It's conventional wisdom that men don't pay attention to their health the way women do and that women are generally quicker to see a doctor when they develop symptoms.
Government statistics back this up: Men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the past year; the odds are even lower for men between 18 and 44 and for African American or Hispanic men.
How does this all play out? For one, by the time a man visits his physician, his symptoms may be more severe or tougher to manage or treat. For another, he could have health conditions that are silent, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Unless detected, they can't be treated early and wisely.
And finally, it does give you pause when you consider that women live 5.1 years longer, on average, than men. Could increased awareness of men's health help close that gap?
Another piece of conventional wisdom is that women are often the gatekeepers for their family's health. That's generally true, but there's another guardian of men's health: Men's Health Network (MHN), a national nonprofit organization that provides important and pertinent information for men to take charge of their own health. It's a great resource to know about—and MHN partners with HealthyWomen to make sure we're all covered. Click here to take a look
MHN reports that, for the entire top 10 causes of death, men die at higher rates than women. The top 10 are: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, accidents, stroke (cerebrovascular diseases), Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and influenza and pneumonia.
Men may not always be able to avoid accidents or cancer or Alzheimer's, but it is smart to know more about the top conditions and diseases that threaten men's health. Knowing that is a huge step in the direction of closing that gap in both health care and life expectancy for men.
Here's some helpful information from MHN:
1. Heart disease. It's the leading killer for both men and women, but MHN reports that almost twice as many men as women die of cardiovascular conditions, and half the men who die of heart disease are unaware of any problems. Additionally, men are more likely to develop the disease earlier than women and die at younger ages.
2. Stroke. Stroke is the third-leading killer in this country (after heart disease and all forms of cancer combined). MHN reports that the risk rises proportionately with the rise of blood pressure, and that the incidence is 19 percent higher for males than females. Since hypertension is a risk factor, controlling your blood pressure is an important preventive tool.
3. Diabetes. Although there's no cure, this leading cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputations can be managed and treated about 90 percent of the time. Men are more likely than women to develop heart disease from diabetes, reports the American Diabetes Association.
4. Suicide and depression. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to MHN. Part of the reason may be undiagnosed depression due to men's reluctance to recognize it or admit having it.
5. Prostate cancer. This is the number one cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer. Since there are often no symptoms (until it has spread to other parts of the body), it's important to get a baseline exam. Screening recommendations vary, so check with your health care provider.
Staying healthy goes way beyond understanding the top risks. Getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, quitting smoking, using alcohol wisely, managing stress, logging enough sleep and getting the recommended health screenings help complete the picture.
More helpful advice from MHN:
- Get an annual health exam. Don't wait until you're 50 to have your first exam since high school or college. Feel free to ask questions, too.
- Know your numbers. Know what's normal for PSA, cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure.
- Don't assume that "no news is good news." Make sure you keep your own records and ask for your numbers.
- Involve your family in your health. If you have children, set a good example.
- Take advantage of free health screenings. Don't hesitate to use any free screenings or other health services offered by your community or employer.