Happy Men’s Health Month. (Yep, it’s a thing.)
Even more of a thing, though, is that research suggests that men are less likely than women to make regular trips to the doctor. And that’s bad news given that men also die younger than women, on average, and suffer more chronic illnesses in the process.
Are you one of those men who skips his annual physical?
Maybe you don’t want to rush off to your primary doc for every bump and bruise. And that’s okay. But a routine yearly trip can help you find things you didn’t know were there — and maybe even treat small issues before they become major problems.
Ready to break the mold and take better care of your health? Start paying attention to the following common health conditions that disproportionately affect men.
Plaque that lines artery walls leads to a condition known as atherosclerosis. This cardiovascular condition can reduce the size of your arteries and keep adequate oxygen from getting to the parts of your body. Result? Serious potential problems like chronic kidney disease, a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is the top cause of death in men. Women die of this condition too, but at a less frequent rate and usually at older ages. In men, the disease often begins shortly after your 40th birthday.
High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are all risk factors for atherosclerosis.
But healthy lifestyle choices could reduce your risk of developing this condition. For example, eating a low-sodium diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables can improve your cardiovascular health. You should also get regular exercise, limit your alcohol intake and do your best to manage stress.
Atherosclerosis can develop without your noticing, making regular checkups an important step in mitigating risk. Your doctor might suggest taking cholesterol medicine along with lifestyle changes.
Around the world, smoking rates among men are approximately five times higher than they are among women. Although the disparity is less in the U.S., there are more male American smokers than female ones.
Smoking may set you up for a lifetime of health issues. In the short term, you may experience more respiratory symptoms and infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia.
Among long-time smokers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common condition. This chronic illness makes breathing difficult. Symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath.
If you have COPD, you also have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Inhalers and other medications may help to reduce the symptoms of COPD, but they can’t cure the disease. Prevention is the best medicine. The sooner you quit smoking, the better protection you’ll provide for your lungs.
If you need help, talk to your doctor. Smoking cessation programs may be covered by your health insurance. Quitting isn’t easy, of course, but it could help you avoid decades of serious health problems.
Men are more likely than women to be heavy drinkers. Rates for both binge drinking and alcoholism are higher among men than women.
Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of health problems. These include, among other things:
- Risky behavior
- Throat cancer
- Colon cancer
Another serious concern with heavy drinking is that you could develop alcoholic liver disease (ALD). Over time, processing alcohol can cause the cells of the liver to break down, which causes permanent damage.
ALD presents in different forms, including fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver disease kills more than 20,000 Americans each year — around 70% of those deaths are in men.
Having two alcoholic drinks a day is considered a moderate level of drinking for men. If you’re drinking more than that, it may be time to cut back. In fact, some experts recommend limiting yourself to a max of one drink a day.
You might find it hard to cut down on drinking (or ditch it altogether) without a strong support system. Ask your family and friends to stand by you during this change. You may also need to consult your doctor, join a support group or enroll in a rehab program.
A disease that’s unique to men, prostate cancer kills over 30,000 men each year. More than 190,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Only skin cancer is more prevalent in males.
The prostate is a small gland that’s part of the reproductive system. Cancer develops when some of the cells become abnormal. But scientists are still researching what triggers that development.
Prostate cancer can go undetected for a long time.
Eventually, you may notice symptoms like erectile dysfunction and reduced urine output. In some men, cancerous prostate cells grow slowly and never cause a problem. For others, the cancer may metastasize, spreading throughout the body.
Risk factors for prostate cancer include being over 40 years old, being overweight and having a family history. Black men also have an increased risk. If you’re in a high-risk category, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of screening tests and preventive medications. You may need earlier or extra screening and tests than other men.
For all men, a healthy lifestyle can provide some protection against prostate cancer. Common suggestions include eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise.
Mental health is just as much of a concern for men as physical health. Unfortunately, depression often goes undetected in men because they don’t always present with classic sadness.
In men, depression may manifest as anger or irritability.
Men may also increase their participation in risky behavior or start to use more drugs or alcohol when they’re depressed. Left untreated, depression may lead to suicide.
The rate of suicide deaths is nearly four times higher in men than in women.
Men are also more likely than women to use lethal methods for their suicide attempts. For example, over half of male suicides are committed with firearms.
Depression can leave you feeling helpless and hopeless, but there are steps you can take for symptom relief. These include staying active and establishing a daily routine.
It’s also important to have a strong support network, which may include your primary care physician and a mental health therapist. A combination of antidepressant medication and talk therapy is effective for many people.
Bottom line? Your mental and physical health matters. You’re not going to live forever, of course. But in the time you have, schedule regular checkups with your doctor, maintain a strong social network, eat well, move often and be proactive with your health.