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Monday, June 1, 2020

Make the Call!

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Time to be a real man and take care of yourself

Guys, it’s time to pick up the phone and make the call. No more putting it off. Your spouse has been hounding you for months to schedule a doctor’s visit for a checkup, yet there are seemingly always more pressing issues that get in the way – like picking up the dry cleaning, getting the car’s oil changed and work meetings.

That’s ridiculous, you say? Not so, says a study released just last year. The Cleveland Clinic surveyed 1,174 men in the U.S., finding that while 80% of men say they make an effort to remain healthy for the benefit of a loved one, 75% of them would rather do household chores, like cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn, than go to the doctor.

Another key finding: Of those men who did go to the doctor, 20% admitted to not being honest with their physician. Top reasons why they weren’t honest:

• They were embarrassed.

• They didn’t want to hear that they needed to change their diet/lifestyle.

• They knew something was wrong but weren’t ready to face the diagnosis or would rather not know if they had any health issues.

While much emphasis in preventive medicine for men is placed on prostate cancer and reducing cardiovascular risk factors like the treatment of high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, digestive health is one area that is not as popular for patients to address, especially for men, typically for the reasons noted above.

Gastroenterology is the field of medicine focused on the digestive tract, including the liver. Studies have suggested that women are three to four times more likely than men to see a primary care doctor or a specialist for GI-related problems. This is unfortunate because some digestive disorders are more prevalent in men than in women.

When ignored or untreated, seemingly minor disorders can become chronic, interfere with everyday life, and potentially develop into serious issues.

Falling within this category is GERD, also known as acid reflux. It is one of the most common adverse GI symptoms encountered by gastroenterologists and occurs when stomach acid flows up the esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest. While bothersome and at times truly painful, frequent acid reflux can damage the esophagus and lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.

Up to 15% of patients with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus, placing them at a much higher risk for the development of esophageal cancer, an often devastating diagnosis.

Men with GERD are twice as likely as women to develop Barrett’s. Fortunately, screening for this condition involves only a short and painless procedure called an upper endoscopy (also known as an EGD) to carefully examine the esophagus for this mucosal damage. Pre-cancerous changes due to Barrett’s can typically be treated endoscopically and avoid major surgery, but early recognition and diagnosis of Barrett’s remain key. It is generally recommended that patients with reflux symptoms occurring frequently for five or more years be screened for Barrett’s as should any patient with difficult or painful swallowing.

Men also have a higher risk than women for colon cancer, with approximately one in 22 men developing the disease in their lifetimes. Colon cancers generally begin as a noncancerous growth called a polyp that forms on the lining of the colon. As these polyps grow larger, so, too, does the risk of a polyp becoming cancerous. Colon cancer screening with a colonoscopy is performed to locate and remove polyps before they have the opportunity to become malignant.

Currently, most guidelines recommend colon cancer screening be initiated no later than age 50, though some resources suggest age 45 for African-Americans. A family history of colon cancer may prompt earlier screening, particularly among first-degree relatives. Patients with colon polyps and even early colon cancers are often completely asymptomatic, underscoring the importance of screening and early detection. Regardless of age, any symptoms such as blood in the stool or toilet with bowel movements, changes in bowel habits or stool caliber, or unintentional weight loss should always prompt a discussion with your physician.

Though men can and should promote their own health by eating healthier, losing weight, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and exercising regularly, the importance of regular checkups with their physician and acknowledgement of symptoms cannot be overstressed. Frequent or persistent problems with the digestive tract are no exception.

The coronavirus pandemic has made talking with your doctor likely easier than ever, thanks to the widespread implementation of telemedicine. These visits are covered by both Medicare and most private insurances and can help relieve some of the anxiety or inconvenience of “seeing the doctor.” In short, get screened, and be honest with yourself and your physician. Be a man – pick up the phone and make the call. It just might save your life!

Dr. John N. Bienvenu is a board-certified gastroenterologist at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C. in Shreveport, La. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, visit gis.md or call 318-631-9121.

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