June is Men’s health month. This is a time to bring awareness to health issues that affect men disproportionately and focuses on getting men to become aware of problems they may have or could develop, and gain the courage to do something about it. In this article, we highlight the more common conditions men are at risk of developing to create the awareness intended for this month.
From infancy to old age, women are simply healthier than men. Out of the 15 leading causes of death, men lead women in all of them except Alzheimer’s disease, which many men don’t live long enough to develop. Although the gender gap is closing, men still die five years earlier than their wives, on average.
While the reasons are partly biological, men’s approach to their health plays a role too. Based on studies, most men think that, if they can live up their roles in society, then they are healthy. This flawed thinking results in many men putting less priority on their health. However, if you are feeling healthy, a little planning can help you stay that way.
The top threats to men’s health aren’t secrets: they’re known, common, and often preventable. These include:
1. Cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart attack (CVD)
2. Lung cancer
3. Prostate cancer
4. Depression and suicide
6. Erectile dysfunction (ED)
Even in adolescence, girls’ arteries look healthier than boys’. Experts believe women’s naturally higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) are partly responsible. Men have to work harder to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. To prevent CVD it is advisable to:
• Get your cholesterol checked, beginning at age 25 and every five years.
• Control your blood pressure and cholesterol if they’re high.
• If you smoke, then stop.
• Increase your physical activity level to 30 minutes per day, most days of the week.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables and less saturated or trans fats.
Lung cancer is a terrible disease: ugly, aggressive, and almost always metastatic (spreads). Lung cancer spreads early, usually before it grows large enough to cause symptoms or even show up on an X-ray. By the time it’s found, lung cancer is often advanced and difficult to cure. Less than half of men are alive a year later.
So, are you still smoking? Tobacco smoke causes 90% of all lung cancers. Lung cancer is still a significant killer in men in T&T.
No effective screening test for lung cancer is available, although a major study is going on to learn if CT scans of the chests of high-risk people can catch cancer early enough to improve survival.
Quitting smoking at any age reduces the risk of lung cancer. Few preventive measures are as effective — or as challenging — as stopping smoking. But new tools are available that work to help men quit. Your doctor can tell you more. Visit your closest Smoking Cessation clinic.
This is one health problem men can lay full claim to — after all, women don’t have prostates. A walnut-sized gland behind the penis that secretes fluids important for ejaculation, the prostate is prone to problems as men age.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. But while one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, only one in 35 will die from it. Many prostate cancers are slow-growing and unlikely to spread, while others are aggressive. The problem is, we don’t have effective tests for identifying which cancers are more dangerous.
Screening for prostate cancer requires a digital rectal exam (the infamous gloved finger) and a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Screening, however, has never definitively been shown to reduce the chances of dying from prostate cancer. That’s because screening finds many cancers that would never be fatal, even if undetected. Testing then leads to aggressive treatment of relatively harmless cancers, which causes problems like impotence and incontinence. Many experts advise that, if you were to get prostate cancer, the best solution is to see your doctor regularly and talk about your overall risk. All men should understand the risks and benefits of each approach, whichever you choose.
Depression and Suicide
Depression isn’t just a bad mood, a rough patch, or the blues. It’s an emotional disturbance that affects your whole body and overall health.
In effect, depression proves the mind-body connection. Brain chemicals and stress hormones are out of balance. Sleep, appetite, and energy level are disturbed. Research even suggests men with depression are more likely to develop heart disease.
Experts previously thought depression affected far more women than men. But that may just be men’s tendency to hide depressed feelings or express them in ways different than women’s.
Instead of showing sadness or crying, men get angry or aggressive or engage in activities like drinking too much or substance abuse. What is worse is that men are less likely to seek help if depressed.
The results can be tragic. Women attempt suicide more often, but men are more successful at completing it. Suicide is a major cause of death among all men; for young men, it’s higher.
Most men and women respond well to depression treatment with medications, therapy, or both. If you think you might be depressed, reach out to your doctor or someone close to you, and seek help.
Diabetes usually begins silently, without symptoms. Over the years, blood sugar levels creep higher, eventually spilling into the urine. The resulting frequent urination and thirst are what finally bring many men to the doctor.
The high sugar of diabetes is anything but sweet. Excess glucose acts as a slow poison on blood vessels and nerves everywhere in the body. Heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations are the fallout for thousands of men.
Boys born in 2000 have an alarming one-in-three chance of developing diabetes in their lifetimes. Overweight and obesity are likely to feed the diabetes epidemic. The combination of diabetes and obesity may be erasing some of the reductions in heart disease risk we’ve had over the last few decades.
Exercise, combined with a healthy diet, can prevent type 2 diabetes. Moderate weight loss — for those who are overweight — and 30 minutes a day of physical activity reduced the chance of diabetes by more than 50% in men at high risk in one major study. A blood test called an HbA1c is currently the screening test for diabetes. Ask your doctor if you think you are at risk.
Erectile dysfunction is most often caused by atherosclerosis — the same process that causes heart attacks and strokes. In fact, having ED frequently means that blood vessels throughout the body are in less-than-perfect health. Doctors consider erectile dysfunction an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease.
You’ve probably heard more about the numerous effective treatments for ED than you ever cared to just by watching the evening news. Treatments make a fulfilling sex life possible despite ED, but they don’t cure the condition. If you have erectile dysfunction, see your doctor, and ask if more than your sex life is at risk.
These six are at the top of the list regarding men’s health and all men should be aware of them. Creating such gender-specific health awareness is only one step in creating gender equality and equity and better health for all.
Dr. Visham Bhimull
Diploma in Family Medicine (UWI)