It’s striking that men are 24% less likely than women to have visited the doctor during the past year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). But it’s vitally important for both men and women to get regular checkups and screenings. These visits can help you stay healthy and spot signs of serious diseases and conditions early, when they are most treatable.
The Difference Between Checkups and Screenings
Medical checkups and screenings are two different things.
Checkups are visits to evaluate your health. Physicals and well checks are other names for checkups. During a checkup, a doctor will examine your body and talk with you about your health. You’ll go over symptoms you have, medications you take, and your lifestyle habits, such as exercise and eating.
Screenings are medical tests that can find diseases or conditions before you have symptoms. Screenings include blood pressure measurements, blood tests, and colonoscopies. Your doctor can provide some types of screenings in the office. Others are only available at a specialty clinic or hospital.
Common Screenings and Checkups
The checkups and screening tests men need, and when they need them, depends on their age, health, and personal risk factors for certain conditions.
1. Physical Exam / Well Check
What it is: Physicals are regular visits with your doctor to check your general health. At a physical, your doctor will examine your body and talk to you about your health. You will have basic screening tests, such as a blood pressure measurement. Your doctor will also make sure your immunizations are up to date. See the U.S.recommended adult immunization schedule.
When you should have it: Check with your doctor to see how often you need a physical exam. Guidelines vary depending on your age and health. In general, men should have a physical every one to three years.
2. Prostate Cancer Screening
What it is: Prostate cancer screening detects prostate cancer before you have symptoms. There are two ways to screen for prostate cancer. In a digital rectal exam (DRE), your doctor inserts a gloved finger into your rectum to feel for changes in your prostate gland. A prostate specific antigen (PSA)test measures a marker for prostate size in your blood. Both tests detect changes in the prostate gland but do not interpret what those changes mean. More testing is necessary if the results are positive.
When you should have it: Ask your doctor if and when you should have a prostate cancer screening. Guidelines vary, but the American Urological Association (AUA) suggests tailoring screenings for each man. In general, the AUA considers prostate cancer screening to be most beneficial for men between 55 and 69 years. However, they also recommend men in this age group discuss the potential benefits and harms of screening with a primary care doctor or urologist. The AUA and other organizations also recommend men younger than 55 with a family history or of African American descent discuss prostate cancer screening before undergoing testing. Screening is not advised for men 70 years of age and older.
3. STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Screening
What it is: STD screening tests look for evidence of infections contracted through sexual contact, before you have symptoms. STD tests are also sometimes called STI (sexually transmitted infection) tests. They often involve a small blood draw.
When you should have it: Ask your doctor about which STD screenings you may need, if any. The need for screening depends on whether you have risk factors, such as having multiple sexual partners, using intravenous (IV) drugs, and having sex with other men. If you don’t have risk factors, you don’t need STD screening. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for HIV and syphilis in men with risk factors.
4. Cholesterol and Blood Pressure
What it is: A cholesterol test measures the level of cholesterol in your blood. This test helps predict your risk of heart disease and stroke. Blood pressure checks help doctors assess many diseases and conditions, not just high blood pressure (hypertension). If you have high blood pressure, blood pressure checks also evaluate how well your treatment is working. These tests are vital because high cholesterol and high blood pressure usually have no symptoms. And they’re risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
When you should have it: The American Heart Association recommends having a complete blood cholesterol test, called a fasting lipoprotein profile, every five years starting at age 20. Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends people with normal blood pressure (lower than 120/80) have a blood pressure check every doctor visit, or at least every two years. If you have high blood pressure (higher than 120/80), you should have frequent checks, but at least yearly.
5. Diabetes Test
What it is: A diabetes test analyzes your blood sugar, or glucose levels. High blood glucose levels can indicate that you have diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that puts you at high risk of developing diabetes. A diabetes test involves taking a small sample of your blood.
When you should have it: The American Diabetes Association recommends a diabetes test every three years once you turn 45. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend testing unless you have symptoms of diabetes or if you have a high risk of diabetes. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns, and you can decide together if you need a diabetes test.
What it is: A colonoscopy allows doctors to examine the lining of the colon and rectum. It involves a thin, flexible instrument, called a colonoscope. Your doctor uses the colonoscope to look for signs of colon and rectal cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage. Your doctor can remove suspicious-looking areas and also look for causes of intestinal symptoms. These include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel movements.
When you should have it: Most people should have a colonoscopy every ten years starting at age 50. Ten years may seem like a long time between tests. But colon and rectal cancer grows slowly. You may need earlier and more frequent colonoscopies if you have a high risk of colon and rectal cancer.
7. Bone Density Test
What it is: A bone density test measures bone mass. Bone mass is an indication of bone strength and is the only test to diagnose osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes your bones weak, brittle, and more prone to breaking. Many people think of osteoporosis as a woman’s disease. But up to one in four men older than 50 will break a bone because they have osteoporosis. A common technique for a bone density test is a painless dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan. You simply lay still during this screening test.
When you should have it: Many healthcare experts recommend men have a bone density test at age 70. If you’re younger than 70, you might want a bone density test if you have rheumatoid arthritis, a family history of osteoporosis, previous fractures, or have taken a long course of steroids. You may also want to consider the test if you smoke or have smoked, or if you are a heavy drinker.
8. Hearing and Vision Screening
What it is: A hearing screening determines how well you can hear different tones. A vision screening assesses how well you see near and far, your field of vision, and if you can discern colors. Vision screenings can find eye problems before you have symptoms. They can also find signs of diseases, such as high blood pressure.
When you should have it: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine hearing or vision screening for people who don’t have symptoms of hearing or vision loss. However, many adults have basic hearing screenings at their doctor’s office. And vision experts recommend getting a baseline vision screening at age 40. Your doctor will let you know how often to come back based on those results. If you have new problems hearing or seeing, see your doctor and get checked, regardless of your age.
9. Oral Health Checkup
What it is: An oral health checkup involves getting a teeth cleaning, an oral health exam, and X-rays of your mouth. These checkups help you keep the ability to chew, speak and smile. Your dentist can also diagnose oral cancer, gum disease, mouth infections such as cold sores, and other conditions that can spread to the rest of your body.
When you should have it: You should have an oral health checkup and teeth cleaning one to two times a year throughout your adult life. Your dentist may recommend more frequent checkups if you have chronic diseases, such as diabetes. If you don’t already have one, you can find a dentist at Healthgrades.
10. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening
What it is: Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening detects bulges in your aorta. The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from your heart. Part of it travels down through your abdomen to supply the lower body. Left untreated, AAAs can burst and cause internal bleeding, shock, and death. AAA screening is a short ultrasound exam of part of your abdomen.
When you should have it: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends men who have ever smoked should have AAA screening once between the ages of 65 and 75.
Stay healthy with regular health checkups and screening tests.
Discover diseases and conditions early so you have the best chance of treating them successfully.
Visit a primary care doctor regularly for your entire life even if you’re feeling well. Let Healthgrades help you find a doctor in your area.
- Ask your doctor about other additional screenings and follow-up appointments based on your screening results and medical history.