Men’s Health Week, which is June 13-19, is celebrated each year just before Father’s Day. The purpose of this promotion is to heighten awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
What makes men die at younger ages than women and why are their fatality rates higher for most of the leading causes of death? Women especially are interested in the answer to these questions as they are the ones who find themselves alone and without spousal companionship in their later years.
During the past five years, men seem to have assumed a little more responsibility for their health, but lack of awareness, inadequate health education and culturally induced behavior patterns continue to contribute to the poor health of men in America. Of particular concern for men are the following health problems:
• Heart disease: It’s probably no surprise that heart disease is the most significant health threat to men in the United States today. According to the American Heart Association, men have a greater risk of heart disease and have heart attacks much earlier in life than women. Even after menopause, when heart disease becomes the leading cause of death in women, the risk for men still is greater.
All men need to take this disease seriously, and understand that their No. 1 killer often can be prevented. Avoiding smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grain products, exercising, controlling blood pressure and stress, cutting back on fat and cholesterol, and maintaining an ideal body weight are important ways to reduce the risk.
• Cancer: Prostate cancer, the most common non-skin cancer in America, affects one in six men, but lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death in men. This year, more than 234,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 27,000 men will die from the disease, making it the second-leading cause of cancer-related death. Colorectal cancer is in third place for cancer-related deaths.
Men ages 65 and older are at greater risk for developing prostate cancer. Also, having a first-degree relative (such as father, brother or son) with a history of prostate cancer makes a man twice as likely to develop the disease. Those with two or more relatives are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed. The risk is highest in men whose family members were diagnosed before age 65.
African-American men are 61 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer compared with Caucasian men and nearly two and a half times as likely to die from the disease.
As with all cancers, “cure” rates for prostate cancer describe the percentage of patients remaining disease-free for a specific time. In general, the earlier the cancer is caught, the more likely a patient will be to overcome it. Regular screenings for all types of cancer are very important. Fifty percent more men than women die each year from lung and colorectal cancers because some men don’t consider health screenings a high priority.
• Stroke: Stroke is not only men’s No. 3 killer, it’s also one of the leading causes of disability in America. About 80 percent of strokes are caused by atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits inside the arteries). High blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise and a diet high in fat and cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis and stroke. Changes in lifestyle can help decrease the risk.
Although stroke is highly preventable, certain risk factors, such as family history, age, gender and race can’t be controlled. If you’re at increased risk for stroke, work to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol, cut back on dietary fat, exercise regularly and discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking a low-dose aspirin daily.
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: COPD is the overall term for a group of chronic lung conditions including bronchitis, emphysema and other lung disorders. The main cause of COPD is smoking, and it’s strongly associated with lung cancer, one of the major causes of cancer death in men. A man who smokes is 10 times more likely to die from COPD than a man who does not smoke.
The quality of life for someone with COPD diminishes as the disease progresses. Breathlessness and activity limitations develop, and eventually breathing only may be possible with mechanical respiratory assistance. You reduce your risk of dying from COPD by not smoking.
• Pneumonia and influenza: Pneumonia and influenza combined are the sixth-leading cause of death in U.S. men today.
Especially when associated with other chronic health conditions, pneumonia and influenza can be life-threatening. People with COPD, asthma, heart disease, diabetes or other conditions that suppress the immune system are at high risk. Because both pneumonia and influenza affect the lungs, smoking significantly can increase the symptoms and danger of pneumonia and influenza.
The risk of both pneumonia and influenza can be reduced by immunizations. A yearly flu shot can be up to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza in healthy adults. The pneumococcal vaccine can reduce the risk of getting pneumonia by 80 percent. Stay healthy — get those shots
• Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic disease that has no cure. Many people become aware that they have it only when they develop one of its life-threatening complications. Advanced diabetes can cause blindness, kidney disease and severe nerve damage.
People with diabetes also are two to four times more likely to have heart disease and suffer from stroke. If you have a parent who developed diabetes in adulthood, your risk can be up to 50 percent higher. As the rate of obesity increases in the United States, so does the incidence of diabetes.
The most common form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes generally develops after age 40 and affects up to 95 percent of adults who have the disease. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk
Safety and injury prevention is very important as the average man is twice as likely to die in a car accident than a woman because they drive faster, don’t use seat belts and are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
guidelines for men:
• Get a physical examination every year with age-appropriate screenings. Tell your physician if you have a family history of cancer, and ask when you should be screened for prostate and colorectal cancer. Get your cholesterol checked. If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or other diseases, follow your health-care provider’s instructions and make sure to schedule follow-up screenings.
• Eat a healthy diet and watch fat, sugar and salt intake.
• Limit alcoholic beverages.
• Do not use tobacco products; if you do — stop.
• Educate yourself on making healthy lifestyle choices.
• Engage in daily moderate physical activities. Find a hobby that gives you additional exercise and helps relieve stress.
• If you experience persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, have insomnia or want to sleep all the time, tell your physician. You may be suffering from depression. Medical care may be necessary to get you back on track.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.