Take charge of your health by knowing the most common health problems men face and the preventive measures you can take to reduce your risks. Below are the top five men’s health threats, provided by the Mayo Clinic. Often, these problems are preventable.
“Heart attack is the second most common killer after motor vehicle accidents in men between 35–44 years old and is the first most common killer in men ages 45–54 years old.” — Dr. Shashi Mittal of Addison Family Medicine
Perhaps the most frequent question cardiologists hear is, “What is the best test to determine my risk of heart disease?”
Dr. James Rellas, with HeartFirst Cardiology, says there are two tests. The first is a coronary artery calcium score (CACS).
“The most important screening is a [CACS]. This 10-second (minimal radiation) CT [scan] of the heart is considered the best screening test for identifying risk for heart disease,” he says. “A CACS will determine if you have calcified, hard plaque in your heart arteries. Patients with a CACS over 100 need aggressive treatment, whereas patients with a score of zero have a very low chance of having a heart attack and rarely need to take cholesterol-lowering medications.”
The second test is a simple cholesterol level screening. “The number of cholesterol particles is key to identifying patients at risk,” he says.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. For men above 45 years old, taking a baby aspirin daily is a common preventive approach. For all ages, a healthy diet is key. Dr. Rellas recommends eating more whole grains, vegetables and fruits; choosing low-fat dairy; eating fish at least twice a week; and limiting your salt intake. Finally, exercising at least 30 minutes a day will strengthen your heart.
“You will reap big rewards from small adjustments in your lifestyle,” Rellas says.
Common cancers among men include testicular, prostate and colorectal cancer. Men should receive a physical every year to uncover any signs of disease the body may hide. An annual testicular exam should be performed as early as the teen years. Screenings for prostate and colon cancers can wait.
Dr. Shashi Mittal, with Addison Family Medicine, says, “Prostate cancer screening is recommended at 50 years in most men. However, start screening for prostate cancer at 40 years in men with a strong family history of prostate cancer and above 45 in those who are at higher risk, which includes African Americans.”
Colon cancer screenings are also important for men between the ages of 40–45. Cooper Clinic’s Dr. Michael Chapman says, “If you have a first-degree relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, start screening approximately 10 years before they were diagnosed.”
How else can you decrease your risks? “Vitamin D,” answers Dr. Chapman. “Vitamin D is important for reducing your risk of colon and prostate cancer (as well as heart disease).”
While it is important to consult your doctor for regular cancer screenings, self-examinations are equally important. Men should make it a habit to routinely check their bodies for abnormal lumps.
Dr. Chapman adds, “Regular exercise can also help improve quality—not just longevity—of life. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly live longer and have a lower risk of death from cancer and heart disease compared with those who do not exercise regularly.”
Finally, avoid excessive alcohol and any type of tobacco. Tobacco puts you on a collision course with all types of cancer.
CHRONIC LOWER RESPIRATORY DISEASES
Chronic lung conditions, like bronchitis and emphysema, are other common health concerns among men. To protect your respiratory health, don’t smoke. “If you smoke, stop,” warns Dr. Rellas. “Enough cannot be said about the negative effects on the body.” Also, avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, and steer clear of chemicals and outdoor air pollutants.
Men are at higher risk than women for having a stroke. The incidence of stroke is about twice as high in African Americans and Hispanics as in Caucasians. An important risk factor for African Americans is sickle cell disease, which can cause a narrowing of the arteries, disrupting blood flow.
Signs of stroke include a sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body); sudden trouble talking, seeing or walking; and a sudden severe headache. When the warning signs last only a few seconds and then disappear, your body is signaling for help. These brief episodes, known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), are called “mini-strokes.”
While some risk factors for stroke are out of your control—family history, age and race—there are some preventive measures to remember. Again, don’t smoke. Smoking has been linked to the buildup of fatty substances in the carotid artery, the main artery in the neck that supplies blood to the brain. Blockage of this artery is the leading cause of stroke in Americans.
Second, manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. High blood pressure is the most potent risk factor for stroke. To bring your blood pressure down to a normal range, cut down on salt and eat fruits and vegetables to boost the potassium in your diet.
“According to recent estimates, approximately one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure,” says Dr. Jamal Lone, with Methodist Hospital for Surgery, “but because there are no symptoms, nearly one-third of these people don’t know they have high blood pressure.”
If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.
TYPE 2 DIABETES
Type 2 diabetes—the most common type of diabetes—affects the way your body uses glucose (blood sugar). Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to heart disease, eye problems, nerve damage and other complications.
“Men who are symptomatic and those who are asymptomatic but have high blood pressure should be screened for diabetes,” says Dr. Mittal.
To prevent type 2 diabetes, eat a healthy diet and exercise. If you’re overweight, lose the excess pounds. Dr. Lone says, “Being overweight or obese is damaging to your health. Excess weight increases the chances of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, in addition to a host of other health problems.”
“Men in their 20s and 30s should focus on more aerobic exercise (75%) than strength training (25%). As you age, you should increase strength training. Men in their 70s should spend equal amounts of time on aerobic exercise and strength training.”
— Dr. Michael Chapman, Cooper Clinic Platinum
The only way to reduce your risks and avoid these common health problems is to take action: Eat a healthy diet, exercise, don’t smoke and schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Prevention is powerful. Prevention may save your life.
-By Britney Mott