Men’s health: is it time for your 100,000 km service?
Published in Medicinewise Living
Date published: About this date
By NPS guest writer, Dr. Gerry Considine
The majority of men will take their four-wheel 'pride and joy' to the local mechanic for its annual service. Most understand the importance of a big 100,000 km service for a motor vehicle. But how many drive themselves in to their local GP for a similar mid-life men's health check? This article talks about what is involved. Comparing men's health to a car service is a helpful analogy (as long as you don't take it too literally), but it is important to relate it to the guidelines that GPs use everyday to prevent serious illness.
The heart is like the body's engine — it provides energy for the electrics (nervous system) and movement (muscles). To keep the engine running, the heart should be checked regularly. Just as you would check oil pressure and quality, fuel and exhaust in a car, men aged 45 years and older are recommended to have a cardiovascular risk assessment, involving check-ups of risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol. Early action can prevent bigger problems later on.
In order for an engine to run and pump properly, oil pressure should be checked to ensure it is not excessively high or low. For people, blood pressure (BP) is important and should be checked regularly from the early 20s. High blood pressure can lead to stroke and kidney disease. On the other hand, low blood pressure can cause dizziness and collapse.
Oil is assessed for quality at a car service. In humans, a blood test can detect some common problems. For example, a fasting blood test can be used to look for early signs of diabetes — particularly in those thought to be at high risk — and for high cholesterol and other blood fats. If left unchecked, impurities in the blood can block the oil lines (veins and arteries) and cause the engine to stop running (heart attack). The cholesterol test is generally recommended every 1–5 years from age 45, depending on other risk factors. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, regular diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk assessments are recommended from an earlier age.
The correct fuel is needed to maximise the performance of cars, and the same goes for people. If you put in bad fuel or the wrong type of fuel, performance can worsen over time. Your GP can provide good information on choosing the right fuel (food and drink) for your body or even refer you to a nutritionist or dietician.
A smoking car isn't healthy and the same goes for people. Like mechanics, GPs have some great strategies to assist with stopping smoking. So feel free to ask for help at your next visit or service.
Below the chassis
Sometimes the exhaust pipe and other less-visible systems can be forgotten in a routine car service or men's health check-up. A simple screening test, called the faecal occult blood test, can detect early signs of bowel cancer. Symptoms like oil in the exhaust (visible blood in the stools) is likely to require a rectal examination and your GP might order some further tests to exclude serious problems such as bowel cancer. The good news is that if this is detected early, the outcome can be very good. It is also important for men to report any problems with erectile dysfunction, as this may be a sign of poor heart function.
Outside of regular services, any paint defects or scratches will attract attention. Similarly, keeping an eye on any skin spots or moles is important so they can be assessed and treated at the next visit.
So why is it important?
Some men avoid health checks because they worry their doctor might find something wrong with their health and they would prefer not knowing. But if a medical problem is picked up early, there is more chance that something can be done to wind the odometer back and prevent more serious illness. A regular visit to your local body mechanic (GP) could save you from an early scrap yard or trade in!