New Men's Health
Changes in testing, treatment, give patients more choices, accountability.
Written By Melissa Bean Sterzick
Becoming empowered and informed patients is possibly the first item on the list of measures men over 50 need to take to protect their health. Years of good health and a tendency to prioritize performance can create a pattern of ignoring physical issues. However, trends in medical care are making patients more and more responsible for their own health.
June is Men’s Health Month and a great time to increase awareness of preventable health problems to support early detection and treatment of disease among males. The month of awareness gives health care providers, public policy makers, the media and individuals an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.
Dr. Hiva Bastanmehr is an internal medicine and men’s health specialist who practices at Torrance Memorial Physician Network - Palos Verdes. She says she spends a lot of time interviewing patients because she wants to know as much as possible about their current health, family history and approaches to medical care. She says men over 50 often defer important decisions to their physician, but she would like to see them take a bigger role in managing their own health.
“I love taking care of men. But a lot of times they say, ‘Well, you’re the doctor,’” and I want to emphasize to them they are the patient and it’s their body. I tell them, ‘This is what we know and these are our options. What would you like to do?’” she says. “Empowering the patient is very important.”
Heart disease and stroke are the biggest risks for older males. Treatment options are increasingly more effective and non-invasive, but preventative measures are a better approach. Important steps for protecting heart health are to control blood pressure, monitor cholesterol, stop smoking, increase physical activity and decrease consumption of saturated and trans fats.
Risk factors like age and family history are important to take into account for the doctor and the patient, especially because those risk factors cannot be modified like diet and exercise habits.
Health policy changes over time. Dr. Bastanmehr says every 10 years there is a big shift in how health care is practiced. One trend has been to reduce routine testing.
She says an EKG used to be part of every annual exam for males over 50, but this is no longer the case. Now, tests like an EKG are conducted on more of an as-needed basis. This places responsibility on the patient to be aware of, and share with their doctor, any symptoms such as shortness of breath or tightness in the chest that indicate the need for specific testing.
According to Dr. Bastanmehr, colon cancer is still the most prevalent cancer among men. Newer screening methods are now available, and the guidelines are shifting to start screening at a younger age. Most insurance plans now cover colon cancer screening at age 45, and newer, less invasive tests are offered.
Prostate health is another concern, but because there are no set guidelines on timing and frequency of testing, it is best addressed according to each patient’s needs. Dr. Bastanmehr knows it can be difficult for patients to bring up symptoms that could indicate prostate cancer, such as difficulty urinating or increased frequency of urination.
“This is a very sensitive subject, but it really needs to be discussed in detail with your provider. I urge patients to read up on it, be educated and have specific conversations with their provider so they can decide together,” she says. “Patients need to feel free to have these conversations.”
Integrative medicine is a growing new trend beyond traditional medical practice for men. This type of treatment is not always covered by insurance, but there is a lot of interest among the public and the scientific community about gut biomes and hormonal health, Dr. Bastanmehr says. Many types of tests and treatments are offered outside the doctor’s office.
In particular, testosterone levels are a focus of biotech companies and integrative medicine practitioners. Men experiencing symptoms of low sex drive, abnormal loss of muscle mass associated with weight gain, and chronic fatigue could have low testosterone. Dr. Bastanmehr says hormone replacement can be beneficial but does have risks, so individuals should see their physician before adding integrative treatments.
Other important checkups include: diabetes, bone health, depression, sexual health - including test for sexually transmitted diseases, hearing and vision, and dental checkups. All the basics of good health such as moderate drinking, no smoking, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercise are as essential as ever. Senior males should spend time nurturing friendships and community, and should seek therapy, if needed.
Forming a good relationship with a trusted primary care physician is an important step. After that, study the latest data, get regular checkups and monitor symptoms and physical changes. At the doctor’s office, be open about health history and present concerns. Ask questions and be a participant, not just a patient.
“The way medicine used to be practiced, in terms of the doctor/patient relationship, is for the doctor to be the authority figure,” Dr. Bastanmehr says. “That has all changed. Now we really value the patient’s participation and want to give the power to the patient in decision-making.”
Dr. Hiva Bastanmehr is board certified in internal medicine and specializes in men’s health. She attended medical school at Ross University School of Medicine, West Indies. She finished her clinical training in Baltimore, Maryland and completed both her internal medicine internship and residency programs at West Virginia University. She is passionate about practicing preventative medicine and helping her patients live healthy, happy lives. Dr. Bastanmehr practices at Torrance Memorial Physician Network - Palos Verdes and her office is located at 602 Deep Valley Drive, Rolling Hills Estates and can be reached at 310-517-4692. She is currently accepting new patients.