10 Health checks every man should have
This November, or should we say Movember, we’re heeding the call by the Movember Foundation to grow our moustaches to “change the face of men’s health”. Movember (a blend of the diminutive word for moustache, “mo” and “November”) is an annual event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer and men’s suicide. An essential part of staying healthy is knowing whether we are healthy or not. Regular health checks can help to reduce the risk factors and/or treat abnormalities that could lead to more serious disease later.
Though the types of health screenings that people have, change as we age, here are the most essential health checks men should have to keep healthy:
- Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the biggest risk for heart disease and is a significant risk for other health conditions. The prevalence for hypertension is 45% in South African men. The normal range for blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. If you are 18 and older with no heart disease risk factors, then you should have a blood pressure test once every 2 to 5 years. If you’re over the age of 40 or if you’re younger with an increased risk of high blood pressure, then you should have a blood pressure test every year. Risk factors for hypertension include obesity, age, and chronic diseases.
- Blood Cholesterol
A cholesterol test checks the build-up of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body (atherosclerosis) – risk factors for coronary artery disease. All men 35 or older should get their blood cholesterol levels checked every 5 years. But, if you have these risk factors – smoking, obesity, a family history of heart attacks before the age of 50, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a history of heart disease – then you should get your cholesterol checked regularly from the age of 20. Though healthy cholesterol levels are specific to age, normal total cholesterol should be less than 5 mmol/L.
A blood glucose test monitors your blood sugar levels and is used to diagnose and monitor diabetes. The diabetes prevalence in South Africa has reached 11.3%, with just under half (45.4%) of those undiagnosed. From the age of 35, men should be screened for diabetes every three years if there are no risk factors. However, if they have risk factors – a family history of diabetes, they’re overweight or have high blood pressure – then screening may need to begin earlier. Normal blood glucose level (while fasting) ranges from 3.9 to 5.5 mmol/L; anything higher could indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Although women are diagnosed with depression and anxiety far more than men, men are five times more likely to die by suicide in South Africa than women, and often more aggressively. If you have prolonged feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, restlessness, anxiety, or if you’ve noticed a change in your sleeping patterns and no longer have interest in activities you’ve enjoyed, then speak to a doctor about screening you for depression.
- Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in South Africa, with a lifetime risk being 1 in 15 men (according to the 2019 National Cancer Registry). Screening usually includes the digital rectal examination (DRE) and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The PSA test measures the blood level of a certain protein that is produced by the prostate gland, which can be elevated in men with prostate cancer1.From age 45, all males who are at risk of prostate cancer should have (PSA) testing done annually. Those at risk include men who have a history of prostate cancer on either the mother or father’s side or with a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than 65 years). All men from the age of 50 should be tested at least once every two years.
If a man is sexually active, he needs to take an HIV test every year—or more often if engaged in risky sexual behavior. Despite there being many more women in South Africa living with HIV, more adult men than women die of AIDS-related causes because men test less (and are therefore unaware of their status) and fewer men access treatment.
- Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second most common cancer in men in South Africa, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 75 men. All men should get screened for colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer by age 50. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should get a colonoscopy even sooner. Various tests can help detect colon cancer, but a colonoscopy is the most common.
Obesity increases your risk for diabetes and heart disease. A simple way of determining whether you’re overweight or at risk for developing obesity is by using the Relative Fat Mass (RFM) index2, based on a ratio of your height and waist measurements.
- Eye exam
If you’re between the ages of 40 to 54, you should have an eye exam every 2 to 4 years, and as you age, from the age of 55, get a test done every 1 to 3 years. If you have vision problems, have diabetes, or you’re at risk for glaucoma, you may need an eye exam every 1 to 2 years.
- Dental exam
Go to the dentist once or twice every year for an exam and cleaning. Your dentist will evaluate your need for more frequent visits.
How to calculate RFM:
RFM for adult males = 64 – 20 x (Height / Waist circumference)
RFM for adult females = 76 – 20 x (Height / Waist circumference)
For the best results, when using a tape measure and recording the height and waist circumference, the tape measure should be placed at the top of the hip bone and wrapped around the body. To diagnose obesity and higher mortality risk, RFM cut-offs of 40% for females and 30% for males.
- Brigham Health Hub. 10 Essential Health Screenings for Men. Brigham Health Hub [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.
- Cancer Association of South Africa. (2020). Prostate Cancer. CANSA [Online]. Accessed on 28 October 2022.
- Colbert, T. (2017). Medical Tests Every Man Should Get. Healthline [Online]. Accessed on 31 October 2022.
- Gumede, N. (2022). Suicide high among men in South Africa. The Witness [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.
- International Diabetes Foundation. (2021). With 1 in 9 adults living with diabetes, South Africa has highest diabetes prevalence in Africa. International Diabetes Foundation [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022. Available from https://www.idf.org/index.php?option=com_attachments&task=download&id=2642:WDD2 021_SOUTH_AFRICA_PR_Final
- Mayo Clinic. (2022). Blood pressure test. Mayo Clinic [Online]. Accessed on 1 November 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Cholesterol test. Mayo Clinic [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.
- Nedea, D. (2020). Relative Fat Mass (RFM) Calculator. MDApp [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.
- Medline Plus. (n.d.) Health screenings for men ages 40 to 64. Medline Plus [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.
- Peer, N., Uthman, O.A. & Kengneab, A.P. (2021). Rising prevalence, and improved but suboptimal management, of hypertension in South Africa: A comparison of two national surveys. Global Epidemiology. 3: 100063.
- South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance. (n.d.) The Big 5 Cancers Affecting Men in South Africa. SANCDA [Online]. Accessed on 31 October 2022.
- UN Aids. (2017). A snapshot of men and HIV in South Africa. UN Aids. Accessed on 31 October 2022.
- Wikipedia. (2022). Movember. Wikipedia [Online]. Accessed on 2 November 2022.