Did you know that many of the major health risks men face can be prevented and treated with early diagnosis? Atrium Health’s Jason Fishel, MD, talks about why it’s important for men to see their doctor and take control of their health.

Men's Health, Primary Care

Speak Up, Be Proactive: A Guide to Men's Health

Did you know that many of the major health risks men face can be prevented and treated with early diagnosis? Several Atrium Health physicians discuss why it’s important for men to see their doctor and take control of both their physical and mental health.

We get it, men typically don’t love seeking medical help. But it’s so important for men to understand preventable health problems and to have those diagnosed and treated early. 

Jason M. Fishel, MD , an internal medicine physician at Atrium Health Mecklenburg Medical Group wants men to take control of their health and get screened — even if this isn’t always their first instinct. As men enter middle age at around 40 years old, it becomes even more important to keep an eye on your health. 

“Men can sometimes have a more stoic attitude about their health,” says Dr. Fishel. “But it’s important to speak up and build a close, trusting relationship with your primary care physician.” 

Seeking mental health help can be even more difficult for men. “Historically, beginning at a young age, boys are taught not to show emotions, like crying,” James Rachal, MD, a psychiatrist at Atrium Health. “When they become men, they feel like it’s not okay to talk about feeling down or anxious.”

The reality is mental illness does not discriminate – it affects people of all races, ethnicities and genders. “Speaking up about your mental health is brave and a sign of strength,” says Dr. Rachal. “Most men report that stigma keeps them from talking about it, so let’s normalize the conversation for all.”

What to discuss with your physician 

Dr. Fishel recommends that men go to their primary care physician for a physical annually. During this physical, it’s important to have your blood tested and your vital signs checked. A physical gives you an open forum to discuss any symptoms you might have, such as chest pain, decreased tolerance for exercise, breathing issues, sleeping issues or any other concerns you have. 

A physical is also a chance to discuss your family medical history. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, prostate cancer or colon cancer, you’ll want to make this clear to your physician as this history can affect when you get screened for these diseases. 

“If you have an immediate family member, such as a brother or father who had prostate cancer, you’ll want to be screened at around 40 or 45,” explains Dr. Fishel. African-American men also tend to have a higher risk of prostate cancer and should consider getting screened at a younger age. 

You’ll also want to be aware of early colon cancer screening. It is generally recommended that anyone with a family history of colon cancer in a first degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) begin screenings at age 40.

Another area of concern that sometimes goes ignored is anxiety and depression, says Dr. Fishel. Men are just as likely to struggle with these conditions and 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide despite being reported less often.

“Signs of a mental health issue sometimes present as a physical health issue in men,” says Dr. Rachal. “They’ll complain of headaches or stomach pain, and actually it’s a mental health issue causing it all.”

Your physician is there to have an open, non-judgmental dialog with you — so always let him or her know if you’re experiencing mood swings, high stress levels, a change in appetite or sleep habits or lack of hygiene. 

Kick bad habits, start good habits 

What happens in the physician’s office is crucial for your health. But what happens outside of the clinic and in your everyday life can be where a healthy lifestyle begins. And when it comes to health concerns for men, heart disease is at the top of the list — which makes maintaining a healthy body weight and normalizing your cholesterol so crucial. 

When it comes to eating, Justin Haynie, MD, with Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute-Pineville recommends the Mediterranean diet, which is a diet high in healthy fats, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. In general, avoiding added sugars, particularly in beverages, is another way to keep your weight under control. 

In addition to changes in diet, getting regular exercise is also important. “In general, cardiovascular exercise is anything that causes a sustained elevation in heart rate,” says Dr. Haynie. “For those of us who aren’t avid runners, even walking around the block can count as good exercise.” It’s recommended that you get 150 minutes of exercise on a weekly basis — and keep in mind that these workouts need not be divided equally throughout the week. 

The testosterone question 

One question that Dr. Fishel has been getting more and more involves low testosterone. With more direct-to-consumer products on the market that look to address this issue, it’s on the minds of many men. 

Common symptoms of low testosterone include changes in energy, changes in sex drive and changes in muscle mass. Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low testosterone level, but it’s worth checking your blood if you have concerns. 

“Sometimes men are hesitant to discuss these kinds of issues with a doctor,” said Dr. Fishel. “But this isn’t an issue that you have to deal with on your own. Have an open discussion with your physician, and they can refer you to a specialist who can help you.” 

Men can also have symptoms related to sexual function, in which urologists are in an important position to enable early detection and prevention of chronic diseases that can occur in men. Urologists often function in a similar role to gynecologists in the area of women's health. 

“Men should be counseled that erectile dysfunction is a risk factor for underlying cardiovascular disease and other health conditions that may warrant evaluation and treatment. Men should have a thorough medical and sexual history, including physical examination and lab testing,” said Mark Makhuli, MD a urologist with Atrium Health’s McKay Urology

Dr. Makhuli also stresses that African American men are more likely to die of prostate cancer than any other ethnic group and encourages African American males to seek testing and treatment. 

And remember: Your care team is there to hear your concerns, support you and get you the help you need — which is a process that becomes all the more important as you reach middle age. 

Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact your primary care provider today. We're promising primary care appointments within 24 hours to ensure you receive the care you need quickly to stay on track with your health. If you don’t have a doctor, we’ll connect you with one. Call us at 1-844-235-6997 or find a doctor online.

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For 24/7 mental health crisis assistance, call Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line at 704-444-2400