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3 essential health screenings for men

3 Essential Health Screenings for Men

Al Waller:  According to a Cleveland Clinic survey, only half of the 1,174 adult men surveyed said they get regular checkups, and 72 percent would rather do household chores than go see a health care provider. Since it has been proven that health checkups are vital for longevity, why are men so hesitant to visit the doctor?

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With me is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert of nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, to talk about health screenings for men— particularly, we will dive into depression, high blood pressure, and prostate screenings. You will learn why they’re important, how often you should get screened, and what to expect during screening.

Before we unpack all of this, we would like to remind you that if you have topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Well, Mihaela, good to have you here.

Mihaela Vincze: Hi Al! It is a pleasure to be back.

Al Waller: As many have observed, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many elective procedures being put on hold, and this in turn has led to a substantial decline in preventative screenings. So, perhaps you can start us off by talking about why health screenings are important in the first place?

Mihaela Vincze: Health screenings are vital to maintaining good health, especially as you get older. Think about preventative checkups, like taking your car in for routine maintenance to make sure everything is running smoothly. Annual physician checkups have the same concept.

Exams look at overall health, provide routine health maintenance, and may even identify underlying medical issues before they become complicated to treat. Health screenings, especially, can detect problems early when chances are high for successful treatment. Many deaths could be prevented if people got regular health screenings as recommended by their doctors.

Al Waller: I think most would agree that preventive medicine and those types of measures associated are really the way to go. But what do health screenings really do in terms of helping our health?

Mihaela Vincze: Routine screenings allow physicians to compare test results over time, increasing the chances that a potential problem can be prevented through interventions, like medication or lifestyle changes. One of the most important things a man can do for his health – or really anyone can do for their health for that matter – is to be proactive.

If issues come up, an early visit to the doctor could stop a small issue from turning into a big issue. If we do not change our car’s oil or rotate its tires, our car can end up having some costly and potentially unsalvageable problems! The same goes for our bodies.

Al Waller: True to that. I can personally attest to that because some years ago, I had been prescribed medication for rising blood pressure. After faithfully taking it at the onset, I just kind of let it slide by the side and did not bother refilling it. I was working out – I thought “well, I'm in great condition – why do I need this?”

I went on my merry way until I was scheduled for a full physical as a condition of employment with a client – I had accepted an offer to join as an FTE or full-time employee. Long story short, the numbers on my blood pressure reading went through the roof. …the look on that doctor’s face… They took it a couple times – we won't go into the numbers – but it was crazy and could have jeopardized my opportunity with this company.

Lesson learned. Be smart, follow your doctor's orders, and take your medicine. Now, how often should men be seeing their doctors?

Mihaela Vincze: The recommendation is annually — an annual physical exam is a wonderful way to develop a relationship with your doctor so they can get to know you as a person and help you stay on top of your health. This means seeing your doctor even when you feel healthy! Keep in mind that there are different screenings to be on the lookout for.

Al Waller: You’re preaching to the converted! Let's talk about that then – what specific screenings are recommended?

Mihaela Vincze: Good question. There are different screenings recommended for different age groups, as well as for those with different risk factors. So, it is just important to check in with your doctor to determine which ones are appropriate for you. As you said at the intro in today’s episode, I will be talking about depression, high blood pressure, and prostate cancer screening.

Al Waller: Let’s start with depression – why should men screen for this condition?

Mihaela Vincze: Depression screening is very important because this condition is among the leading cause of disability in people, according to the World Health Organization. Depression is also a major risk factor for suicide for older men, with suicide rates increasing with age, according to an NCHS Data Brief.

According to Mayo Clinic, men are less likely than women to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment for depression, so it’s especially crucial that they get screened.

Al Waller: For those who are wondering, can you walk us through some of the more common symptoms of depression?

 Mihaela Vincze: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is characterized by persistent feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism as well as feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness. You may have a hard time concentrating and may often find yourself often fatigued and drained of energy. Depression is also characterized by a loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that maybe you once found enjoyable.

Al Waller: Here again, drawing on personal experience, I actually had a few friends who had difficulty transitioning from high school into college. In some cases, you would never guess it. They were all pretty well-accomplished – good grades, good looking, good athletes and so forth. But they just seemed to hit that wall, which I found out later occurs a lot right around that early 20s age range. Fortunately for them, they had supportive parents and some very understanding friends who proactively guided them to the family physician and in some cases, with counselors – which basically enabled them to get comfortable, turn things around, and stay the course. But it can actually be very frightening and debilitating.

Perhaps you can now talk to us about how depression is screened for.

Mihaela Vincze: Generally, your doctor will complete a questionnaire. They collect information on the history of your symptoms, such as what they are, when they started, how long they have lasted. They will also look for things like changes in habits like your sleep, appetite, and behavior, according to WebMd. They may also ask for a family history on the condition.

Al Waller: That makes sense. How often should men be screened for depression?

Mihaela Vincze: The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends depression screenings for the general population – including men – to ensure diagnosis, treatment, and appropriate follow-up. However, the USPSTF has not come out with a recommendation on how often this should be completed. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Al Waller: That makes sense too. You also mentioned high blood pressure screenings. What should men know about this type of screening?

Mihaela Vincze: The USPSTF recommends that those who are 18 begin screening for high blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure, which you already know, can lead to serious health conditions like heart disease and stroke. Knowing your blood pressure — and treating it if it’s high — can help lower the risk for these types of more serious conditions. This is especially important because high blood pressure usually does not have symptoms and cannot be detected without being measured.

Al Waller: Perhaps you could share – what does a screening for high blood pressure involve?

Mihaela Vincze: A blood pressure test measures the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps through an inflatable cuff around the upper arm. The best place to have this done is at the doctor's office. The devices at grocery stores or drugstores may not be accurate and should always be confirmed in a clinical setting before beginning treatment, according to an article published in JAMA.

Al Waller: Besides the hygienic factors, I've always wondered about those devices and their accuracy. How often should one be screened for high blood pressure?

Mihaela Vincze: The USPSTF recommends annual screening for adults aged 40 years or older and for those who are at increased risk for high blood pressure. Adults aged 18 to 39 years with normal blood pressure, who do not have other risk factors, should be rescreened every 3 to 5 years.

Al Waller: Let's now turn our attention to the prostate and why should men be getting screened for prostate cancer.

Mihaela Vincze: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting males in the United States, right before skin cancer—according to the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer is highly treatable in the early stages. That is why men should get screened for it.

Al Waller: All kidding aside – I'm not sure I actually knew it ranked that high. It is reassuring to know that this, in fact, is highly treatable in the early stages. Perhaps you can you give us some background on prostate screenings.

Mihaela Vincze: For men having regular prostate-specific antigen screenings, also known as a PSA screening for prostate cancer, it will give health care providers an idea if there is a health issue. It is important to have a baseline to determine if there are any big changes which can warrant further testing. Talk to your doctor to determine if screening is actually even right for you.

Al Waller: What's involved in the screening process?

Mihaela Vincze: The screening process includes a blood draw, which looks at the blood level of the PSA. This is often combined with a physical exam of the prostate gland. During the physical exam, they look for lumps and bumps, according to the National Cancer Institute. Many doctors do consider a PSA reading of 4 and above to warrant further testing. However, any big changes or jumps in the PSA reading are a cause for concern, according to the American Cancer Society.

Al Waller: How often should men be screened for prostate cancer?

Mihaela Vincze: In 2018, the USPSTF made the following recommendations about a PSA screening: those who are 55 - 69 years old should individually decide if they want to be screened with their doctor’s guidance. Those who are 70 or older are not recommended to get PSA-based screening. Talk to your doctor, learn what is involved, and decide if a PSA test is right for you.

Al Waller: That's interesting. Why are PSA-based screenings not always recommended?

Mihaela Vincze: Some men may actually experience potential harms from screening, including false-positive results that require treatment, which can lead to health complications according to the USPSTF. This is because many different factors can affect PSA levels. Ultimately, this is a decision you want to make with your doctor.

Al Waller: Are there times where screening is advised more often and sooner?

Mihaela Vincze: Prostate cancer runs in families, so, people with close family members with prostate cancer or those who have had someone in the family with prostate cancer before the age of 50 should be aware this will predispose you to prostate cancer, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Those with a predisposition are encouraged to be screened before 55, and more often. Always talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have.

Al Waller: From today's conversation, I have gathered the bottom line is keep calm, remember to breathe, get regular checkups, and make sure you have a good, honest communication during those visits with your doctor. Thank you again, Mihaela.

Here's hoping you’ll join us for future episodes where we’ll be covering financial literacy and healthy vision. If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. And also, don’t miss our recent episodes on retirees returning to work, the health benefits of water, and aging myths.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.