Men: How to Cope with Your Top Health Fears
Chances are great that if you ask most men about going to the doctor, they’ll tell you it’s far from the top of their favorite things to do. In fact, the vast majority will tell you they’d rather be doing virtually anything else! Rest assured, it’s not just you or the men in your life who avoid the doctor. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are half as likely as women to go to the doctor over a two-year period — and twice as likely to never have visited a physician or health care professional.
Call it fear, discomfort with the idea of stepping on the scale, or a feeling of Texas macho invincibility, most guys will give you some pretty crazy reasons why they haven’t seen a primary care physician. Maybe it’s the dread of finding out that something may be wrong or being uncomfortable with a prostate exam. Or maybe it’s a fear of being lectured about a bad habit.
Madge Barnes, M.D., a primary care physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Family Care – Grand Prairie, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, tells her patients that being informed about one’s health and taking measures to improve it are essential to wellness. Accordingly, she says she receives the most questions from her male patients about three specific issues: prostate disease and cancer, erectile dysfunction (ED) and testosterone levels, and weight management.
Prostate Disease and Cancer
So, what is the prostate anyway? The prostate is a walnut-size gland that surrounds part of the urethra, a tube that carries urine out of the bladder through the penis. The prostate helps make semen, the milky fluid that carries sperm from the testicles through the penis when a man ejaculates.
“As a man ages, the prostate grows larger, squeezing the urethra and causing problems passing urine. These changes may begin as early as the 30s and 40s,” Barnes explains. “I would urge men who have difficulty passing urine, have a weakened urine stream, experience burning with urination, have an urgent need to urinate or have to get up more than four times at night, to see a primary care physician.”
A primary care physician plays a vital role in prostate cancer screening, which has been shown to lower a man’s risk of death from the disease. Barnes recommends men see a primary care physician who will perform a digital rectal exam (DRE) and blood tests that include a Prostate Specific Antigen, or PSA.
It’s important to note that an increase in PSA does not always signal prostate cancer. High levels can be caused by prostatitis, a benign inflammation of the prostate due to a bacterial infection, or a noncancerous condition known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) caused by abnormal cell growth.
If your physician does determine that elevated PSA levels are due to prostate cancer, Barnes says the survival rate is very good due the cancer’s typically slow rate of growth, but adds that early detection through screening is the only way to catch the cancer at an early stage. Men who are at a higher risk, like those over the age of 50, African Americans, and those with a family history, should discuss with their physician any additional screening measures or an accelerated screening timeline.
Erectile Dysfunction/Testosterone Levels
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) affects about 30 million men in the United States. Defined as the inability to get and/or keep an erection, ED develops in men as they age, have diabetes, atherosclerosis, or injuries to the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder or pelvis. It may also result from certain medications, through psychological or emotional factors, or result from excess weight, smoking or alcohol use.
“Despite the fact that men are bombarded with ED and testosterone advertising, I believe there is still a stigma they associate with both conditions,” Barnes explains. “The first step toward treatment is diagnosis with a primary care who’ll obtain a good history of the patient, followed by an exam. In some cases, a primary care physician will refer the patient to a urologist.”
Controlling diabetes, blood pressure, weight, cutting smoking and limiting alcohol use may prove helpful in treating ED. Men’s partners can be a valuable ally in urging them to see a primary care physician and accompany them on follow-up visits to the doctor’s office to provide a second set of ears and understanding of the management of ED.
While we’re in the neighborhood, let’s talk about testosterone, which stimulates sex drive and allows a man to achieve and maintain an erection. Although it doesn’t cause an erection, it stimulates production of nitric oxide in the brain, a chemical that can trigger a series of reactions that are necessary for an erection to occur.
Jon-Michael Cook, M.D., a primary care physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Flower Mound and TienaHealth Medical Group, a Texas Health Physicians Group Practice, says low testosterone or “Low T” is one of the biggest concerns for men today, but cautions that replacement therapy should not be taken lightly.
“Due to popular marketing, many men may wonder if lower testosterone levels are contributing to their lack of sex drive or ED,” Cook says. “I stress to my patients that it’s normal for testosterone to decline as men age, and obesity and diabetes also can be a factor. Rather than seeking testosterone replacement treatment, I tell them to first focus on diet and exercise.”
Weight Management, Healthy Eating
You may remember reading the famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Barnes believes that a lifetime of healthy eating helps prevent chronic diseases like heart disease. Further, healthy eating is one of the most powerful tools to reduce the onset of disease.
In an age where some doctors are writing prescriptions for healthy foods and walks along a nature trail, she has some basic advice, “I urge men to see their primary care physician to develop a ‘Fitness Prescription’ for better health and to lower their risk for heart disease — the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.”
Cook emphasizes that diet and exercise are two of the best, cheapest ways to control weight and improve health.
“The American Heart Association recommends adults have at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity,” he explains. “Our technology-based society has caused us to be more sedentary but I advise my patients to do simple things to get more exercise like parking farther away from the entrance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.”
He likes several free apps like MyFitnessPal that can help with weight management. He also advises his patients to avoid process foods, to cook more at home to control portion sizes, and to stay active. He says weight loss is simple math, like balancing a checkbook, it’s calories in versus calories out.
Curious about personalized assessment of your heart health? While it’s no substitute for an appointment with one of our primary care physicians, an appointment with a primary care physician, Texas Health Resources has a variety of health assessments that may provide. Or check out our Wellness Tools with a nutritional needs calculator and other information to guide you on your path to health.
Men of North Texas, nothing is more important than your health, and if you don’t believe that, just ask those who love you most!
If some time has passed since your last checkup, there’s no better time to find a physician who can partner with you to achieve your health goals! Texas Health has more than 6,000 physicians across the Metroplex to help improve your health. To find the right doctor for you or your family, visit TexasHealth.org/provider or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355).