It may seem confusing at first to see a blog written for women that has to do with Men's Health Month. Some of you are probably asking yourself "What does men's health have to do with me?" The answer is - plenty!
You see, men's health issues don't affect only men; they have a significant impact on everyone around them. And because women live longer than men, they all too often see their fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands suffer or die prematurely.
At this point, you might be thinking, "But I already do more than my share of the laundry, the cooking, and the childcare. Can't he do anything for himself?" Of course he can... but statistics show that there is a very good chance that, without some gentle pushing from you, he won't.
As we shared in our initial blog, more than half of premature deaths among men are preventable. By educating yourself about potential health problems men experience and then passing that information on to the men in your lives, you may be able to save theirs. And by encouraging these men to realize that even the smallest symptoms can sometimes be a sign of something much more serious that needs to be discussed with their doctors, you'll be helping them take a more active role in their own health care.
In this blog, we'll summarize potential warning signs and provide some basic tips on how to increase and safeguard the health of the men in your life. The first step is understanding why we're having this conversation in the first place.
IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM
In 1920, women outlived men by an average of one year. Today, that difference is more than five years. Why? There are many reasons, but mainly it's because men:
- Die younger—and in greater numbers—of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases
- Don't take care of themselves as well as women do
- Are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior
- Don't seek medical attention when they need it
- Are less likely than women to adopt preventive health measures
- Are less likely to have health insurance
- Are more likely to work in dangerous occupations
We often hear funny anecdotes about men getting lost because they refuse to ask for directions or look at a map. The same can be said about their personal healthcare. But unlike finding the right route to your destination, some health conditions, if ignored for too long, can result in tragic outcomes. In order to prevent this from happening, we need to take a proactive approach to identifying health issues before they become significant problems.
When a warning light flashes on the car dashboard, most men usually take the car to the shop or pop the hood and look for the problem themselves. But when 'warning lights' flash on their body, most men don't (or won't) notice (women - this is where you come in). Here are a few flashing lights you should look out for:
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits. This can be an indication of prostate or bladder problems. And blood in the urine is a common indicator of kidney problems. Does he get up five times a night to go to the bathroom? That could be a symptom of an enlarged prostate, a common condition among men as they get older.
- Persistent backaches, changes in the color of urine or stool, obvious changes in warts or moles, unusual lumps, recurrent chest pains or headaches, bleeding that won't stop, nagging cough, unexplained weight loss, and extreme fatigue can all be symptoms of other serious health problems.
- Depression. Although women may be more likely to attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to succeed. Because men are reluctant to ask for help and may try to hide their depression, you may recognize the symptoms sooner than he does. These may include acting overly anxious, having trouble sleeping, complaining of feeling sad or "empty" or helpless, engaging in unusually risky or reckless behavior, or losing interest in hobbies or other enjoyable activities.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
One of the most important rules to follow in healthcare is knowing when to call in the professionals. If you identify a symptom, get your man to the doctor immediately — and don't take 'no' for an answer. Even if there isn't anything out of the ordinary going on health-wise and he seems to be the picture of health, one of the most important steps you can take is to get your husband/fathers/sons into the habit of getting regular checkups. While the results of specific exams are important, they are not nearly as important as changes that occur over time. That is why consistent visits to the doctor are vital. Here's how you can help make that happen:
- Help him prepare. In the days and weeks before the visit, spend some time going over his family history (many diseases have family ties), keep track of any symptoms you're concerned about, and write down a list of questions he should ask.
- Check him out. Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that "self-exams" have to be done, well…by ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. Helping your man with his self-exams serves several purposes. First, it doubles the chances that his exams get done regularly and thoroughly. One common self-check you can help with is melanomas and other skin cancers. This is one that is especially important to help with, because while women get most of their skin cancers in places where they can more easily be spotted on their hands and face and below the dress line, men get most of theirs on their backs, where they are a lot harder to see.
- Prevention, prevention, prevention. Besides encouraging the men in your life to exercise, eat a high-fiber/low-fat diet, quit smoking, and do monthly self-exams, the most important step you can take is to get them into the habit of getting regular medical checkups. In future posts we will provide a chart of maintenance milestones that American men should follow throughout their lives to ensure good health.
We realize that these issues can sometimes be difficult to discuss—especially for your man, it is crucial that he understands that he must take even the smallest symptom seriously since it could indicate a more serious—or even life-threatening—condition. Ultimately, the goal of your role in all of this is to get the older men in your life to take better care of themselves and to get the next generation of men to start building good habits. These things sometimes take time, but even the smallest changes can bring big rewards.
If you don't have a family physician, Summit Medical Group has more than 300 providers in 66 locations that provide a wide range of tests and treatments for men's health issues. For information about our locations and services, visit www.summitmedical.com or call (865) 584-4747 or toll free: (800)-289-9545.