By Dr. Frank L. Urbano, MBA, FACP
According to the World Health Organization, the average life span for women is about six to eight years longer than that of men, hinting that men’s hesitance to seek medical care can be dangerous. But many of the diseases that commonly plague men can be prevented or at least detected through one simple action: scheduling a checkup with a doctor.
Monitor heart health
Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure, is more common in men than women. Men are 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease than women, and it is the leading cause of death for men in the United States.
While some of the susceptibility of men to cardiovascular disease may be genetically determined, there are clear actions men can take that can reduce their risk of being affected.
- High Blood Pressure — High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading risk factor for all forms of cardiovascular disease. There are numerous ways to treat hypertension, including lifestyle changes (such as reducing sodium intake) and medication therapy. What’s important to realize, though, is that a man cannot discover he has high blood pressure if he doesn’t get it checked regularly, which is a good reason to schedule a checkup with a doctor.
- Smoking — While smoking is often thought to only be associated with lung disease (such as emphysema), it is, in fact, a very strong risk factor for all forms of cardiovascular disease. If a man is having difficulty quitting smoking, a visit to the doctor can help him figure out ways to do that.
- High cholesterol — It is widely known that high levels of certain forms of cholesterol (LDL) put men at risk of cardiovascular disease. While diet is often employed to control this (such as by reducing saturated fat intake), there are many very effective and safe medications that can be used as well. Consultation with a doctor can help a man to make the best choice for him.
- Weight gain — As we age, it’s common for men to put on weight, and this can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Incorporating ways to control weight, including regular exercise, can help reduce that risk.
Strategy for prostate health
Prostate cancer is a common concern to men as they age. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men. While it can be difficult to tell if men have prostate cancer, a commonly used blood test — the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test — can be helpful in reaching a diagnosis.
Over the past few years, however, there has been controversy in the medical community regarding when and how often to test men’s PSA levels, as well as what minor elevations of PSA levels represent. There has also been debate surrounding the best treatment for early prostate cancer, with some doctors advising a “watch and wait” approach and others favoring surgery. For these reasons, it is important for men to visit their doctor and discuss the best approach for determining their prostate cancer risk. While this conversation may be uncomfortable for some, it’s the best way to assess the risk of this disease.
Maintain mental health
As if men’s hesitancy to visit the doctor isn’t enough, there are some medical conditions that make this even more difficult. One such problem is depression. Contrary to popular belief, depression doesn’t only affect women, nor is it always related to a specific event in a man’s life. Depression is a recognized medical condition caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. And because men are so reluctant to visit their doctor, it’s even less likely that they will want to talk to them about depression.
Depression can cause physical symptoms and contribute to an earlier death. Unfortunately, there is a well-known stigma attached to a diagnosis of depression, even though there are many effective treatments like behavioral counseling and medication therapy. Men who seek treatment for depression can expect to experience an improvement more than 50 percent of the time.
Take the first step, schedule a checkup
The common theme among the above conditions is that they are discoverable and treatable if men schedule a checkup with a doctor regularly. Men’s inherent bias to stay away from the doctor must be overcome, and the best way to do that is to find a doctor whom you can trust, talk to, and work with to improve your health. For many men, developing a good relationship with their doctor could quite literally save their lives.
Dr. Frank L. Urbano, MBA, FACP is senior medical director for AmeriHealth New Jersey.