Men's Health: Don't Skip Your Checkup

Only 15 percent of American men get a regular check-up. Dr. Matthew Swedlund explains why you should.

Madison, Wisconsin - Alright, guys: When was your last wellness checkup? If it's been too long to remember, you're not alone.


Only 15 percent of American men go for regular wellness exams, compared with 44 percent of women, according to Matthew Swedlund, MD, a primary-care physician with UW Health Yahara Clinic and a clinical assistant professor in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's Department of Family Medicine.


But for several reasons, you shouldn't skip your wellness visit, Swedlund says.


"It's an opportunity to do three things: address any specific concerns you might have, do a health maintenance screening to look for potential problems, and develop an active relationship with a doctor you trust," he says. "From my standpoint as a doctor, it's a lot easier for me to tackle medical problems for patients that I know already because I know more of their background. There's all sorts of social factors that influence health, and knowing that helps me do my job better."


Here's what men can expect during this annual ritual:


Vital Signs


A nurse or medical assistant will first check your weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate and might ask a few other questions to help prepare the doctor before he or she comes in.


Medical History


Your doctor will ask, via a written questionnaire or in person, whether you've experienced various symptoms, such as night sweats, chest pains or a persistent cough. Questions about family history "also help clue me in on areas that I might need to focus on," Swedlund says.


Swedlund likes to begin by reviewing a patient's medical history and checking in on any changes. "I also take some time to get to know the patient as a human being and learn about their family and kids," he says. "I'll also talk about specific risk factors, such as smoking, drinking, drug use and sexual activity. I use their answers to determine what I can do to help improve their health."


Physical Exam


The doctor will look at your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin; listen to your heart and lungs; feel your abdomen; and check your reflexes, along with any other areas of concern. For men, the testicular and hernia exams are perhaps the most sensitive part of the visit, but both are important and over quickly. The doctor will check your testicles and groin area for masses or other abnormalities, as well as push up behind the scrotum while you cough to check for signs of a hernia. A rectal exam is generally not done on men under the age of 50, though practice varies by doctor, and a rectal exam might be warranted if you have a family history of prostate cancer or have any symptoms that could indicate a problem.


Although you can always skip any part of the exam you're not comfortable with, it's generally a good idea to follow your doctor's recommendations. "Anything we choose to do for the wellness exam has a purpose, and if we don't do it then we might miss something like a hernia or testicular cancer," Swedlund says.




Depending on your age, health or time of year, you might need vaccinations to protect against pneumonia (usually reserved for patients 65 and older), tetanus (typically given every 10 years or after a possible exposure) or the flu.


Blood Work


You may want to call your clinic in advance of your appointment to see if you need blood work and get that done 2-3 days before your appointment so the results are available to discuss with your doctor. If you don't call in advance, you might need to return at a later date for blood tests that require fasting. Cholesterol testing is usually done every five years in healthy patients and more often if abnormalities are found, and your doctor might also want to screen for thyroid or blood sugar problems if you have a family history.


Although doctors' offices reserve longer time slots for wellness exams, the visit is usually over in 20 to 30 minutes, unless you have a lot of questions or concerns. Be aware that any conversation outside of wellness is usually billed separately as an office visit, so you could have to pay an additional copay even if your annual physical is covered by insurance.


You might not even need to make it a yearly ritual. Swedlund recommends that healthy people go for a wellness visit every two to three years, though an annual visit is best if you're on regular medications or have other chronic issues.


"Think about it as an opportunity to get to know a doctor instead of seeing it as an onerous thing you have to get through," Swedlund says. "That's one of the most advantageous things about the wellness exam: to build a relationship with a doctor you trust in case you have health issues down the road."

Date Published: 06/17/2015

News tag(s):  matthew p swedlundmens healthwellness

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