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Men's health numbers: What they mean and why they are important

June 18, 2021

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Blood pressure is one of three numbers men should know says Dr. David Gasperack,WellSpan family physician and vice president and regional medical director of the WellSpan Medical Group.

Blood pressure is one of three numbers men should know says Dr. David Gasperack,WellSpan family physician and vice president and regional medical director of the WellSpan Medical Group.

The facts about men’s health are sobering. 

Here’s the straight scoop about men over the age of 20, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

  • 43 percent are obese. 
  • 52 percent have high blood pressure. 
  • 13 percent will get prostate cancer during their lifetime. 

What can men, and the people who love them, do? 

“Of course, eat right and exercise regularly,” says Dr. David Gasperack, WellSpan family physician and vice president and regional medical director of the WellSpan Medical Group. “But it’s also important to keep tabs on your health with regular checkups. Knowledge is power. Find out what your health status is, so you can address any problems, stay focused on living an active life, and be around for those you love.” 

It’s Men’s Health Month, a good time to get a handle on your well-being. Here are three key numbers every man should know. 

Blood pressure 

What is it: Your blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The top one (systolic) indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats. The bottom one (diastolic) indicates how much pressure your heart is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting, between beats. Typically, the top number gets most of the attention and, typically, rises steadily with age. However, if either number is elevated, it is a cause for concern as high blood pressure can cause heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. 

How often should you have it checked: At least once every two years. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or other issues, at least once a year. 

Your healthy goal: 120/80 or less. 

What to do if you don’t meet that goal:  Schedule an appointment with your provider and learn how to lower your blood pressure. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight are key to maintaining a healthy blood pressure, as are not smoking and avoiding a salty diet. Your provider also may prescribe medication to help control your blood pressure. 

A provider says: “High blood pressure is called the silent killer for a reason,” says Dr. Stephen Flack, WellSpan family physician and medical director of primary care. “Often people don’t show any symptoms and don’t know they have it. Find out with a blood pressure check.” 

Cholesterol  

What is it: Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your body’s cells. Too much of it can lead to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This sticky stuff causes your arteries to harden and narrow, which limits blood flow. Those blockages can create a heart attack or, if located in the brain, a stroke. LDL is known as the “lethal” cholesterol; HDL is known as the “healthy” cholesterol; triglycerides are a type of fat stored in your body when you eat more calories than you burn. 

How often should you have it checked: Recommended starting age for cholesterol screening, which is done via a blood test, is age 35 for men with no known risk factors for coronary heart disease. Those screenings should be done every three years. Men ages 40 to 49 should be screened every two years. Men over 50 should be screened once a year.  

Your healthy goal: Total blood cholesterol lower than 200 mg/dL 

LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL 

HDL cholesterol greater than 60 mg/dL 

Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL 

What to do if you don’t meet those goals: Your provider can recommend lifestyle changes including a healthy diet with foods low in saturated fat, regular exercise, no smoking, weight loss, and alcohol consumption only in moderation. If those changes don’t work alone, prescription medication can help lower your cholesterol levels. 

A provider says: “High cholesterol is one of the most common problems we see in men, particularly as they age,” Gasperack says. “That’s why it’s so important to know your numbers and maintain healthy habits throughout life. It takes some dedication, but the payoff is being able to live a longer, active life, and to feel good every day. It’s worth it!” 

PSA level 

What is it: A PSA test is a blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) released into your blood by the prostate gland. The amount of PSA in the blood normally increases as a man’s prostate enlarges with age. It also may increase because of an inflammation of the prostate or prostate cancer. 

How often should you have it checked: General guidelines call for discussion of screening for prostate cancer starting at age 55.  Mutual decision making with your primary care provider, considering your personal risks as well as family history of prostate cancer, is an important part of guidance about when to begin screening and how often the tests should be repeated. Talk to your provider if you experience symptoms such as a weak or slow urinary stream, a feeling that your bladder is not completely emptying, difficulty urinating, frequent or urgent urination, blood in the urine, and erectile dysfunction. 

Your healthy goal: For men in their 40s and 50s, a PSA greater than 2.5 ng/ml is considered abnormal. 

For men in their 60s, a PSA greater than 4 ng/ml is considered abnormal. 

Also, a PSA score may be considered abnormal if it increases a certain amount in a single year. 

What to do if you don’t meet that goal:  Most men will get prostate cancer if they live long enough. Some prostate cancers grow quickly, others do not. Providers may recommend a repeat test. They then will consider your age and other factors before possibly recommending a biopsy or treatment, which can include surgery, radiation, hormone treatment and a new procedure offered at WellSpan called TULSA-PRO. 

A provider says: “Choosing a treatment for prostate cancer is very individualized,” Flack says. “Your provider can talk to you about your background and risk factors, and help you come up with a plan. There are several treatment options and we can help you sort through the best choices.” 

Learn more about your numbers by scheduling a time with one of our family practices providers.