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Recommended Health Screenings for Men

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Part of good health is getting preventive health screenings. Routine checks of your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar (glucose) levels, as well as your weight, might just save your life. These and other measures can be good indicators for future heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems. And being male is a risk factor for certain diseases. For example, men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and heart attacks tend to strike men earlier in life. Men also die at higher rates from heart disease, stroke and many cancers.

How about those digits?

Here are some of the numbers you need to know:

High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the amount of force your blood exerts against the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure usually varies throughout the day, rising and falling to slightly different levels. High blood pressure occurs when blood pressure stays elevated over time. It's expressed as two numbers:

  1. Systolic blood pressure (top number)—the amount of force used when the heart beats
  2. Diastolic blood pressure (bottom number)—the lowest pressure measured when the heart is at rest between beats

So, someone with high blood pressure might have a reading of "140 over 90" (140/90 mm Hg) or higher. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, greatly increases your risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.

One in three Americans has high blood pressure, and many don't even know they have it, which is why it's often called the "silent killer." High blood pressure is more common in adults, particularly African Americans, overweight people, people who drink heavily (defined as more than two drinks a day for men), and people who are middle-aged or older (risk for high blood pressure rises after 45 for men and after 55 for women).

Your health care provider should check your blood pressure at least once every two years and more often if it's high.

What your numbers mean:

Category Systolic BP
(mm Hg)
  Diastolic BP (mm Hg)
Normal below 120 and below 80
Prehypertension* 120–139 or 80–89
Hypertension* 140 and above
130 and above,
if you have diabetes
or 90 and above
80 and above,
if you have diabetes

* Prehypertension is a term used to indicate an intermediate level of blood pressure that may be associated with increased risk but is not currently treated with medication; while it doesn't necessarily mean you will develop hypertension in the future, it is worth being aware of and discussing with your health care provider, if you're told you have it.

Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime so it's important to try to prevent it. You can help prevent or control high blood pressure by:

  • Eating healthfully
  • Reducing salt in your diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Being physically active
  • Limiting your alcohol intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking blood pressure–lowering medication as prescribed by your health care professional

Blood cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that travels through the blood in packages called lipoproteins, which consist of lipids (fats) and protein. While your body needs some cholesterol, high levels of total cholesterol are dangerous.

Extra cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fats from dietary sources (for example, whole-milk dairy products, added animal fats, meats and partially hydrogenated oils) can raise LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol levels. Over time, this fat-like substance can build up, narrowing the arteries and slowing down or blocking blood flow to the heart. Eventually, this can lead to heart disease, chest pain or heart attack. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you may be at higher risk.

Everyone age 20 and older should have a cholesterol screening test at least once every five years, in addition to watching what they eat. The best test is the "lipoprotein profile," which gives information about the following:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL ("bad" cholesterol)––High levels can lead to cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries.
  • HDL ("good" cholesterol)––Helps remove cholesterol from the blood. Low levels of HDL cholesterol increase the risk for heart disease.
  • Triglycerides––Your body produces more triglycerides when you overeat or drink too much alcohol. Elevated levels can interfere with HDL production. Triglycerides should be measured when you are fasting.

What your numbers mean:

The ranges below are for healthy individuals. Your cholesterol goals will be different if you have one or more risk factors for heart disease.

  • Total cholesterol
  • Less than 200 mg/dl
  • HDL cholesterol
  • Greater than or equal to 40 mg/dl for men (greater than or equal to 50 mg/dl for women)
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Less than 100 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides
  • Less than 150 mg/dl

    Dietary changes, exercise, medication or a combination of approaches can help you manage high cholesterol.

    Blood glucose level

    A high level of blood sugar (glucose) is a sign of diabetes. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. Talk with your health care provider if you have a family history of diabetes or other signs of high blood glucose, such as frequent thirst, blurry vision, unexplained weight loss or unusual hunger.

    A blood glucose test is usually given in the morning, after an overnight of fasting (no food or drink). It can be done at your health care provider's office or lab. The amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is measured.

    What your numbers mean:

  • Normal
  • Under 100 mg/dL
  • Prediabetes
  • 100–125 mg/dL
  • Diabetes
  • 126 mg/dL and above

    People with prediabetes are at risk for future health problems. Most will develop diabetes within 10 years. Some long-term damaging effects to the body, particularly the heart and circulatory system, may start during the prediabetes phase of the disease.

    Weight Loss

    If you think you need to shed a few pounds, you're not alone. More than 72 percent of men are overweight or obese. But extra weight, especially around your waist, can spell trouble.

    In addition to looking your best, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through routine exercise and eating a healthy diet can help guard against high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. You'll also reap the benefits of feeling more energized and focused.

    If you're overweight, you're more likely to develop:

    • Health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death for both men and women in the United States.
    • High blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, which are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
    • Type 2 diabetes, a major cause of death, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, amputation and blindness.
    • Sleep apnea, interrupted breathing during sleep.
    • Osteoarthritis, a wearing away of the joints.

    To determine if you are overweight, normal weight or underweight, your health care professional or you can calculate your body mass index (BMI CALCULATOR: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/), which is an estimate of total body fat based on your height and weight, and measure your waist circumference, which can gauge abdominal fat.

    What your numbers mean:

    BMI measures

      BMI
  • Underweight
  • Less than 18.5
  • Normal, healthy weight
  • Between 18.5 and 24.9
  • Overweight
  • 25 to 29.9
  • Obese
  • 30 or more
  • Extremely obese
  • 40 or greater

     

    Waist circumference

    For most men, the risk factors for heart disease and other diseases increase with a waist size over 40 inches (102 centimeters).

    HealthyWomen recommends you T.A.L.K. to your health care provider about weight-related health issues:

    • T - Tell your health care professional if diabetes runs in your family.
    • A - Ask why excessive abdominal fat is a health risk.
    • L - Learn ways to improve your family's eating and exercise habits.
    • K - Keep up regular health screenings.

    Colorectal Cancer

    Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men after skin, prostate and lung. The majority of cases (more than 90 percent) are diagnosed after age 50, which is why the American Cancer Society recommends all men at average risk for colorectal cancer undergo one of the following beginning at this age:

    • Yearly fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which can be done at home and screens for invisible amounts of blood by testing small samples of stool for three consecutive days*
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years*
    • Double-contrast barium enema every five years
    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years
    • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
    • Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain

    The good news is that the disease is highly beatable and treatable––nearly 75 percent of those diagnosed with colon cancer survive five years or longer if the disease is diagnosed at the earliest stage. That's why it's so important to make colon cancer screening a priority.

    You're at greater risk for colon cancer if you have a family history of the disease (especially first degree relatives), a personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps (growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum), have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), or a known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). If you are at an increased risk, you should begin colorectal cancer screenings before age 50 and/or be screened more often. Talk to your health care professional about when you should begin screenings.

    Risk Factors that Spell Trouble

    • High blood pressure (hypertension)
    • High LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol)
    • Low HDL-cholesterol ("good" cholesterol)
    • High triglycerides
    • High blood glucose (sugar)
    • Family history of premature heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases
    • Overweight/obesity
    • Physical inactivity
    • Cigarette smoking

    Talk to your doctor about your risk factors, screenings and steps you can take to lower your risk for preventable diseases. You should also try to reduce stress and find time to relax whenever possible.

    Did you know unhealthy eating, physical inactivity and smoking are the leading contributors to premature death? What are you waiting for? Make healthy lifestyle changes today and encourage your loved ones to do so, too.

    Read more:
    Preventive Health Screenings for Men