Dr. Robert Mehl, a family medicine doctor and program director at the Utah Valley Family Medicine Residency, says men often carry the teenage belief of being indestructible into adulthood and view a doctor’s visit as something that only needs to happen if you’re really sick or something’s broken. But preventive medicine can play a key role in keeping men active and strong.
“In healthcare, in the United States, we focus so much on treating disease, but what we realize now is that it’s a lot more expensive to treat disease, and outcomes aren’t great,” says Dr. Mehl.
While a man may secretly believe he is Superman, even Superman has kryptonite. For many men, the health equivalent of kryptonite are preventable diseases and conditions that may not have visible or easily observable symptoms. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and prediabetes.
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For example, high blood pressure is often called the silent killer because you often don’t feel any different, but if left untreated may lead to a heart attack or stroke. Dr. Mehl says there is great value in men visiting a doctor for a preventive checkup. “If we could see conditions like high blood pressure soon, we could put men on medicines and help prevent them from getting a heart attack or stroke down the road, whereas if you get a heart attack or stroke, you could have long-term problems.”
As part of the Affordable Care Act, all insurances are required to provide preventive care visits, meaning men can be evaluated for preventive conditions without a copay.
So, When Should Men Go to the Doctor?
Dr. Mehl says there’s never a dumb reason to visit the doctor. Dr. Mehl compared a doctor’s visit to taking your car in to a mechanic for a tune-up or to check out an unusual sound. If it turns out there’s nothing wrong, at least you checked it out and took care of it.
“There are plenty of times people have come in for things they thought weren’t very serious and it ended up finding something serious,” says Dr. Mehl. “If your wife tells you you should go, you probably should. If people around you are noticing, that should kind of set off some bells in your head, ‘maybe I should go see a doctor.’”
Beyond preventive visits and appointments to address specific illnesses or injuries, men should follow the U.S. Preventive Task Force recommendations:
- After age 18, men should get their blood pressure checked annually.
- After age 35, men should get their cholesterol checked every 3-5 years.
- Starting at age 50, men should get a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer.
These guidelines are for a healthy, normal-weight person that doesn’t smoke or drink. Men who smoke, drink, are overweight, or have a family history of various diseases, should consult with their doctor to see if and when other screenings may be necessary.
What Are Common Reasons Men Visit a Doctor?
Dr. Mehl says the clinic he works at commonly sees men for colds, bronchitis, diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol. But another common visit is for erectile dysfunction (ED). “I think a lot of men want to have a discussion about ED, but they think of something else, or don’t come in and talk about that until something else is bothering them enough to do it,” says Dr. Mehl. While it may be uncomfortable, Dr. Mehl says doctors are trained professionals who don’t attach any stigmas to the condition and work to find solutions for their patients.
Another common reason men visit the doctor is depression. While some men may be apprehensive about discussing depression, it’s a condition that a doctor can help to treat. “As doctors, that what we’re here for and that’s what we deal with every day,” says Dr. Mehl. “From our perspective there’s nothing unmanly about going to the doctor.”
Are There Doctors That Specialize in Male Conditions Like OB/GYNs for Women?
Not exactly. While OB/GYN specialists focus on a variety of women’s health issues, family doctors can treat most male conditions. For specific conditions involving the penis or prostate, a family doctor may refer a patient to a urologist, but for most issues a family doctor will be the best choice for men.
How Can Men Fit a Doctor’s Visit into a Busy Schedule?
It can be tough to find time for a doctor’s visit, but there are options. Many clinics now offer extended or weekend hours, making it possible to go to work and make a doctor’s appointment. Dr. Mehl says many employers are flexible in allowing employees to go to a doctor’s appointment if employees are open and up front. Another great option is TeleHealth services like Intermountain Connect Care, which allows patients to connect with a provider 24/7 from the convenience of your own home or office.
How Can Men Avoid More Visits to the Doctor?
It probably comes as no surprise that exercise and a healthy diet are essential. Dr. Mehl says men may be turned off by the word diet, but for most men it really comes down to portion control and selecting healthier foods.
When it comes to exercise, the guideline is 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Regular exercise will help men stay in shape and prevent weekend warriors from getting injured while trying to relive the glory days of high school.
So while men may not feel ‘broke’ and there may be nothing to ‘fix,’ regular checkups and screenings can help men stay active and healthy.