Ignorance and denial are both powerful, but they don’t work when it comes to your health. June is Men’s Health Month, so I thought I’d do a head-to-toe review of symptoms that warrant a medical appointment.
Let’s start at the top with headaches. If you get headaches from time to time, you’re probably fine. If your headaches wake you up in the night or come on during orgasm, it’s time to make an appointment with your medical provider to rule out some potentially serious health problems.
Moving to your eyes, as we age our eyesight usually worsens. However, if you notice that your peripheral vision is getting worse (tunnel vision) or if your eyes are noticeably worse over the course of only a few months, consider seeing your eye doctor. Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are all treatable—but once sight is lost it can be impossible to regain.
Another function that declines with age is your ability to hear. What you may not know is that untreated hearing loss can lead to a decline in cognitive function. Without plenty of stimulation, the brain doesn’t stay as sharp, and sound is an important type of stimulation.
As we follow food into and through your body, let’s start with your mouth. If you have mouth sores that do not clear up within weeks, seek treatment. If you are hoarse for more than a month, seek treatment. If you have persistent or worsening acid reflux or any trouble swallowing, seek treatment. If you regularly have heartburn or indigestion between meals, seek treatment. You may notice a pattern here: when you have symptoms that do not go away or that get progressively worse, you should seek medical treatment.
If you are usually constipated or often have diarrhea, a medical provider can help you adjust your diet and activity to relieve your discomfort—or diagnose a bigger underlying problem that requires more intervention. If you are 45 or older, it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy. (It used to be age 50, but the guidelines just changed.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is causing your discomfort. If you have dull pain in your abdomen and your skin is looking a little yellow, you may have liver trouble. If you have abdominal pain with meals, your gall bladder may be acting up.
If you have blood in your urine, your kidneys may not be functioning properly. If you find it hard to urinate or must get up several times a night to urinate, your prostate may be enlarged. If you have the combination of frequent urination, excessive thirst, and unexplained weight loss, you may have diabetes. In younger men, if you have painless lumps in your testes, definitely seek treatment because that is a potential symptom of testicular cancer.
Moving back up into the body, let’s talk about the heart and lungs. If you feel tightness or pain in your chest with exertion, do not assume it is gas. If your heart periodically skips a beat or races for more than a few seconds, check it out. If you notice that you suddenly can’t make it up a flight of stairs without feeling short of breath or if your ability to breath is getting progressively worse, seek treatment.
And how about your body’s largest organ, your skin? If you have moles with any of the following attributes, call your dermatologist: asymmetric, changing in color or size, elevated, irritating or have ragged borders. If you have a persistent rash or sores that won’t heal, get them checked out.
Finally, if you have pain, swelling, or tingling in your joints or extremities, schedule an appointment with your medical provider.
Clearly this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms that should send you to the doctor, but it’s a good start. It’s truly amazing how often I see patients suffering with treatable diseases. Modern medicine offers so many wonderful ways to help people maintain function and comfort. If you’re not willing to come in a for an annual physical, at least come in when your body starts ringing the alarm bells. And don’t put it off; most treatments are a lot simpler and more effective in the early stages of the disease process.
Dr. Jerry Douglas is the Chief Medical Officer at MCHC Health Centers—a community-based and patient-directed organization that serves Mendocino and Lake Counties, providing comprehensive primary healthcare services as well as supportive services such as education and translation that promote access to healthcare. Learn more at mchcinc.org.