Reviewed by: Henry Guevara, PhD, MPH, FNP-C
Written by: Abbi Havens
Men, let’s be honest. When it comes to proactively seeking healthcare, both preventative and reactive, there’s room for improvement. You balance every aspect of your life flawlessly, from your career to family, friends, staying active, and more. So why aren’t more men taking control of their own health?
In a recent study published in The Journal of Health Psychology, authors Diana Sanchez, Associate Professor of Psychology at Rutgers, and Mary Himmelstein, doctoral student, came to some startling conclusions about men and health care. The study found that men who held traditional beliefs regarding masculinity were more likely to delay addressing medical symptoms or ignore them altogether. Men who held themselves to these same “masculine” standards, to be brave, tough, self-reliant, and restrain their emotions were more likely to choose a male doctor. However, they were less willing to be honest about their symptoms with a male doctor than they were with a female doctor.
See the problem here? Men in the U.S. have a shorter lifespan than women by an average of five years. Men are more likely to die from a serious diagnosis. Men are more likely to die from suicide. This may be partially due to societal stigmas that discourage men from seeking healthcare and facing their symptoms head-on.
June is Men’s Health Month, and we’re taking a stand. It’s time for men to take control of their own health, because your life and the lives of those you love depends on it. Here are five health threats to men that should inspire you to get up and get to the doctor for a check-up!
1. Heart Disease
Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in men. When a person has heart disease, plaque gradually collects inside the arteries in the heart and brain. If that plaque is dislodged, a blood clot can form and block the artery causing a heart attack or stroke.
Be proactive about preventing heart disease by following these tips:
- Get your cholesterol checked: You should begin checking your cholesterol at age 25 once every five years.
- Stay within a healthy weight range: Additional body fat greatly increases your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Stop smoking: Smoking and tobacco products of any kind significantly increase your risk of heart disease, and your risk of developing heart disease immediately decreases when you stop smoking.
- Be active: Exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
- Eat healthy: Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and decrease your intake of saturated and trans fats.
Cancer is scary. There’s no getting around it. Men and women alike delay their regular visit to the doctor for fear of a cancer diagnosis. However, cancer is often preventable through screenings and lifestyle adjustments. Take control of your health and get screened for these four cancers (among many) impacting men:
- Prostate cancer: Prostate cancer is the leading cancer diagnosed in men in the U.S. every year. The chances of developing prostate cancer increase with age and most cases are detected in men over the age of 65.
- Lung cancer: Lung cancer is the second-most diagnosed cancer among men in the U.S., and the number one cause of cancer-related deaths (lung cancer was the cause of approximately 83,550 deaths in men in 2018). Studies suggest a new screening test for lung cancer reduces the death rate from lung cancer by 20 percent, so don’t wait to get your screening. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to quit smoking, or if possible, never begin smoking.
- Colorectal cancer: Colorectal cancer, or cancer or the colon or rectum, is often preventable due to advanced and successful screening. When colorectal cancer is caught early, it has a very high treatment success rate.
- Testicular cancer: Although testicular cancer is rare, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for men between the ages of 15 and 35. Conduct regular self-exams and seek medical attention if you notice a lump or heaviness of the scrotum.
3. Depression and Suicide
Men are far less likely to seek mental healthcare than women, causing a myriad of adverse mental and physical health effects. A more traditional view of masculinity may lead one to believe that depression is a simple feeling and should be kept to one’s self, but depression is more than just a bad mood. When a person suffers from chemical depression, their energy level, appetite, and sleep are all affected. Depression puts men at a higher risk of death from suicide. While women attempt suicide at a much higher rate than men, men are more likely to die from a suicide attempt. Depression presents a very real threat to the safety of men and those around them. If you experience any of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks, don’t hesitate to seek professional help:
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Difficulty concentrating and lack of productivity at work or school
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss in appetite, extreme weight loss, or extreme weight gain
- Feelings of worthlessness or failure
- Extreme sadness
- Excess use of alcohol, drugs, or gambling
There is no shame in seeking help. Care for yourself so you can care for those around you. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
4. Erectile Dysfunction
Men, it’s time to talk about…erectile dysfunction (ED). While ED is certainly not everyone’s favorite topic of conversation, it’s an important conversation to have. Although ED isn’t life threatening, it can indicate a significant health problem.
Erectile dysfunction is often caused by the same process that leads to heart attacks and strokes, and may mean that blood vessels throughout the body are constricted. Visiting your doctor for erectile dysfunction is not just about improving your quality of life and happiness (although these are more than valid concerns). Erectile dysfunction is considered an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease and other significant health risks, so make that appointment!
95 percent of people in the U.S. with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This is a disease in which your body does not use insulin properly (insulin resistance). Over time, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood glucose at a healthy level.
Recognizing the early signs of type 2 diabetes allows a person to begin treatment sooner, including controlling blood sugar levels and making lifestyle changes to drastically improve their quality of life and decrease the risk of complications. If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t wait to schedule a visit with your doctor:
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
- Blurry vision
- Extreme fatigue
- Constant thirst and frequent urination
- Constant hunger
Vulnerability can be difficult, especially when it comes to your body and personal space. But in the end, there is no shame in seeking help when you need it. In fact, there is power in taking control of your own health, for yourself and for the one’s you love. This men’s health month, take note of any symptoms you experience, and if anything seems off, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and make an appointment! You won’t regret it.