We live in a culture that doesn’t exactly encourage male vulnerability, and that may be negatively impacting men’s health. Sitting in a doctor’s office is a vulnerable moment for anyone. Men are more likely to avoid it than women, however—a recent survey showed 65% of men put off any doctor’s visit as long as possible, and physicians commonly point to fear as a reason so many men stay away.
Not knowing what’s causing symptoms may feel much more comfortable than learning something scary, but that’s self-defeating. Unaddressed symptoms don’t always “just go away”; they often become much more dire—and unnecessarily. Putting off that office visit doesn’t keep what’s wrong from causing harm.
Because June is Men’s Health Awareness Month, we’re detailing a few important points in hopes of encouraging more men to take their health in hand.
Early attention brings better results
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States. It doesn’t come out of nowhere: Lifestyle factors are a big part of heart disease for most people who experience it. It could be years of suboptimal diet and lack of exercise that build up to the event that takes a person out of denial. Or it could just be a doctor’s visit wherein you learn that certain signs already exist and you can address them with small changes.
That’s one example of many. A significant number of chronic diseases Americans face can be addressed with behavioral shifts. And for conditions that can’t be corrected with lifestyle changes, it’s often the case that early detection leads to much better results. Either way, you have good reason to get into your doctor.
Men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure
And here’s the even scarier part of that: You can have very high blood pressure without having symptoms, which is why getting in for regular checkups is so important. There’s good reason your doctor puts that cuff on your arm every visit.
High blood pressure typically can be controlled, and if it isn’t, it leads to bigger problems, like heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly half of American adults. Annually, it contributes to about a half million deaths. It’s also controllable—often with simple lifestyle changes, like more activity. A walk into your doc’s office is a good start.
You can have prostate cancer without having symptoms
Prostate cancer not only is one of the most common cancers for men, with one in nine men afflicted, it’s also one of the stealthiest cancers. Many men have no idea they have it, in part because so many of the symptoms—frequent urination, weak or interrupted flow of urine, erectile dysfunction, pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs—can be mistaken for other conditions.
A man whose brother or father had prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop prostate cancer, but heredity isn’t the only risk factor. And although some forms of prostate cancer are slow-growing, others aren’t. Which means regular checkups where a physician can identify risk factors or symptoms you might not have really noticed can make a big difference in how treatable prostate cancer is.
Men have been outlived by women for centuries.
The longevity gap is complicated. A lot of factors go into why women live longer than men—and how men take care of themselves, including how often they seek medical attention, is definitely among them. Men take more risks, which means they also have more accidents. Men also are more likely to have unhealthy habits, like heavy drinking, smoking, and substance abuse, and they’re also more likely to avoid exercise but seek unhealthy food.
All that adds up to a greater chance for all kinds of dangerous health conditions. Throw in the fact that men tend to want to “wait out” symptoms when they arise, and you have a hearty stew of health risks. That doesn’t have to be overwhelming—making small lifestyle changes not only helps reduce risk, it’s the surest way to shift your habits. The first step is the toughest one—literally and figuratively. Make the appointment, and you’re halfway there.