Father and son smiling in the kitchen

We get it — you’re busy and going to the doctor isn’t your favorite pastime. But you should give seemingly pesky problems like exhaustion, heavy snoring and lack of focus another thought.

“If you’re active or healthy, we want to keep it that way,” says Dr. Benedict Ifedi, MD, CAQSM, Family and Sports Medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Katy. “Seeing me yearly is about prevention. We want to optimize your life, not push medicine.”

Small problems can pile up into larger issues. That’s why it pays to check in yearly with your doctor–even if you have minor symptoms. Here are some symptoms you should check out with your physician to avoid being sidelined.

Symptoms: Anxiety, Insomnia, Lack of Libido and Ability to Focus

Potential Diagnosis: Depression

Risks if Ignored: You may perform poorly at work and erode your support system. You’re also less likely to take care of your health, and may overeat, smoke, drink excessively and exercise less often. That, in turn, can lead to serious ailments, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. “You even may have suicidal thoughts,” Dr, Ifedi says.

Treatment: “Identifying the problem is a vital part of getting over it,” Dr. Ifedi says. “Confide in a loved one about your struggles or talk through your problems with a cognitive behavioral therapist. He or she can offer you tools to conquer depression, and, in addition, your physician may prescribe an anti-depressant that boosts feel-good serotonin in your body. Once symptoms improve, generally in six to eight weeks, you’ll continue on the prescription drugs usually for 4 to12 months. After this trial period, it is typical to be gradually weaned off medication assuming your depression is improved and stable.” (As with any RX, do not stop taking a drug without consulting your doctor’s office. Regular workouts also help by producing mood-improving endorphins.

Symptoms: Fatigue, Acid Reflux, Heavy Snoring or Waking Up Gasping for Air

Potential Diagnosis: Insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea

Risks: Bad bedtime behaviors may interfere with work or school performance. If you have a more serious condition, obstructive sleep apnea, you gasp, choke or stop breathing at times during the night, which lowers oxygen delivered to vital organs, harming them and hiking blood pressure.

Treatment: It helps to cut down on drinking, stop smoking and especially lose weight. But you also may need a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) mask. It fits over the nose and mouth and keeps your airways open so you get oxygen throughout the night.

As for more pedestrian insomnia, the RX is simple: Stop robbing your sleep bank “You need seven to eight hours nightly, not five hours on weeknights and 16 hours on the weekend,” Dr. Ifedi says. Also adopt good pre-slumber habits, curbing computer, TV and cell phone screen time an hour before bed. “Lights stimulate and throw your circadian rhythm in disarray,” Dr. Ifedi adds. Also cut off caffeine four to five hours and heavy meals two hours before bedtime, which can help you avoid sleep-marring acid reflex and indigestion.

Symptoms: Knee and Back Pain

Potential Diagnosis: Obesity

Risks: Your body isn’t built to have a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or higher, unless you’re a powerlifter or muscular athlete like J.J. Watt. Being overweight (a BMI of 25-30) or obese (30 and above) stresses your weight-bearing joints and may lead to arthritis or joint replacement surgery. You also may spike your blood pressure, cholesterol and likelihood of diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cancer. “Obesity can be the start of major issues,” Dr. Ifedi says. “If we can prevent that, we definitely want to.”

Treatment: Trim calories in and boost calories out. Your doctor, nurse, physical therapist and personal trainer can help guide you in choosing the safest and best weight-loss plan and exercise for your body, given your health and age. “A brisk walk 3 to4 days a week will contribute to wellness and help prevent silent killers like obesity, high blood pressure and other disease.” If you’re morbidly obese – 20% over your ideal weight -- you may benefit from bariatric surgery. Learn more here.

Symptoms: Frequent or Uncontrolled Urination, Blood in Your Urine, Night Sweats or Unexplained Weight Loss

Diagnosis: An enlarged prostate or, of greater concern, prostate cancer

Risks: One in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, reports the American Cancer Society. The disease is the second highest cancer killer among males, behind lung cancer. Six of 10 cases occur in men ages 65 and over, and it rarely strikes before age 40. Advanced cancer may require treatment that leads to impotence. A yearly PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test can screen for prostate cancer. If the test shows elevated PSA, your doctor may need to repeat the blood test, get a biopsy tissue sample or order an ultrasound, a painless and non-invasive medical test using high-frequency sound waves to reveal the inside of your prostate (much like it is used to see a fetus in a pregnant mother).

Treatment: “The first step is detection,” Dr. Ifedi says. Treatment can involve partial or whole prostate removal, radiation or chemotherapy.

Symptoms: Headache, Dizziness, Vision Changes

Diagnosis: High blood pressure

Risks: Hypertension, the force of blood against blood vessel walls, “is a silent killer,” Dr. Ifedi says. According to Dr. Ifedi, by the time you’re symptomatic, the disease already may have damaged the kidneys, blood vessels, heart and other organs. Hypertension raises the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and other ailments. You also may be more vulnerable for vision problems, kidney failure, heart attacks or stroke.

Treatment: The American Heart Association considers normal blood pressure as less than 120 systolic mm HG (the first higher number) and less than 80 diastolic mm Hg. But the first steps in lowering blood pressure are lifestyle changes: losing weight, boosting exercise and eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and less fat. If blood pressure tops 140/90, many doctors prescribe hypertensive medicine.

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