colon cancer for short. It is important to screen for colorectal cancer as risk increases as you age and can come with minimal symptoms. Polyps are usually the first sign of a problem, and with screening, can oftentimes be removed before they have become cancerous.
It is suggested to have colorectal cancer screening after age 50 and then regularly thereafter. The type of test and frequency can be discussed with your provider based on your health history and family history of colorectal cancer, as well as overall risk. Those with family history or those found to be at higher risk will have screenings at a younger age.
Testing comes in different forms. Depending on your risk, history and age you may need one or all of the following tests:
- Stool test: Either a smear of stool (poop) or a full bowel movement to test for any tiny blood that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Blood in the stool can indicate a problem with the colon and will trigger more testing. This can be done in the office or can be mailed in and should be done yearly.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Your provider will put a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. This test can be done every 5-10 years based on your results, history, and frequency of other stool tests that you may be getting.
- Colonoscopy: This is similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, except a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube is used to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the whole entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests. This is usually done as a day procedure with some sedation or general anesthesia every 10 years (and more frequently if you have risk or family history of colorectal cancers).
The prostate is a part of the male reproductive system and is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder) and produces fluid that makes up a part of semen (sperm). As you age, the prostate becomes larger. This type of health screening is important to ensure your prostate is healthy.
A digital rectal exam (finger in the rectum) used to be considered a helpful screening tool to detect prostate cancer, but the CDC reports that it is not as reliable as once thought. A more reliable test, a blood test called a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate and is usually higher in men who have prostate cancer. If your PSA is abnormal, your doctor may recommend a biopsy to find out if you have prostate cancer.
Screenings versus diagnostic testing: why preventive screenings are important
Health screenings can seem overwhelming, but remember: the purpose of health screenings is to look for a disease before symptoms appear, so they are important to get scheduled on the calendar. Diagnostic testing is then used once a person has symptoms. Health screenings are an important part of healthcare because the ultimate goal is to keep you healthy before a problem arises. Health screenings give providers a jump start on your health. As a patient, your job is to make good lifestyle choices that decrease your risks of disease for a healthy life!
A healthy lifestyle includes how you feel mentally and physically. Caring for your mind and body are both important. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about your mental health too. Eating a healthy diet, exercising and taking time for your mental health are all important in a healthy body. Feel free to chat with a nurse first with any concerns or questions and make sure you have that checkup appointment on the calendar. Remember to check out our general health screenings article and our women’s health screenings article for those females in your life to be sure you aren’t missing anything important for optimal health.
The opinions expressed in Nurse-1-1 Health Center Blogs are solely opinions of the writer. Other than information received directly by you from your personal provider, the health center blog should not be considered medical advice. Read more.