In case you hadn’t noticed, men have a pretty lackadaisical attitude toward their health—an attitude that contributes to the fact that they’re more likely than women to die of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. And the situation is getting worse, with women outliving men by about 5 years.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The reality is that millions of premature deaths are preventable—but to accomplish that, men will have to make some changes in the way they run their lives. Unfortunately, far too many men aren’t terribly interested in modifying their behavior.
From the time they’re little, boys are brought up not to cry, complain, or show signs of weakness. In their 20s, they tend to believe that they’re going to live forever, and don’t bother to go to the doctor. In their 30s, they’re too busy with their jobs and their families. And starting at about 40, they don’t go because they’re afraid of what they’ll find out.
You too pay a price for men’s poor health: because women live longer, you may see your father, brother, uncle, son, or husband suffer or die unnecessarily, leaving you to live on without their love, support, and companionship.
Bottom line: men’s health has become a women’s issue. And here’s what you can do right now to improve the quality—and length—of the life of the men you love.
Because men often skip routine medical appointments many of them never learn that they have a deadly disease until it’s too late (they and their wives don’t know what signs to look for). When hearing the word “prostate,” for example, many men’s (and women’s) first reaction is “What’s that?” The prostate is a gland that’s about the size and shape of a walnut. It’s located in front of the rectum and manufactures fluid for semen. Over 160,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.
Caught early, through either a digital rectal exam (DRE) or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, this disease is nearly always curable. However, every year prostate cancer kills around 30,000 men—nearly the number of women who will die of breast cancer.
Testicular cancer is one of the one of the most common cancers in men ages 15 to 35 and, like prostate cancer, has a very high cure rate if caught early. But too few men know that they should examine their testicles monthly, and even fewer know how to do these exams.
Know the Warning Signs
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits. Does he get up 5 times a night to go to the bathroom? This can be an indication of bladder, colon or prostate problems.
- Blood in the urine. This can be a sign of severe kidney or other problems.
- Impotence/erectile dysfunction. An incredibly common—and potentially serious—condition that men generally fail to discuss with their doctors. More than half the time, impotence is the result of a physical problem: atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, or low testosterone levels. So if you want to make love and your husband says that he has a headache, pay attention because it might be an indication of something more serious.
- Persistent backaches, changes in the color of urine or stool, obvious changes in warts or moles, recurrent chest pains or headaches, bleeding that won’t stop, nagging cough, unexplained weight loss, and extreme fatigue. Any of these may signal a serious health problem. Insist that your partner get to the doctor immediately–and don’t take no for an answer.
Check Him Out
Somewhere along the line we got the idea that self-exams had to be done, well, by ourselves. Yet, there’s no reason why he can’t help you with your monthly breast exams or you with his testicular exams.
While you’re at it, do a head-to-toe skin cancer check on one another. Women tend to get skin cancers on their hands, face and legs; men get them on their backs, where they can’t see them.
Get Him to the Doctor
One of the most important steps you can take is to get your husband (and sons) into the habit of regular check-ups. Changes over time are key in assessing health. Give him a chance to make his own appointments, but if he won’t, do it yourself. And don’t worry, you won’t be alone. Doctors I’ve interviewed tell me that at least 25% of the appointments for male patients are made by women.
A week or so before his physical (if it’s his first in a while or with a new doctor), go over his family medical history, note any symptoms you or he are worried about, and encourage him to write down a list of questions he will want to ask the doctor.
Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
This probably won’t come as a big surprise to you but the 3 most effective things you can do for your husband (and for yourself, for that matter) are to put him on a low-fat, high-fiber diet, help him get regular exercise, and get him to quit smoking (if he currently smokes, of course). These steps can drastically reduce the chances that he’ll succumb to the leading causes of death: heart and pulmonary diseases, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
Remember, the goal of taking a more active role in men’s health care is to get your husband to take better care of himself, and to get the next generation of men to start building good habits. These things take time. But with each small change you’ll improve the quality and increase the length of the life you have with the men you love.