Admit it: You probably don’t see your doctor as frequently as you should. When you do drop in for a checkup or a physical, you probably want to get that visit over with as soon as possible. It’s a common guy thing: More than twice as many men as women have not seen a physician in the last two to five years, notes Will Courtenay, PhD, a specialist in doctor-patient communication at Harvard Medical School and the author of Dying to Be Men.
So the next time you do see your doctor (are you due for an appointment?), use your visit wisely. That means doing two things: telling your doctor about all unusual changes or troubling symptoms you're experiencing (including those of the urological or sexual variety) and asking the right questions.
Regarding those questions, you probably know the obvious things to ask, like, "So, how am I doing?" But other important questions may not be so obvious. During your precious face-time with your MD, consider working in these seven queries. According to doctors, they're among the most common questions men should ask, but typically don't.
1. “Have you noticed my blood pressure going up?”
If your blood pressure is 300/90 mm Hg, your doctor will (or should) say something. But if you’re still technically in the “normal” zone (below 139/89 mm Hg), he may not think to check your history. If your blood pressure has been steadily rising over the years, you may be headed for hypertension — a key risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and even dementia, says Joseph Raffaele, MD, an age-management-medicine specialist at PhysioAge Medical Group in New York. “As soon as I see any rise in blood pressure, I press the patient hard to get into a regular exercise program and drop some weight,” says Raffaele.
2. “How do my lungs sound?”
Unless you’re there for a chest cold, your doctor might not listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. But lung cancer — even among nonsmokers — is the number-one cause of cancer death in men, and wheezing is one early symptom. It's important for your doc to keep an eye (and an ear) on your lung health, and it's especially critical if you've been a smoker. So make sure you're upfront about your smoking history during your visit.
3. “I’ve been forgetful. Should I get a memory test?”
Everyone gets forgetful, but if you feel that you’ve had more memory lapses than normal, ask your doctor if you should have a memory screening. This simple series of questions and tasks will test your recall and language skills. In fact, even if you don’t have memory issues, getting a baseline test now may be helpful to serve as a comparison down the road.
“Detecting problems early on is helpful, because there are reversible conditions that impair memory such as vitamin deficiency, metabolic disorders, or hormone imbalances,” says Wes Ashford, MD, a senior research scientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine/VA Alzheimer’s Center in Palo Alto, California.
Memory problems can begin as early as age 30 in some people, says Ashford. But don’t panic. “Not everyone has great memory, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.” If your doctor detects a problem in your screening, he’ll refer you to a neurologist for further testing.
4. “How’s this mole looking?”
Whether it’s a mole on your arm or the scaly patch on your forehead, most guys who’ve spent time in the sun have a weird skin spot or two. Unfortunately, too many ignore the dangerous ones. Men are more likely to get skin cancer than women are, including potentially deadly melanoma, and men typically discover them at later stages when they’re more difficult to treat.
“As we age, the risk of developing skin cancer increases,” reminds Aaron Michelfelder, MD, vice chair of the department of family medicine at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago. Look for these warning signs (and point them out to your doctor): spots with asymmetrical or jagged borders, different colors or textures within one mole, anything that’s grown or changed or is crusty or itchy, a spot that’s very dark or black, spots on your palms and soles of the feet (especially for men of color), scaly white or red patches, or anything larger than a pencil eraser. Also take note of “ugly ducklings” — any spot that’s simply different than your usual moles and freckles.
5. “Should I be taking aspirin every day?”
If you have a history of heart trouble, you might already take a daily aspirin as a precaution. But if you don’t have a personal history of cardiovascular problems, your doctor may not think to discuss the pros and cons of aspirin therapy with you. While it’s controversial, and new research has raised doubts about aspirin therapy's effectiveness, many physicians still believe that taking low-dose aspirin (81 milligrams daily or 325 milligrams every other day) may help prevent heart attack and stroke. “The results of several large studies done in the past 20 years have shown that there is a reduction in cardiovascular risk for men between the ages of 45 and 79 who take low-dose aspirin,” says Robert Davidson, MD, a cardiologist and internist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
Even men younger than 45 may benefit from low-dose aspirin therapy if they’re at higher risk of heart attack because of high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, or elevated cholesterol, according to Davidson. Never start taking aspirin without clearing it with your doctor first.
6. “Am I peeing too often?”
A lot of men ignore the problem of frequent urination because they think it’s simply a common part of getting older. But it may indicate a prostate or bladder problem that could mean trouble, so it needs to be checked out. And you may not need to live with it. Overactive bladder symptoms — such as urinating eight or more times a day, or waking up at least twice in the night to go — can be treated in many cases, says Jonathan Agins, MD, of Valley Urologic Associates in Arizona. Lifestyle changes (such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and losing weight) can help, and some prescription drugs can also ease symptoms.
7. “So, how often should I be seeing you, anyway?”
Even young, healthy men should see their physicians at least once a year, advises Michelfelder. “It’s recommended that you get your blood pressure checked yearly, and since [you probably need] a flu shot, why not schedule an annual checkup with your doctor in the fall?” If you have any issues like hypertension or high cholesterol, your doctor may want to see you a little more often to check on your progress.
Bonus Round: 4 More No-Brainer Questions
Of course, don't forget to ask these general questions during every visit:
How is my health overall?
Are you concerned about any aspects of my health? Which ones and why?
Are there any tests I need based on my age or for other reasons?
Do you have any advice about lifestyle modifications I should make (such as exercising, quitting smoking, changing my diet, etc.)? What specific changes should I make?