Jun 10, 2021 Prioritizing Men’s Health

Smart lifestyle choices and regular visits with your primary care physician are key to men’s overall health, says a doctor of internal medicine.

June denotes the end of a school year and the start of the sunny summer season, but it also marks National Men’s Health Month, a reminder for all males to implement healthy lifestyle choices and take better care of their minds and bodies.

So, to inspire you and the guys in your life to get healthy, Morris/Essex Health & Life spoke to Michael Kuo, M.D., an internist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and a RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group provider. Dr. Kuo, who is fluent in English, Chinese and Mandarin, discusses preventive care and important screenings for men of all ages, the stigma surrounding men and mental health and the importance of establishing a routine right now that involves healthy eating, regular exercise—and annual visits to your primary care physician (PCP).

What can a male patient expect at his annual exam?

Starting at around age 25, we recommend patients see a primary [doctor] once a year, even if you feel great. The annual exam includes a physical exam, a blood pressure check, a urine sample and bloodwork that tests for diabetes, cholesterol, electrolytes, vitamin D and thyroid [levels].

What are some of the most important preventive screenings you do on male patients and at what age do they start?

As primaries, we try to prevent disease from happening—the three big ones are hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. We start screening patients for hypertension starting around age 18 and screening patients who are overweight or obese for diabetes between the ages of 40 and 70.

What about colon and prostate cancer screenings?

Colon cancer is a bit complicated, but we go by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations, which say to screen for colon cancer between the ages of 45-75 only once every 10 years if the results are normal. But there is a lot of resistance because the bowel prep the night before can be very uncomfortable. For those [patients] who are non-compliant, we order a fecal immunochemical test, where every 1-3 years patients send a stool sample in a bucket to get tested. But if your results are abnormal, you have to do the colonoscopy anyway, so this is why we recommend the colonoscopy.

The recommendation for prostate cancer is to screen between the ages of 55 and 69, but it’s not strongly recommended unless the patient has symptoms or a family history of prostate cancer because it is often overdiagnosed. If you have an abnormal prostate-specific antigen (PSA), you might be biopsied by a urologist and that could come with erectile dysfunction or discomfort. But prostate health isn’t just about the PSA—it’s more worrisome if a patient has a spike in the PSA.

How can men maintain a healthy weight or lose weight after more than a year in quarantine?

Unfortunately, we consume a lot of processed foods which have high salt content that can cause hypertension and saturated fats which elevate cholesterol. We’re also in a pandemic, so we’re cooped up at home, not eating healthy and not going into work, and this all contributes to a lot of [health] problems. I see a lot of young people under age 40 with hemoglobin A1c, which we use to diagnose diabetes. A lot of people are in the pre-diabetic range. It’s about the food you eat, your behavior and forming the right habits at a younger age. I suggest my patients eat a diet that’s high in fiber and lean meats and low in fat and carbs.

What about exercise?

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity 4-6 times a week. You have to create good habits at a younger age because a bad habit is hard to break. Eventually, by age 40, all these younger men with bad eating habits and who don’t exercise could develop hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol. These diagnoses are silent killers because the patient doesn’t feel any symptoms—when you feel them it’s too late.

There’s sometimes a stigma surrounding mental health for men. How should a male patient who is feeling anxious or depressed get help?

Men generally don’t like talking about their problems, but they should feel comfortable opening up to their primary doctor. We are the first ones—we know the little things about the patient and try to pick at them. Sometimes it might take a few visits [to get comfortable], but everything you say in that exam room is confidential.

On that note, how can a patient go about finding a doctor with whom he feels comfortable?

I actually ask my patients, “How did you hear about me?” And nowadays, especially with the younger patients, they’re reading reviews on websites like ZocDoc and Healthgrades. Read the comments and recommendations [online] about a doctor you’re considering.

Finally, what would you say to a patient who may be afraid to visit their PCP because of COVID?

A lot of offices including mine screen out patients that have a fever or cough or any acute symptoms, so it is quite safe to go to your doctor’s office. I want to stress that developing healthy eating habits, exercising and following up with your primary doctor yearly helps prevent disease.

To make an appointment with Michael Kuo, M.D., at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center, call 973.322.7095.