Health Checkups: You Need Them, Guys
Regular health checkups can catch little things before they become big problems.
Hey, guys! You really should get them. But, truth is, most don’t.
Most of us treat our cars better than our bodies.
We take our car to the shop regularly. We get our oil changed, rotate our tires. And – insert manly chortle here – everybody knows you don’t skip a 10,000- or 20,000-mile checkup. Because we know that if you do, things break down. Little problems can become big problems.
But our bodies?
Fit and healthy – not the same thing
Men tend to think that as long as things seem to be working right, they are working right. And that’s not necessarily true, says Bruce Kava, M.D., the director of men’s health at the University of Miami Health System and the former Miami/Fort Lauderdale area chief of urology for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They may go to the gym. They may work out. But that person is not necessarily healthy,” he says. “Although they’ve done their bodybuilding and have a nice physique, they may run on the treadmill or work some of the muscles, but that doesn’t always make for a healthy person inside.”
There are clearly differences in the manner in which men and women approach their own health. Women learn early in life to see a gynecologist for regular exams, to go in for mammograms, and even go for colonoscopies, when the time is right. Not men.
Many men, he says, tend to skip regular checkups. (You can see him talk about it here.)
“There is a large population of men, who just don’t attend screenings. They don’t seek medical attention, even when a warning light such as chest pain or a testicular lump appear to signal that something is wrong.” Dr. Kava says. “Men wait. There’s no male gynecologist that sees men between the ages of 20 and 50 and that timeframe is a period of time when men do a lot of damage to their bodies.”
By the time many men get checkups, to use that car maintenance metaphor again, an oil change has turned into major engine trouble.
A 15-minute job has turned into two weeks in the shop getting a new set of valves.
“By the time many men come to us later on — in their fifties or sixties — they’re usually coming for some particular issue, and often this is at the insistence of their partner or family. Symptoms such as erectile dysfunction and voiding complaints will often herald a man’s first office visit in years. Because by then the prostate has grown and they’re starting to see symptoms,” says Dr. Kava.
“But all the damage they’ve already done to their cardiovascular system — obesity, cigarette smoking, and poor lifestyle choices — are highly prevalent in our male population. As a result, it is often beyond when we can rectify some of the problems that could have been identified earlier.”
Plan your pit stops
But those are just guidelines, says Dr. Kava. A race car driver works with his pit crew to decide when to pull in. A good mechanic asks about your driving habits. You should talk with your doctor to figure out what’s best for you.
“The healthier approach is a shared decisional approach between the physician and the patient,” says Dr. Kava. “The physician brings to the patient the medical education, and recommendations. The patient brings his values and his understanding of the concepts, what he would ultimately wish to do.”
That doesn’t mean checkups are the only time you should see your doctor.
In between, you should keep an eye out for changes. Those are like the warning lights in your car. You know, sudden, inexplicable weight loss or an odd mole. The most important might be the one that comes on when you’re having trouble, um, getting in gear.
“Several studies have shown that patients who have had heart attacks and major cardiovascular events,” he says, “as a precursor to that they had been complaining about erectile dysfunction.”
Carlos Harrison is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News blog. He is a former national and international television correspondent, as well as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.