It's common for men to skip regular health checkups, especially if they feel fine. But this gets riskier as you get older. Many health problems develop gradually and may not have noticeable symptoms. Once you reach a certain age, the probability of having a health issue increases sigficantly. The sooner you catch it, the better your chances at turning things around.
Taking care of your health means being proactive. You already do this by eating healthy, staying active, managing your stress, taking a multivitamin, getting any necessary shots, and other common sense steps. Once you turn 50, it's time to add health screenings to the list. Here are some of the most important recommended health screenings for men over 50.
Blood Pressure Screening
Ideally, you should already be getting regular blood pressure screenings, but if you've been putting it off, now's the time to start. It's estimated that over 70% of men 55 and older have high blood pressure.1 High blood pressure wears down your blood vessels, increasing the risk of serious heart health problems down the road. The good news is that it's reversible, and taking steps to lower your blood pressure can help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
While you're at it, you should also have your cholesterol checked. This is another important indicator of your heart health, and can also be improved through simple lifestyle changes.
Men 45 or older are advised to get regular colorectal screenings to check for any growths that might be cancerous or precancerous. Colorectal polyps are common after age 50, and while most of these growths aren't cancerous, certain kinds can become cancerous, and you want to catch them early.
Talk to your doctor about your options, because there are a few different kinds of screenings available. This could involve a simple stool sample test, a flexible sigmoidoscopy that checks the lower colon every five years, or a colonoscopy every ten years.
Prostate Cancer Screening
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, especially after age 50, and early detection can make a big difference in the treatment outcome. However, there is some debate about the value of the prostate-specific antigen test typically used for screening. Although elevated PSA levels in the blood may be a sign of cancer, it can also have other causes. It's a good idea to talk to your doctor about this test, because the pros and cons aren't clearly understood. Your doctor can also perform a digital rectal exam to check for prostate growths.
Prostate health issues are common in older men, but not all of them are dangerous. Talk to your doctor if you're having any difficulty or discomfort with urination. This is typically a sign of benign prostate swelling, and your doctor can help you manage it.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that everyone over 45 have their blood sugar checked every three years -- especially if you are overweight or not very active. Type 2 diabetes -- or its precondition, insulin resistance -- can develop gradually and without noticeable symptoms. It's estimated that 1 in 3 Americans may be prediabetic, and that 80% of those don't know it.2 Being prediabetic puts you on the road to more serious health issues, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But you can avoid this by making the right lifestyle changes.
These screenings are recommended based on your personal risk factors.
If you're a baby boomer (born between 1945-1965), you should get checked for hepatitis C, a virus that can slowly damage your liver, often without noticeable symptoms.
If regular smoking is a part of your history (within the last 15 years), you should get checked for lung cancer.
If you have a family history of osteoporosis, have a low body weight, or have had a recent bone fracture, you should get checked for osteoporosis.
Of course, you should also keep up with regular dental visits, eye exams, and general health checkups. Ask your doctor about which screenings are due when you have your next visit.
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1. Reading the new blood pressure guidelines. Harvard Health Publishing, Nov 2021.
4. John Hopkins Medicine: Prostate Cancer: Age-Specific Screening Guidelines
5. National Cancer Institute: Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test