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Health And Medical

5 Questions Your Doctor Wishes You’d Ask

There’s a common belief that men avoid the doctor at all costs—particularly the dreaded annual exam. But according to a poll by Hearst Media, the parent company of Men’s Health, three out of every four men (75 percent) have gone to the doctor in the last year. That number goes up to 80 percent when talking about men over the age of 35, and 84 percent for those over 55.

Not bad, guys! Seeing a health care provider (HCP) regularly is key to staying healthy and catching any serious issues early. But you also need to make sure you’re getting the most out of your exams, which means asking the right questions and bringing any concerning symptoms to your doctor’s attention. “Physicians aren’t able to guess exactly what’s bothering you, and we can only help you if we know what’s going on,” says Daniel Kiss, MD, a cardiologist with Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Need help opening up to your doctor? Here are five questions primary care physicians say you should ask at your next annual exam:

1. “What can I do to prevent future health problems?”

This is a good open-ended starter question that will get your doctor talking about healthy lifestyle behaviors as well as tests or screenings for common diseases in men your age. Remember, the purpose of an annual exam isn’t just to discuss what’s going wrong, because in many cases, especially if you’re still relatively young, you may not have any acute concerns. “Any good physician should also talk about prevention and what you should be doing to stay healthy into the future,” says Dr. Kiss.

Consider this an ice-breaker. After talking broadly about your health, it’s time to get more specific. And what better place to start than your heart?

2. “What can I be doing for my heart health?”

Maybe this came up with the first question you asked. If not, turn the focus to your ticker sooner rather than later, since heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, with men at a slightly higher risk than women. By asking about it, you’re inviting your doctor to talk to you about your risk and assess your current cardiovascular health status. Specific issues a doctor may address: “Is it time to get your cholesterol checked, should you be screened for diabetes, or do you need to be worried about hypertension?” says Niket Sonpal, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Touro College of Medicine in New York. Your doctor will likely order a blood panel to assess these and many other risk factors, as well as check your blood pressure.

When discussing your heart health, your HCP is likely to ask you lifestyle-related questions. When that happens, be honest about how much you exercise, how often you indulge in a stiff drink (or four), and whether or not you smoke, even if just occasionally. These three areas in particular are major risk factors for cardiovascular health. “From a physician’s standpoint, we can only go by what you tell us, and you’re only hurting yourself by fudging your answers,” says Dr. Sonpal.

3. “Can we talk about my family history?”

Your parents and grandparents didn’t just influence where you grew up and which sports teams you root for. They also have a big impact on your health (not to mention your hairline). “Before your appointment, ask your parents what they know about illnesses that run in your family or what older relatives died from,” says Dr. Kiss. “For example, did your grandfather pass away from a heart attack at 49 even though he was the picture of health? That’s a risk factor for you to also have coronary heart disease.”

Notice that he said “risk factor,” not “death sentence.” It’s important to have an awareness of what diseases you may be genetically predisposed to—whether it’s a certain type of cancer, heart disease, or type 2 diabetes—not to get stressed out, but so you can take preventive steps to avoid these conditions. Share with your doctor any health issues that run in your family, and the two of you can come up with a plan to lower your risk.

4. “Can I tell you about a change I’ve noticed recently during sex?”

Awkward as it might be, you need to bring any sexual health issues to your doctor’s attention right away. “A decline in sexual function is associated with other problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, or medication side effects, so be open and talk to your doctor if you feel it’s harder to get an erection or maintain one,” says Ernst von Schwarz, MD, a Los Angeles-based cardiologist. “Not only can your doctor help you treat the erectile dysfunction, but they can also look into whether it’s a sign of another problem.”

If the idea of talking openly with your doctor about sexual matters fills you with dread, you might want to find a new doctor. “Your doctor is supposed to be your advocate and life coach,” says Dr. Sonpal. “They’re there to help you achieve your goals, not judge you.”

And if it’s not the doctor but the topic at hand that makes you uneasy, try following our script and asking the question above word for word. “Nobody wants to admit there’s a problem, but it’s a lot easier to say there’s been a change,” says Dr. von Schwarz.

5. “Do I need this medication, or is there something else I can try?”

Sure, a prescription might be able to help a given issue, but always ask if there’s a non-medication approach you can take first. “Don’t be afraid to ask about alternatives,” says Dr. von Schwarz. “For instance, a statin can help high cholesterol, but so can lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. I’m not against statins. I prescribe them daily, but there are other things you can do before taking a lipid-lowering pill, which may have side effects. And the lifestyle changes will end up improving overall cardiovascular health at the same time.”

This advice applies to other common risk factors as well, including high blood sugar and hypertension. Before jumping straight into anti-diabetic meds or beta-blockers, honestly assess your activity levels, food intake, and alcohol and tobacco use and discuss all treatment and preventative strategies with your doctor.

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