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LCMC Health’s Wellness Checklist for Gay Men

LCMC Health’s Wellness Checklist for Gay Men

With the responsibilities and stresses of managing the many aspects of everyday life—work, school, friends, family, relationships, hobbies and more—it can be easy to let your health fall by the wayside. Everyone knows their health is important; it’s just that, at times, other matters can seem more urgent.

It could be that you feel fine and don’t see any reason for checking in with a doctor. Or perhaps the thought of seeking medical care and finding out that something is wrong is so overwhelming that you want to avoid it altogether.

But staying proactive is critical, especially for gay, bi and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who should be consistently mindful of the numerous physical, mental, emotional, and social factors contribute to overall health.

It can be a lot to keep track of, which is why LCMC Health has compiled these 5 steps that make it easy for MSM and queer people of all identities to stay on top of their health!

  1. Know your risks (and take precautions)

When we say “risks,” we mean physical conditions and infections that are more likely to affect MSM, as well as social factors that can be detrimental to overall well-being. Awareness of your unique risks will better equip you to recognize changes in your body that should be discussed with a medical provider.

Let’s start with the physical. Sexually active MSM are more likely to contract certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV and syphilis. The likelihood of being diagnosed with one of these STIs increases for MSM who have sex with multiple partners. High rates of infection have also been reported for Hepatitis B & C, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in the urethra and rectum, gonorrhea in the throat, and HPV. When screening, be sure to ask your provider to swab all these areas, since the throat and rectum are not always standard protocol for gonorrhea and chlamydia testing ­­but should be considered regularly for MSM.

Fortunately, many STIs can be treated with medication, but that doesn’t decrease your chances of reinfection in the future. The best way to prevent STIs is to practice safe sex by using a condom, limiting your number of sex partners, and communicating openly with sex partners about your STI testing status. MSM with multiple partners should also consider talking with their doctors about PrEP to limit your chances of contracting HIV.

MSM are also at higher risk for developing certain anal cancers, usually as a result of HPV. HPV can be treated, but since infections might be asymptomatic, the virus is easily transmissible. MSM under the age of 27 should consider vaccination.

Meanwhile, just like all marginalized populations, MSM should be aware of social determinants of health that can have harmful effects on the body. Experiences of discrimination and homophobia can result in increased stress levels, beginning a domino effect that can manifest physically in the form of elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular conditions, as well as mentally and emotionally in the form of anxiety, depression, or body dysmorphia.

  1. Communicate with your care team (and get tested)

Because the risk factors affecting MSM can lead to other issues like increased levels of substance abuse, risky behavior, and isolation, which can further deteriorate emotional and mental health, it’s critical that MSM are open and honest with their care teams.

However, MSM sometimes refrain from seeking medical care, or from divulging intimate details with doctors when they do so, due to fear of stigmatization or discrimination. Remember that the more your doctor knows about you, the more they are able to make informed decisions for creating wellness and screening plans that address your unique risks.

At LCMC Health, we champion a culture of inclusivity and compassion. We want every MSM patient to feel comfortable enough to communicate honestly with their entire care team, but our inclusivity doesn’t extend only to patients: our system-wide cultural competency plan is designed to ensure our medical staff is as diverse as the populations they serve, so that no matter the sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity or religion of a patient, there is someone who understands and champions them within our network.

Find a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and considered. It’s okay to meet new doctors before making a decision on whom you turn to for primary care. Once you find that right match, open honest lines of dialogue with your doctor about your risks and concerns, and keep up with any tests or screenings your doctor recommends.

  1. Listen to your body (and respond to it)

No one knows you better than you. If you notice an abnormal change in your body that isn't going away on its own, it might be time to consult a doctor in order to rule out any serious medical conditions.

In addition to the increased risk of anal cancers mentioned earlier, all men are at risk of testicular and prostate cancer. Knowing the signs and taking a proactive approach to evaluation and diagnosis can make a vast difference in treatment plans and success rates should any type of cancer be detected.

So, what are the signs? Here are common symptoms to look out for:

Anal cancer:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unusual bowel movement patterns, including diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Continual gastrointestinal pain or discomfort
  • Sudden weight loss

Prostate cancer:

  • Trouble urinating, despite persistent feelings of needing to urinate
  • Decreased urine flow
  • Blood in the urine
  • Blood in the semen
  • Pain in the back or pelvis

Testicular cancer:

  • Enlarged scrotum
  • Fluid buildup within the scrotum
  • Testicular lumps
  • Back pain, particularly in the lower back
  • Pain or sensitivity in the breasts
  • Pain or sensitivity in the groin or abdomen

Keep in mind that just because you’ve noticed a potential symptom, that doesn’t equate to a diagnosis. Follow up with a doctor for your health and peace of mind. Remember: early detection saves lives.

  1. Stay active (and engaged)

It’s no secret that an active lifestyle is one of the easiest ways to keep both the body and mind in good health. Physical activities and exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety while contributing to positive cardiovascular health.

That doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym for a weightlifting session if that’s not your thing. Taking a walk, biking, performing tasks around the house or yard, taking a dance class, or any other physically engaging activities can release endorphins that make your mind and body feel more at ease. In addition, some physical activities performed in a social setting can help to build a sense of community and belonging.

Luckily for MSM in the Greater New Orleans region, there are plenty of welcoming, queer-inclusive gyms and fitness studios to help you find a physical outlet that matches your needs and lifestyle. Consider taking a spin class at CYCLEBAR, becoming a member of the New Orleans Athletic Club, or finding a walking partner to join you in exploring our city’s parks and green spaces.

Stonewall Sports New Orleans is an athletic league composed of LGBTQ+ and allied individuals who come together for kickball, dodgeball, bowling, running and more. MSM who have refrained from joining athletic leagues because of fear of discrimination can rest assured that Stonewall will provide a comforting and inclusive avenue into organized sports.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (and be available to give it)

Your mental and emotional health are just as important to maintaining your overall wellbeing as your physical health. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, or any other obstacles, talk to your doctor. Consider opening up to your friends for support, and look out for local resources for people dealing with the same issues.

LCMC Health proudly partners with several local queer-focused organizations to ensure the health and security of our LGBTQ+ patients. For elder MSM and other queer people who are in need of community support and opportunities for networking and engagement, NOAGE is your key to staying visible and connected.

The New Orleans LGBT Community Center is a trusted organization that provides holistic referral services to queer people and their allies, as well as advocating for systemic equity.

For trans and non-binary people seeking community and no-barrier access to housing, House of Tulip provides shelter and support, in addition to no-cost gender-affirming clothing, a hygiene pantry and access to computers.

Familiarizing yourself with the tools available to you–and using them–is an important first step toward healing. It can also leave you better equipped to provide meaningful advice and support to friends or peers in need. We’re all in this together, and when we take care of each other, we take care of ourselves, too.

With these simple steps, you can transform your health and reduce risks (and potential consequences) down the line. If you’re overdue for any of the items on this checklist or want to establish a new relationship with one of our trusted LCMC Health providers, click here to find a physician near you.