By Dr. Jerry Douglas, Chief Medical Officer
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 about doing a head-to-toe exam for symptoms that warrant a medical appointment.
Let’s start at the top with headaches. If you get a headache every now and then, you’re fine. If your headaches wake you up during the night or occur during orgasm, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor to rule out some potentially serious health issues.
Moving towards your eyes, as we get older our eyesight usually deteriorates. However, if you notice that your peripheral vision is getting worse (tunnel vision) or if your eyes get noticeably worse over the course of just a few months, consider seeing your eye doctor. Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are all treatable, but once your sight is lost, it may not be possible to regain it.
Another function that decreases 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 a lot of stimulation, the brain doesn’t stay as sharp and sound is an important type of stimulation.
As we follow the food in and through your body, let’s start with your mouth. If you have mouth sores that don’t go away in a few weeks, seek treatment. If you are hoarse for more than a month, seek treatment. If you have persistent or worsening acid reflux or have difficulty swallowing, seek treatment. If you regularly suffer from heartburn or indigestion between meals, seek treatment. You may notice a trend here: When you have symptoms that do not go away or gradually get worse, you need to see a doctor.
If you are generally constipated or have frequent diarrhea, a healthcare professional can help you adjust your diet and activities to ease your discomfort or diagnose a larger underlying problem that requires more intervention. If you’re 45 or older, it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy. (It used to be at age 50, but the guidelines have just changed.) Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s causing you discomfort. If you have a dull ache in your abdomen and your skin looks a little yellow, you may have liver problems. If you experience abdominal pain during meals, your gallbladder may be agitated.
If you have blood in your urine, your kidneys may not be working properly. If you have trouble passing urine, or if you have to get up several times a night to pass urine, your prostate may be enlarged. If you have a combination of frequent urination, excessive thirst, and unexplained weight loss, you may have diabetes. In younger men, if you have painless lumps in your testicles, definitely seek treatment as this is a potential symptom of testicular cancer.
Going up through the body, let’s talk about the heart and the lungs. If you experience tightness or pain in your chest with exertion, don’t assume it’s gas. If your heart periodically skips a beat or races for more than a few seconds, check it. If you notice that you suddenly cannot climb a staircase without feeling short of breath, or if your ability to breathe is gradually deteriorating, seek treatment.
And how about the largest organ in your body, your skin? If you have moles with any of the following attributes, call your dermatologist: asymmetrical, changing in color or size, raised, irritated, or with jagged edges. If you have a persistent rash or sores that won’t heal, get them checked out.
Finally, if you experience pain, swelling, or tingling in the joints or extremities, make an appointment with your doctor.
Clearly, this isn’t a comprehensive list of symptoms that should send you to the doctor, but it’s a good start. It’s really amazing how many times I see patients with treatable illnesses. Modern medicine offers many wonderful ways to help people maintain their function and comfort. If you’re not ready to come for an annual check-up, at least come when your body starts to sound the alarm bells. And don’t put it back; most treatments are much simpler and more effective in the early stages of the disease process.
Dr Jerry Douglas is the Chief Medical Officer of MCHC Health Centers, a patient-led community organization that serves Mendocino and Lake counties, providing comprehensive primary health care services as well as support services such as l education and translation that promote access to health care. . Learn more at mchcinc.org.