Conway doctor: Health screenings important for men

By Tammy Keith Originally Published June 30, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.
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Behind every man going to the doctor, there is often a woman nagging to get him there.

Dr. Jarrett Lea, a family-practice physician with the Conway Medical Group, would like to see that change.

“I was just remarking to someone today: Men are less likely to come in. They don’t like to go to the doctor, it seems,” Lea said.

June is National Men’s Health Month, and Lea has some suggestions for screenings.

He said the biggest myth is “that people feel like if they’re feeling well, they don’t need to see the doctor.”

Routine screenings — some of them as simple as a finger stick — can save lives, Lea said.

Lea recommends yearly well checks.

Heart health is a priority, Lea said, because heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men.

“Half of men, especially older men, die of heart disease, so it’s an important factor,” Lea said. “Some of it can be prevented to a large degree, though.”

“Definitely everybody needs a low-fat diet, high-fiber foods and to get 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate exercise,” he said. “Obesity is a big issue in health care right now with one in three people being obese.”

Lea said they need to continue to diet and exercise,” he said.

Adults over the age of 20 need to get a cholesterol

screening, Lea said.

A level of “over 200 probably needs to be looked at,” he said. High cholesterol is a “major risk factor” of coronary heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

The blood test, which must be done while the patient is fasting, Lea said, is a common screening offered at health fairs.

“About 15 percent of your cholesterol is modifiable by your diet and exercise — the other 85 percent is your genetics, basically,” Lea said.

Treatment is effective, he said.

“There are multiple different medicines, depending on what type of cholesterol issues you have.”

Lea said doctors usually start by suggesting changes in diet and exercise that might help lower cholesterol.

Men, starting by age 20, should get their blood pressure checked, Lea said.

He said men sometimes think that if they haven’t had a stroke or heart attack, they’re fine, but high blood pressure can be a “silent killer.”

The goal is for blood pressure to be under 140 for the top reading, or the systolic pressure, and 90 for the bottom, or diastolic pressure.

“That’s the bare minimum, not the optimal level,” Lea said. “Optimal blood pressure is closer to 120 over 70.”

The good news, Lea said, is that blood-pressure medications are inexpensive — often $4.

“People worry that they may have to pay a lot of money, but the medicines are very inexpensive and have very low side effects, most of the time none,” he said.

Prostate-cancer screenings are another test some men should consider.

Prostate cancer is the No. 1 cancer that men get, followed by lung and colon cancer, Lea said.

“The medical community has taken a little bit of a turn this last year on the prostate issue,” he said.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against screening for people with no symptoms.

“Urologists are saying something a little bit different — no routine prostate test under [age] 40; screening [at ages] 40 to 50 for African-Americans and men with a history of prostate cancer in the family.”

The best age group of men to test is those between the ages of 55 to 70, Lea said, and they need to get screened every two years.

If a man has urinary symptoms, he needs an exam and lab work, Lea said.

Lea said screenings for colon cancer — typically done with colonoscopies — are important, yet enough men aren’t having the procedures.

“Something like 50 percent of men at age 50 get screened,” he said.

“Age 50 — that’s the golden number.”

Colonoscopies should be done earlier for men with a family history of colon cancer, Lea said.

It’s not just middle-aged and older men who need to think about their health.

Testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer in boys and men ages 15 to 35 , Lea said.

“Men don’t want to talk about or do the self-screening,” he said.

Because it’s a “painless disease,” men won’t be able to count on symptoms to alert them to problems.

Lea said men should conduct self-exams every month.

“We don’t expect men to know what cancer feels like; but just know if there’s a change,” Lea said. “A painless mass — that’s the kind of thing you have to do exams on to find it.”

He said the survival rate is good if testicular cancer is caught early.

“It’s a younger man’s disease, … but any man of any age can get testicular cancer,” Lea said.

“The other big one I want to check for is diabetes, especially since one in three people have obesity, and they have an increased chance of becoming diabetic,” he said.

Lea said “the ballpark” age is 45 for diabetes screening, and screenings are recommended every three years.

“It’s an easy test — even a test you can do that’s just a finger stick,” he said.

“Most physicians feel that patients get diagnosed about 10 years after the onset of diabetes.”

Patients stay healthier when the disease is caught earlier, the doctor said.

Symptoms of diabetes include thirst, frequent urination, feeling tired and blurred vision.

When Lea said men don’t want to see a doctor, he means any doctor.

“Men tend not to get eye exams or see the dentist,” Lea said.

He said dentists recommend that people get checkups every six months, and eye exams should be done every other year.

Men also don’t use sunscreen as regularly as women, who often get sun protection in makeup products.

“Everybody should be using a sunblock with at least SPF 15 — and avoid the sun. … Wait till your shadow’s longer than you.”

Men should examine their moles and watch for bleeding, or have those bigger than a pencil eraser checked by a dermatologist or other physician.

Lea said his best advice for men to be healthy is to stop smoking.

“That’s almost more important than anything else,” he said. “Cut back, but stop if you can.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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