No one looks forward to going to the doctor’s office, especially when most guys have the mentality of “Why go to the doctor’s if I don’t feel sick?” But the truth is, it’s better to be proactive about your health than wait for something to go wrong.
Medical Tests Men need in their 20s
Young men have time and, for the most part, health on their side. But you should take control of your health now so you’re not facing down 40 with a spare tire around your gut and a bunch of pill bottles in the bathroom.
While you probably don’t need regular annual exams, it’s not a bad idea to find a doc you like and start with at least one full checkup — including baseline height, weight and blood pressure. A good internist will also listen to your heart, lungs and the carotid arteries, checking for any abnormalities; do a skin check for suspicious moles; look in your mouth, ears, and eyes; and check your lymph nodes and abdomen for any lumps or bumps.
1. Testicular Self-Exam
You need to know what normal feels like, and now’s a good time. You might be surprised to find out that the risk for testicular cancer actually peaks in your 20s, says Gary Rogg, M.D., internist at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York.
“It’s wise to do a self-exam probably monthly,” Dr. Rogg says, but talk to your doctor first to get a “feel” for what you’re looking for. “Most men don’t know, which can lead to a lot of anxiety and unnecessary testing,” says David K. Spindell, M.D., internal medicine practitioner and divisional vice president of medical affairs at Abbott Diagnostics.
2. Vaccine Booster
You’ll probably need a few shots in the arm (or butt) in this decade, in part because some immunity from childhood vaccination has worn off, and in part to match your lifestyle. Get a tetanus booster, and ask about a Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria and acellular pertussis), which also includes a diphtheria vaccine.
“If you travel abroad, get a vaccine for Hepatitis A, and if you didn’t get it as a child, you also need Hep B,” says Dr. Spindell. Finally, if you’re still in college or in the military, be sure you’re vaccinated against meningitis.
3. STD Check (Including HIV)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone get screened at least once for HIV, but you should definitely get checked if you’ve had unprotected sex with multiple partners, have sex with men, have injected drugs or just to play it safe.
Medical Tests Men need in their 30s
Here’s your 30s in a nutshell: You can still walk the walk, but this is a decade for taking stock. Dr. Rogg says outwardly healthy men can be developing heart problems during these years without a clue. “We know from autopsies done on young men [who died, for example, in accidents] that there are often early signs of atherosclerosis,” he says, which is a precursor of heart disease.
An annual physical now will look the same as it did 10 years ago — an assessment of weight and blood pressure, heart, lungs, lymph nodes, carotid arteries to look for any abnormalities such as heart murmurs, breathing problems and early vascular issues — but becomes a bit more urgent. Keep up that testicular self-checking, too. Surprisingly, testicular cancer is more common in younger men than older ones, says Rogg.
1. Cholesterol Profile
Now’s the time to get a fasting lipoprotein blood test for good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides. Cholesterol isn’t a disease or condition; it’s an assessment that can indicate your risk of developing heart disease.
What you need to aim for is not just keeping your LDL lower — 100 mg/dl is optimal — but inching your HDL higher, over 60 mg/dl, according to American Heart Association standards. Generally, a good total number is 200 mg/dl or less, and over 240 is considered high.
Measuring your triglycerides, the most common type of fat in your body, is also a key number, and inching over 150 mg/dl is cause for concern. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL or high LDL may encourage atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. This test becomes more crucial if you have a family history of heart disease and if you smoke.
2. Body Mass Index (BMI)
Checking your body mass index will help you get hold of your belly fat issues now, which is important because belly fat can be related to heart problems down the road. Figure out your BMI with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute calculator.
Your physician may calculate this number in his office, but even if he doesn’t, you should know it, because a high BMI ups your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers. Just bear in mind that BMI readings may overestimate body fat in men who work out a lot or who have a muscular build.
3. Skin Check
Look at it this way: A full-body check now is way more palatable than losing a chunk of your nose to a basal-cell carcinoma 10 years down the road. Your doc will be looking for any suspicious moles that fit the American Academy of Dermatology’s ABCDE criteria:
- A is for asymmetrical
- B for bleeding
- C for (changing) color
- D for diameter (greater than six millimeters)
- E for evolving
Medical Tests Men need in their 40s
If you’ve let your weight creep up and your exercise regimen slack off, it’s time to get back on track, because your risk of conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer go up in this decade.
Most primary care physicians encourage annual routine physicals for men in their 40s, as any issues caught early are more easily treated. You also need to own up to your family history, and base decisions on preventive testing and care in part on that, says Dr. Gary Rogg, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York.
Take prostate cancer, for example. The American Cancer Society recommends an initial screen at 50. But if your dad got the disease before age 65 — or if you are African-American — you should start getting screened — a blood test for a prostate specific antigen — during this decade, says Rogg.
1. Eye Exam
If you already wear glasses, get your vision checked regularly. The American Academy of Opthalmology recommends that those who’ve never gotten a comprehensive eye exam should book one now, because early signs of certain age-related eye problems — cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration — may be lurking even without symptoms. See an ophthalmologist for a baseline exam, which will include an eye pressure test; pupil dilation so the doctor can look at your retina and optic nerve; and a test of visual acuity.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself holding the sports pages or your smartphone an arm’s length away, chances are you have presbyopia, a normal, middle-age-related shortening of your focus, also known as short arm syndrome. No serious worries here; all you need is a good pair of reading glasses. Either ask your doc for a prescription update or, if you don’t wear prescription glasses, a pair of readers from the drugstore will do the trick.
2. Blood Pressure Check
Any time you visit the doc you’ll get your BP checked. But the 40s are a time to get a handle on those numbers, as high blood pressure is a strong indicator of an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, especially if there are other red flags, like being overweight or a smoker, says Rogg.
Numbers that should concern you: a systolic, or top, reading of between 120 and 139 and a diastolic, or bottom, reading between 80 and 89 puts you in a pre-hypertensive state, according to the American Heart Association. Hypertension is defined as blood pressure of 140/90 or higher.
3. Blood Sugar/Diabetes Test
With CDC statistics showing that more than one-third of adults living in the U.S. are now considered obese, it’s not surprising that Type 2, formerly called adult onset, diabetes is a huge and growing health concern, which is why finding out if you’re in danger of developing diabetes is critical. If you think being thin protects you from this disease, think again.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that by age 45 men be tested for Type 2 diabetes, most commonly with a fasting blood glucose test. A normal level is below 100 mg/dl. If your numbers come in between 100 and 125 mg/dl, you are considered pre-diabetic and you should consider it a wake-up call.
According to the ADA, dropping a few pounds — seven percent of your bodyweight — can put you back in the safe zone, but talk to your doctor about other lifestyle modifications. If your FPG is 126 mg/dl or above, you have diabetes, a condition that becomes chronic and sometimes deadly.
A more accurate diabetes screen is the hemoglobin A1C test. Whereas a fasting blood test is a snapshot in time, the A1C looks at a protein in the blood that changes in the presence of too much blood sugar, and it gives your health care professional an indication of your blood glucose level over a three- to four-month period. An A1C at 5.6 percent, the percentage of sugar in your blood, is normal; a pre-diabetic range is between 5.7 and 6.4 percent. Anything over that indicates diabetes.
Medical Tests Men need in their 50s
The older men get, says Dr. Rogg, the more nervous they can be that they’ll see their physician and find out they’ve got some chronic condition that’ll require monitoring and medication. Instead, he says, think about preventive health care from a more positive, proactive angle: “Men are resistant to taking medication [say, for high blood pressure or cholesterol] because they fear side effects. I tell them to think about the much worse side effect of not finding out what’s going on, and taking care of it.”
At 50, you should schedule your first colonoscopy, although if you have a family history of the disease (a primary relative with colon cancer) or are African American, you should have begun screening in your 40s. The prep may be icky, but the process is painless and important. Not just for screening, says Dr. Spindell, but also for the immediate treatment of any polyps that might be found.
If your test is normal, you only need to repeat every 10 years, says Dr. Rogg, but you still should have a fecal occult blood test as part of your routine checkup. So think of the benefit when your doc inserts a gloved finger in your rectum during your annual exam. This on-the-spot test for fecal occult blood is important, because blood in the stool can be an early indicator of colon cancer.
2. Heart Health Check
Although an EKG and a cardiac stress test are not routinely recommended unless you have risk factors such as a family history or are experiencing symptoms, “getting a baseline EKG is reasonable to suggest during this decade,” says Dr. Rogg. “One thing that might be picked up on an EKG are tall waves, which can suggest thickened heart muscle, possibly caused by untreated high blood pressure.” This result requires follow-up with a cardiologist, he says.
Ask your doctor if taking a daily low-dose aspirin is right for you — it is right for most men this age, says Dr. Spindell, unless you have any type of bleeding disorder. A study in the heart journal Circulation agrees that the therapy is useful and cost-effective. It’s a case of no harm and potentially enormous good: “A low-dose aspirin a day has been shown to decrease the incidence of heart disease,” Spindell says.
3. Prostate Cancer Screening
If you’re not sure whether to get screened for prostate cancer, you’re not the only one — there has been recent controversy. The American Cancer Society says that starting at age 50, you should discuss the pros and cons of this test — do it at 45, if you’re African-American, or your father or brother developed prostate cancer before age 65 — with your doctor. The reason to have the talk rather than definitely get the test? The standard screen, a blood test called for prostate-specific antigen, can be misinterpreted if not carefully read and lead to a possibly unnecessary biopsy.
“An elevated PSA could mean cancer, or not — false positives are common,” says Dr. Spindell. Even if cancer is detected accurately, it might be indolent, or so slow-growing that it will never become an issue, whereas aggressive treatment can leave you incontinent and impotent.
For that reason, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routine PSA tests for most men, a position that the American Urological Association vigorously disagrees with, saying that oftentimes, signs of prostate cancer are first detected by a physician during a routine check-up. Best thing you can do is speak with your doc about what’s right for you. If you experience any problems urinating, or see blood in your urine or semen, or have painful ejaculation, call your doctor right away.
4. Vaccine Update
Baby boomers, listen up: The CDC recently issued a recommendation that everyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C, noting that 75 percent of adults carrying the virus were born during those years. The reasons why this rate is so high are not completely understood, but what is known for sure is that early detection and treatment will save lives.
It was previously recommended that only those with certain risk factors, including IV drug use or getting tattooed in an unclean environment, get tested, but given that so many people are silent carriers, and considering that hepatitis C can lead to deadly diseases including cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, screening seems smart.
Medical Tests Men need in their 60s and Beyond
Keep up the vigilant, proactive approach to your well-being, says Sharon Brangman, M.D., professor of medicine at Upstate Medical College of the State University of New York, and past president of the American Geriatrics Society. Besides the health checks here, you might consider talking to your doctor about a cognitive or memory screen.
“Sixty-five is a good time for a baseline screen, which most primary-care doctors can do in their offices,” says Dr. Brangman. And if you want to continue to annoy your kids and delight your grandkids for years to come, keep exercising.
Exercise has been shown to reduce dementia, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and will give you energy for all the things you have time to do now. Studies have shown that older men who maintained or began weight-training programs improved their overall health in many ways.
1. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Check
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Research Health and Quality (ARHC) notes that all men 65 and older who have ever smoked (more than 100 cigarettes in a lifetime) should get a sonogram to check for an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). An asymptomatic bulging in your abdominal aorta can eventually rupture — which as you might imagine can be fatal.
2. Vision Test
You may already have a pair of reading glasses (or four) and/or prescription lenses in your possession, and hopefully you’ve been getting regular eye exams. Be sure to get yourself to the ophthalmologist to check for age-related eye issues such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. The sooner the better.
3. Vaccine Update
If you had chicken pox as a kid, think about getting the herpes zoster vaccine to help protect against shingles, a painful condition caused by the same virus, which lays dormant in your body for decades, and can reactivate later in life. The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended that adults older than 60 receive the herpes zoster vaccine as part of their routine medical care.
An annual flu vaccine is currently recommended for everyone these days, but especially for those over 65 and anyone who has asthma, a lung disease such as COPD or if you’re a healthcare provider. Do get a pneumonia vaccine — it’s also recommended for those over 65 (or younger if you have any condition that leaves you vulnerable to infection).
4. Bone Density Test
Yep, men need one, too. Though osteoporosis is less common in men than in women, more than 2 million men in the U.S. get this bone-weakening disease as they age, according to the National Institutes of Health. Men should get a bone density test at age 70, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, or sooner (age 50 to 69) if you have risk factors such as having broken a bone, or you’ve lost half an inch of your height within the last year.
How Does Your Health Measure Up?
Is your health record on track? Are there any tests you now realize you need to catch up on? Which of these tests did you already know were recommended for men? Were there any that surprised you? Will you do anything differently with your health now that you have this info? Share you thoughts, stories and questions in the comments section below!