The Health Reporter Is In, June 21, 2019

 

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Q: Do healthy men need to see a doctor every year, and what should be covered in their physicals?

A: Whether there's a need for either healthy men or healthy women to see their doctors for annual exams has been controversial in recent years. But women do become more accustomed at a younger age to seeing doctors on a regular basis than men do, according to Carle family medicine physician Dr. J.R. HOFFMAN.

In fact, many men who come to see him say they were encouraged to see a doctor by a woman, he said.

How frequently men need to see a doctor depends on their age and their personal health risks, Hoffman said. For him, the need for an annual physical exam for a man becomes more critical starting at age 50.

"I counsel my patients it may not be every year, and it depends on their age and family history and other things, what kind of makes most sense to be efficient," he said.

One of the reasons it makes sense for annual physicals starting at age 50, Hoffman said, is that's an important time to ramp up what can be done in the way of preventive health services and make sure men are advised about certain cancer screenings — for example, for prostate cancer and colon cancer, and, if they're smokers, for lung cancer.

Physicals should also include a head-to-toe physical exam, updates on vaccines that can keep both men and their loved ones healthy and discussions about family history, alcohol use, stress and other factors that could be increasing the risk for diseases, Hoffman said.

"It's a longer visit to give a big picture of a person's life," he said.

While healthy men under age 50 may not necessarily need or seek out annual physicals, Hoffman said men in their 20s, 30s and 40s should still make time for at least some doctor visits to prevent potentially developing health issues from becoming larger ones.

Heart attacks, for example, occur after an accumulation of decades of disease, Hoffman said.

"When we see a younger person, we can look with that eye of health and say, OK, these are the factors that are going to give you trouble down the line," he said. "It's much better to do that in their 20s than when they have a first heart attack."

For both men and women, the top causes of death are heart disease and cancer, but the next eight top causes of death are different for men than they are for women.

For men, they're unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, suicide, Alzheimer's disease, influenza and pneumonia and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, in that order, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For women, after heart disease and cancer, it's chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and sepsis, in that order.