SPRINGFIELD — It’s widely known that most women make the healthcare decisions in the family. Women are also 100% more likely to visit their doctor for an annual examination and preventive services than men.
That’s why June, which is Men’s Health Month, is so important.
There is a silent health crisis in America — the fact that, on average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women. Men’s Health Month is designed to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
“It is really important for men to take care of themselves, not just for their own benefit, but for their families and loved ones. Men can downplay symptoms or make the mistake assuming the absence of symptoms equals good health,” said Dr. Yasir Saleem of Baystate Family Medicine at the Baystate Health & Wellness Center in Northampton.
Waiting and assuming can be dangerous because certain medical problems do not cause any obvious symptoms until something catastrophic happens. “This can be the case with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which can be asymptomatic, but raise your risk of having a stroke or heart attack,” he added.
So, what can a man do?
Men should exercise, eat a healthy diet and stay at a healthy weight, drink alcohol in moderation, avoid tobacco, get enough sleep, have all recommended screening tests done, and take preventive medicine if needed.
Healthy men under age 40 who have no pre-existing conditions requiring routine monitoring should visit their primary-care physician every two or three years. After age 40, however, healthy men should begin visiting their doctor yearly, or more often for anyone with a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension.
Health concerns differ with age, Saleem noted. Cancer, with the exception of testicular cancer (exams can be stopped after age 50), and heart disease are rare in young men. Special to this group, however, are serious health problems that are most often found amid a lack of safety precautions, resulting in motor-vehicle and work-related injuries, as well as smoking, excessive drinking, and risky behavior.
Middle-aged men need to understand what modifiable risk factors they have for heart disease and reduce those risks, whether it means losing weight, working with their doctor to identify the best exercise for their age and condition, or taking medications to lower their cholesterol or blood pressure. Colon and prostate-cancer screening — digital rectal exams — begin at age 50 for most men, unless they have a family history of prostate cancer. In addition, they should have their cholesterol measured every three years even if it has been normal.
“Prostate cancer is controversial, and there are many different opinions about what the right answer is,” Saleem said, noting that the U.S. Preventive Service Taskforce advises that men aged 55 to 69 discuss risks and benefits with their doctor. “What you do for prostate-cancer screening should be reviewed with your primary-care provider based on your history, family history, potential symptoms, and overall level of concern.”
Older men have the same needs as middle-aged men and more. They often have at least one chronic condition that also needs to be managed, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, or heart disease. Older men also have more concerns about impaired eyesight and hearing.
In addition, guidelines now recommend individuals between 55 and 80 years old who are at high risk for lung cancer as a result of heavy smoking (defined as those who have smoked for more than 30 years at an average of one pack per day) receive an annual low-dose CT lung-cancer screening.
There is also continued concern about hepatitis C, a serious viral infection which can result from coming into contact with an infected person’s blood. The concern is that people might have been infected by blood transfusions before 1992, when widespread screening of blood began. Many people aren’t even aware they have this serious condition, which can destroy their liver. The vast majority of adults living with hepatitis C are Baby Boomers. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 should be tested. The CDC recommends that other populations at increased risk for hepatitis C get tested as well.
Of particular note, men have a higher suicide death rate than women.
“There is a strong mind-body connection that we can sometimes not address adequately in medicine,” Saleem said. “If you are not feeling well mentally because of major depression or anxiety, then it will be hard for you to take care of not only yourself, but those around you. It can be extremely difficult to open up about these feelings, but there is no shame or weakness in admitting when you need help. We only have one life to live, and you owe it to yourself to live it as best as possible.”