By Jenilee Matz, MPH
In order to look and feel your best, you need to eat right, exercise often, sleep well — and see your doctor regularly. That’s right — scheduling regular checkups with your doctor, even when you’re feeling great, is key to ensuring your long-term health. Preventive checkups and screening tests help your doctor spot medical conditions earlier, when some illnesses may be more likely to respond to treatment. So take an active role in maintaining your health by understanding what screening tests are important — and when you should get them. Here are the essential screening tests every man needs.
Most teenage boys aren’t thinking about their long-term health. But as your mind and body continue to grow — and as you become sexually active — the health precautions you take in your teens can set you up for the years to come.
Why you need it: Depression is a serious and potentially lethal illness: An estimated 15 percent of persons with depression commit suicide. Depression will not typically go away on its own, but with treatment (including non-medication interventions like exercise and talk therapy), it can be effectively managed.
What the test is like: During a regular check-up, your doctor will likely ask you how you are feeling. Questions such as, “Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed or hopeless?” or “Over the past two weeks, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?” are effective as an initial screening for depression.
If you’re diagnosed with depression, it’s important to follow the treatment plan recommended, including attending talk therapy sessions, taking any medications as prescribed and seeing your doctor for follow-up appointments.
When to start: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for depression as early as age 12. If you or your child shows symptoms of depression, these guidelines don’t apply — seek help right away.
Why you need it: HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. While many people associate the virus with women — HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer — HPV is also responsible for causing oropharyngeal and anal cancers in men.
Not everyone who contracts HPV will develop cancer; in most cases, HPV does not show any symptoms or cause any long term health complications, and the body naturally rids itself of the virus within two years. However, experts still recommend that young adults be vaccinated against HPV.
What the test is like: The vaccine Gardasil® is approved to guard men against most cancer-causing strains of HPV. Gardasil® also protects against the two strains of HPV that cause genital warts. The vaccine is administered in a three-dose (shot) series over a six-month period.
When to start: The vaccine is most effective when it’s administered before a person becomes sexually active, and experts recommend teens be vaccinated by age 13 or 14. However, the vaccination is safe for all sexually active people under 26 years of age.
Why you need it: Nearly half of the 19 million people diagnosed with an STD each year in the U.S. are between the ages of 15 and 24.
The only way to know for sure if you’ve contracted an STD is to get tested for one; many STDs are asymptomatic. If an STD does have symptoms, those symptoms can take weeks or months to appear, or they may be confused with another health issue. Sometimes, STD symptoms go away on their own — but the virus or bacteria that caused the infection may still be present.
What the test is like: A urine sample or a penile swab is used to test for chlamydia and gonorrhea. A blood test checks for HIV, herpes (HSV) and syphilis; and your doctor will also look for signs of infection. Testing for viral hepatitis usually isn’t necessary unless you are at high risk.
When to start: Request an STD test from your doctor if you’ve had more than one sex partner, or if there’s any doubt about your partner’s sexual history. How often you should be tested depends on your personal risk factors — but an annual test is usually sufficient for most people. Your doctor can help you determine what screening tests and schedule are appropriate for you.
Why you need it: If you have high blood pressure, you probably won’t know it until you get checked. High blood pressure is nothing to ignore: it can lead to serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. Hypertension typically develops over many years, meaning it’s completely possible to spot it early and work with your doctor to prevent it.
What the test is like: Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers. The first number (systolic) is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats and the second (diastolic) is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is at rest between beats. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/70 mmHg and lower. A systolic reading between 120 and 139 paired with a diastolic reading between 80 and 89 indicates you’re at risk for high blood pressure, and a reading of 140/90 mmHg and above indicates high blood pressure.
When to start: You should start having your blood pressure checked at age 18; it’s usually included in your physical examination. Your doctor can let you know if between-physical checks are needed.
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