Men and women are different.
When it comes to health care, the differences are great, as men continue to die at a faster pace than women in nearly every disease category. Even though women are catching up in areas such as heart disease, men are still much more vulnerable to dying young.
But maybe men could slow the gap, even just a bit, by one simple act: being more pro-active in their health, seeing a physician once a year.
To illustrate the value of the patient-doctor relationship, Boone Living magazine talked with a physician, a physical therapist and a patient. Here are their stories.
Habits start young
Dr. Joshua Anderson, D.O., chose family medicine as his specialty and, as such, sees patients of all ages, all genders and needs to keep up with changes in just about every field of medicine.
“We’re kind of like the quarterback of the health care team,” Anderson says. “The reason it’s important to have a family doctor is that we can determine if something needs to be seen by a specialist.”
Anderson, 32, says it’s not uncommon for young men to see a physician only if something is wrong. Women, by contrast, are at their peak for fertility and child-bearing in their 20s and 30s and may see a doctor even more often in these years than in later years.
The critical difference is that while young women are establishing a healthy habit of seeing a physician regularly, young men may easily slip in to a bad habit of avoiding the doctor’s office if at all possible.
“A lot of guys don’t want to preemptively or preventively look into whatever health issue they may have,” Anderson says.
Leave well enough alone is the old adage that oftentimes still holds true.
“If there’s nothing wrong, don’t fix it,” is the philosophy that physicians sometimes face from patients, he says.
So when should a guy start seeing a physician on a regular basis?
The answer: It depends.
“If you’re overweight or obese, regardless of age, it’s a good idea to see a doctor once a year to talk about cholesterol, diabetes, blood pressure,” he says.
For any man, by the time he’s 35 he should start scheduling yearly physicals, Anderson says.
“At 35 and older is a very good time to start going, for sure, once a year,” he says. “You may not get labs every year at that age, but you start. At 50 and older, men need to come once a year, no matter what.”
Prostate exams for men and colonoscopies for both men and women also start at age 50.
For those who have not previously visited a doctor very often, getting used to such exams can pose a challenge. But the ability to catch a problem early should make any momentary discomfort more than worthwhile.
Many men may also find a certain elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about — erectile dysfunction.
“A lot of times men don’t want to address the issue specifically,” Anderson says. “In older men, erectile dysfunction is a very common problem; a lot of it has to do with high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight.”
When it comes to this issue, doctors have to be very attuned to what is sometimes muttered under the breath. But bringing up the issue can help resolve the problem and possibly find underlying causes that need attention.
“If they can’t perform on their own, men fear that something might be wrong, and there may be something to that, so it needs to be looked in to,” he says.
If something isn’t right, a physician can help find out why.
For all people, men and women, injury and aging are issues that can go hand in hand. Staying fit can be a key to staying healthy, and Jake Stotts, doctor of physical therapy (DPT), works to help patients achieve that goal.
While Stotts says all patients are different, there are some generalities he’s observed in his eight years of practice in Boone.
“Generally, it’s true that women tolerate pain better,” he agrees.
When pain signals are transmitted to the brain, the brain reacts differently from person to person. As a physical therapist, it’s his goal to discover how each patient will react to different forms of treatment to get the best result.
“Everyone’s different,” Stotts says. “Some people prefer touch more than others; some prefer exercise more than others. Some people are modality driven: they want ultrasound or electrical stimulation. It’s about feeling out your patient and getting an idea of what will work the best for them.”
Stotts says some of his most successful patients tend to be older females with total knee replacements.
“They tolerate pain so well, and they come in with a goal in mind and want to get it done,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean that men need to just toughen up and work through pain. Sometimes the issue is learning the difference between true pain and general soreness that can be part of the recovery process.
“Everyone has their own pain level,” he says. “With working out, sore is OK; sharp pain is not.”
“Soreness” is something that should get better as people continue to work out and strengthen the various muscle groups. Sharp pain is something that should not be ignored and needs to be addressed with the person’s health care provider.
“Listen to your health care provider,” Stotts says. “Make sure you ask questions. The M.D.s and D.O.s n Boone have so much knowledge to give if you have the questions ready.”
A patient’s point of view
Few men have faced greater health challenges in their lives than Boone native Jay Lindahl. First diagnosed with diabetes when he was only 23 years old, he understands all too well how difficult it can be to suddenly make drastic changes in one’s life when given a serious diagnosis.
“I didn’t take care of it back then,” he says. “With diabetes, you never feel bad, so you don’t think anything is wrong.”
Public education on the risks of diabetes was also given less attention when he was first diagnosed nearly a quarter-century ago. Today, with a growing number of Americans battling diabetes, the risks are better known and better understood.
Lindahl’s diabetes was originally controlled by diet, but when that wasn’t enough he was prescribed medication — and when the medication wasn’t enough, he became insulin-dependent at 27 years old.
In some ways, the insulin served as a distraction from other means of controlling the diabetes.
“I thought I could eat normally,” Lindahl recalls. “I thought I would take the insulin and it would be fine, but you really can’t do that.”
Just about anyone with a serious, chronic illness can relate to the temptation to assume everything is fine, when maybe it’s not.
“It’s not killing me,” Lindahl says as he describes the feeling, and then adds: “Whoops, maybe it is.”
While he managed for many years, that all changed when he tripped and hurt his knee. As many people do, he ignored the pain for a time and pushed on through it. Finally, one night when he was planning on shooting pool with friends, the knee swelled up so much that he could no longer put it off and landed in the emergency room here in Boone. From there he was sent on to Ames where his knee, now about half the size of a basketball, was drained over the course of several hours and a bursa sac removed.
But it wasn’t his knee that concerned physicians most.
“Have you met our nephrologists?” they asked. “No, what’s a nephrologists?” was his response. Followed by, “Why do I need to see a kidney doctor?”
“They said my kidneys were failing, and in five years I would need a kidney transplant,” he recalls.
The transplant came much sooner. After seeking care for his knee in December 2011, he started dialysis in April 2012, and on Jan. 7, 2013, he was part of a history-making, five patient “Chain of Life” transplant at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines.
Lindahl was one of five patients who received a new kidney over the course of three days. The living donor for Lindahl actually donated his kidney to a 22-year-old who had had two previous transplants and needed the closest match possible. Lindahl, in turn, received a new kidney from the wife of another transplant patient.
Today, Lindahl is doing well, and his body has accepted the new kidney successfully. The diabetes will always be there, but he is better prepared to meet what ever challenge comes his way.
“Life is precious,” he says. “I’ve learned to love my kids even more.”
And he’s also learned something that many patients — particularly men —sometimes have a hard time taking to heart.
“When someone says they want to help, I let them,” he says quietly.
Everyone —men and women — need a little help from time to time. Even if that help is simply saying, “Hey, I’m concerned. Let’s call a doctor.”