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Men’s Health Month: A reminder to focus on physical, mental well-being

A doctor looking into a soldier's ear Senior Airman Jano Galinada is examined by Tech. Sgt. James Miller, an independent duty medical technician, in June 2019 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tristan Biese)

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June marks Men's Health Month, a time to focus on the physical and mental well-being of men. Overall good health relies on screenings and other evaluations with health care providers based on age, diet, and lifestyle choices, including tobacco and alcohol use. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent National Health Interview Survey, men are far more likely than women to go two years or longer without seeing a physician or other health care professional.

Experts don’t necessarily think men are healthier than women. Rather, men may be avoiding making medical appointments.

"I think a lot of us may have that tough man syndrome, the overall machismo mentality that whatever it is, I can power through it," said Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Matthew Hawks, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

But regular appointments have proven vital for the prevention, detection, and early treatment of illness and disease. So what are men waiting for? Whether making a virtual or in-person appointment, here are some tips for preparing to talk with a health care provider.

Learn your family health history

Family health history may influence a man's risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, according to the CDC. Health care providers can assess risk factors and recommend specific screening tests.

For example, men ages 18 to 35 should have their blood pressure measured every three to five years, Hawks said. But those with a family history of high blood pressure may require more frequent screenings. And while screening for colorectal cancer usually begins at age 45 or 50, "If you had a parent who had colorectal cancer before the age of 60, we start screening sooner," Hawks said.

Make a list of questions and concerns

Are you feeling pain, dizziness, or fatigue? Are you having trouble sleeping? Take note of when you first recognized any changes. The CDC recommends leaving space between each observation to record the health care provider's comments and recommendations.

Hawks said men also may want to consider these questions: "What's changed in your life? What's going well, or not going well?" He also recommends asking loved ones if they've noticed anything that should be brought up at a medical appointment.

"Some of the literature suggests that one of the most common reasons men make medical appointments is because their spouse or significant other tells them that they should," Hawks said.

Vow to be open and honest

Men should be forthcoming about everything, including their use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, alcohol, and tobacco and vaping products. Providing complete and accurate information enables providers to offer the best guidance, Hawks said. For example, men with any smoking history should get an abdominal aortic aneurysm screening at age 65.

Don't forget about sexual health

"We obviously encourage safe sexual practices," Hawks said, to avoid sexually transmitted infections. "If men are ever concerned they've been exposed to something, especially if they're having unprotected sex with multiple partners, they should consider coming in to get evaluated."

The vaccine for human papilloma virus, or HPV, decreases the risk of several types of cancers as well as genital warts, Hawks said. Standard practice recommends testing for males 26 and younger. Men ages 27 to 45 should speak with a physician to see if the vaccine is appropriate for them, Hawks added.

Erectile dysfunction can represent another sexual health issue. Hawks said about 50% of men 40 and older will experience ED at some point in their lives. "Younger men may experience it more than we know because they're embarrassed to come in and talk about it," Hawks said, adding that it may be a marker for heart disease. Regardless, "There are medical therapies that can be very helpful," he said. “So it's worthwhile to see a provider."

Hawks said men who plan for their appointment will likely feel more confident, not only about the meeting but also, their future. "Taking positive control of your heath is an important factor in longevity," Hawks said.

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