Routine physical. A routine physical is an ideal opportunity for you to ask questions about your health and for your doctor to recommend ways to remain healthy. However, not everyone needs to see a doctor regularly, especially if you are young and healthy. Routine visits become more important and should occur more frequently after you reach age 50, when the rates of heart disease and cancer increase for most men.
Weight/Body Mass Index (BMI). Being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and, possibly, some types of cancer. Use our BMI calculator to see if you are the right weight for your height. Ideally, your BMI should be between 19 and 24. A BMI of 25 to 29 is considered "overweight," whereas a BMI of 30 or more is considered "obese."
Blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If your readings are higher than 140/90 milligrams of mercury, your doctor will probably recommend lifestyle changes — exercise and diet — and, possibly, medications to bring your blood pressure under better control.
Individuals who have readings at the high end of the "normal" range should have their blood pressure checked as often as every six to 12 months.
Cholesterol. High cholesterol also increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have other risks for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, your doctor may recommend checking your cholesterol as often as every one to two years. Others may need their cholesterol checked less often.
If your doctor plans to check your cholesterol, be sure to ask if you need to fast (not eat for six to eight hours) before your blood is drawn.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm. Aortic aneurysms are "ballooned" blood vessels that can rupture and cause sudden death. Screening with an ultrasound scan may detect an aneurysm while it grows silently, before it ruptures.
A federal panel recommended in 2005 that men who smoke or who smoked in the past should have a single screening ultrasound test between the ages of 65 and 75. The panel indicated that screening may also be useful in non-smokers. (At this time, screening is not recommended in women, because their risk of developing an aneurysm is much lower than that of men.)
Diabetes. Diabetes is a common condition that greatly increases your risk of other medical problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and circulatory problems. Screening is the best way to detect diabetes, because many adults who develop diabetes will have few if any symptoms. Screening is particularly important for those at high risk of diabetes, including individuals who:
- Are obese
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Are from certain ethnic groups, including African-Americans and Native Americans
- Have high blood pressure or high cholesterol
Prostate cancer screening. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men. However, screening for early stages of prostate cancer remains controversial. Men who are older than 50 and younger men with a family history of prostate cancer should discuss the risks and benefits of screening with their doctor. The best tests for prostate cancer include the digital rectal exam and prostate-specific antigen test.
Colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in men. All men (and women) older than 50 should be screened regularly for colon cancer. Younger men with a family history of colon cancer should also be screened. Unfortunately, fewer than one-half of Americans at risk undergo regular screening.
There is some controversy about the best way to screen for colon cancer. Some doctors recommend that all individuals undergo colonoscopy, whereas other doctors feel that fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) or sigmoidoscopy (or a combination of the two) is a good alternative. Be sure to discuss these options with your doctor.
Immunizations. Immunizations are a simple and effective way to avoid important infections. In addition to those listed in the table, a number of other immunizations (such as hepatitis B and hepatitis A) are available. Talk to your doctor about which immunizations are appropriate for you.
Other types of screening. Your doctor may also perform or recommend the following types of screening:
- A complete skin check to find worrisome moles or early skin cancer
- A testicular exam to screen for cancer of the testicles
- A visit with the ophthalmologist or optometrist to screen for eye problems, such as glaucoma
- Blood or urine tests to screen for sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia or HIV, especially if you are at high risk
- Screening for other infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis C, especially if you are at increased risk
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