June is Men’s Health Awareness Month! By Kristen Upham, BS, MSN, FNP-C

In my practice as a primary care provider, I have noticed one glaring difference in treating men and women.  My male patients are often less likely to be proactive in making their preventative appointments.  A number of times it seems that a female family member (wife, daughter, or sister) was the catalyst to get these patients into the office.  That being said, I love to see male patients that are motivated to stay on top of their health and I’m thrilled that I have seen more and more of this recently in our practice!

It’s so importance for men to be seen annually for physical exams, blood work, and age-appropriate screening tests.  Unfortunately, data shows that men in American not only die at younger ages than women, but they also tend to be sicker during their lifetime.  On average, men die almost five years earlier than women, and have significantly higher risks for heart disease and cancer.

Men should be carefully monitored for testicular cancer and prostate cancer.  Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men, but if found early, the cure rate is high.  For this reason, all men should consider performing regular testicular exams on themselves- being on the lookout for any new lumps, swelling, or pain.  A testicular exam is typically performed by the provider at the annual physical as well.

Older men need to be aware of prostate cancer risks.  Over the age of forty, the prostate grows, and can cause symptoms such as slow urinary stream or a sudden urge to go to the bathroom.  An enlarged prostate like this is typically benign, but may be linked to diabetes or heart disease.  Prostate cancer, on the other hand, should be screened for once a year, typically with a digital rectal exam, and in some cases with a PSA blood test.  The American Cancer Society recommends starting prostate screening at age fifty, though we may start earlier in patients with a high risk for prostate cancer, including African Americans and those with a family history.

As far as heart risk goes, men should have their blood tested yearly for cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and more frequently if they have a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.  Blood pressure is checked at every visit as well.  To protect your heart, focus on a healthy diet and regular exercise.  The healthiest diets are high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, with a limited amount of sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol.  Your heart will benefit most from at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week.   Furthermore, you should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep and minimize stress as much as possible to reduce your heart risk.

I often have men approach me with concerns of low testosterone level.  Although we do not regularly check testosterone levels, it is certainly something worth considering in any man with symptoms of low testosterone, such as decreased sex drive, erectile difficulty, tiredness, mood changes and occasional memory problems.  Erectile dysfunction and low testosterone can be linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

June is Men’s Health Awareness month, and an excellent reminder to take charge of your health!  Eating well, exercising regularly, getting a good night’s sleep, and following up with annual physicals and screening tests will help all men reduce their risk factors and hopefully enjoy long, healthy lives!