Attention Gentlemen: Being male can be hazardous to your health. Yes, you read this correctly and I would like to advise you as to what the issues are -- and what you could be doing to reduce your risks.
Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, cardiopulmonary disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and accidents. Back in the 1920s, women outlived men by only one year. Today, The Centers for Disease Control reports that life expectancy gap is more than five times that wide. On average, women today survive men by more than five years.
Many of the top 10 causes of death are preventable and can be treated, especially if found early. And, that's the problem, guys. You can't manage something you don't know about. Many diseases have no symptoms or warning signals early on. According to the CDC report, women are generally 33 percent more likely to visit a doctor than men, although the gap does narrow with age. But visiting your doctor more often later in life after you have developed problems may not improve your life expectancy. The truth is that diseases men typically face are often the result of a lack of health care monitoring or lifestyle adjustment earlier in life.
If you failed to discover your cholesterol is high when you're 20, and if you didn't get your blood pressure checked, even with symptoms (anxiety, feeling stressed out, sweating, difficulty sleeping, facial flushing, or headaches) in your 30s, or your blood sugar is out of whack when you're 40, by the time you're 50 you could be looking at some serious issues. Then the treatment options may be limited or not as helpful as they could have been.
Some of this we can blame on our culture in general. Boys are expected to be tough and ignore pain. But as people get older, the rules change. That little pain or symptom which used to seem harmless can get worse, or may signal more serious problems in your body.
I've had patients with blood in their stools or chest pain wait for two years to get checked out. Other patients with diagnosed problems don't follow up; we are alerted to them only because they need a refill on a prescription they hadn't been taking as directed for months.
There was a time in the United States where an annual physical was the norm, but recently we've gotten away from that model. Many of my male patients come in primarily through the encouragement of their wives. We discuss their personal health risks, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, family history and dietary concerns, which contribute to the diseases facing many Americans:
• Obesity - Can lead to type 2 diabetes. Diabetes affects many parts of the body and is associated with serious complications, such as heart disease and stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputation.
• Cardiovascular disease - Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2008 were in men. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease.
• Tobacco and alcohol use - Alcohol and tobacco use are among the top causes of preventable deaths in the United States. Smoking is associated with lung disease, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Alcohol is associated with chronic liver disease, cancers and cardiovascular disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, a growing body of evidence suggests that these substances, when combined, (which they frequently are) dramatically increase the risk of certain cancers.
• Elevated cholesterol - Can lead to heart disease, stroke, and circulation issues.
• High blood pressure - One in three Americans have this condition causing strokes, heart attacks, kidney issues, eye issues, and heart failure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In many cases, there are no obvious symptoms.
• Fatigue - Not uncommonly related to Sleep Apnea, low 'T' (low testosterone) or stress.
Cost is also an issue. Some see this cost as something they shouldn't have to incur, money that could be spent elsewhere. However many health insurance companies now provide a 'free' annual preventive exam which should be taken advantage of.
Once I can get them in a couple of times – when I can get their attention, and start to commit to monitoring their health on a regular basis, men really do quite well and in my experience once they are committed they have an easier time than many women improving their personal habits. In general it is easier for men to lose weight and stop smoking in my experience. A little reduced calories and exercise for men with their extra muscle and you have pretty significant weight loss which improves their risk of many problems.
So, gentlemen, I hope I now have your attention. It's time to act. You have worked hard for your family and your children and even now your parents so it is time to do something for yourself. Make sure you are around to enjoy your retirement whatever you plan to do with it. Only a 'wussie-man' goes down without a fight!
-- Dr. Dean L. Mundhenke, MD, is board certified in internal medicine, trained at the Mayo Clinic and graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. You can contact him through St. Mary's Medical Center or he can be reached at 816-373-3006.