Like me, you could be a father, brother, son, uncle, best friend, maybe even a grandpa, to someone who loves you. Now, put yourself in their place for a moment and imagine what their world would be like if they lost you. Sadly, many men – especially those 50 and over – lose their lives unnecessarily every year. Many of them have sudden heart attacks or succumb to illnesses because they ignored the symptoms and didn’t seek treatment.
In honor of Men’s Health Awareness Month this June; I’m going to give you a checklist of 6 crucial health areas that I hope you won’t ignore.
June is Men’s Health Month – Don’t Ignore Those Symptoms!
Like many men, you may have a fear of going to a doctor, don’t want to take time away from work, or think it’s “sissy” to complain of symptoms that may be bothering you. While the “big boys don’t cry” attitude might serve you well in some areas of your life – your health isn’t one of them.
Especially if you’re over age 50
Your health, as a man, is important at any age. But, hitting 50 is a milestone that should tell you to start paying more attention to those nagging symptoms and getting regular checkups. A man’s body at age 50 starts going through a lot of hormonal changes with decrease in testosterone that can trigger certain health conditions to develop.
And if you smoke, or have smoked a lot in the past, have a sedentary job, are overweight, don’t pay much attention to your nutrition, don’t sleep well, are under a lot of life stress, are depressed, your risks for catastrophic illness increases significantly.
As such, getting screened in the following areas can help determine where your health is right now and what improvements you need to make:
1. Your heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men of all ethnic groups in the United States affecting 1 in every 4 men. 70%-89% of sudden cardiac deaths occur in men according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Men often have symptoms of an impending heart attack for months previous but ignore them and don’t seek treatment. Such symptoms can include: Shortness of breath, jaw or arm pain/tingling, numbness, or just feeling like you have the flu with low grade nausea and fatigue.
Get screened for cholesterol and other cardiac disease markers with simple blood tests and blood pressure. Get screened for possible heart blockages with an echocardiogram – a painless ultrasound procedure done in your doctor’s office.
If you have a lot of life stress, get help for it, exercise more, and learn how to decompress. Chronic stress ups your cortisol levels, which can negatively affect your heart.
If you smoke, quit now – it’ll lead you to a fatal heart attack faster than anything else.
2. Diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to loss of vision, kidney failure, heart failure, pancreatitis, dementia, disabling nerve damage in feet. Type 2 diabetes is more common in men over age 50 and can be detected by a simple blood test. Catching diabetes early and starting treatment for it is key to preventing the –sometimes-fatal – complications from it.
3. Colon Cancer. Colon cancer is the #2 killer of American men over age 50. Many men neglect screening that can find early problems, like pre-cancerous polyps. These polyps can be removed at the time of colonoscopy before they turn cancerous.
Colon cancer has few symptoms that men also often overlook. They include change in bowel habits, blood in stool, pain. Ignoring symptoms can allow colon cancer to silently progress to an advanced stage where treatment and survival becomes difficult. Men 50 and over should be screened for colon cancer at least once every 5 years – sooner if you have a history of colon cancer in your family.
Eating a high fiber (20-25 grams), low animal/trans-fat, barbecue foods, processed meats, diet, drinking enough water, limiting alcohol, getting enough beta carotene, vitamin B6 and D can help prevent colon cancer.
4. Liver disease. If you received a blood product, transfusion, before 1992, or if you’ve ever used injectable drugs, you should be screened for Hepatitis C. This virus can silently attack your liver over years as it has no-little symptoms. It can cause liver cancer if allowed to advance which is almost always fatal without transplant. Men born between 1945 and 1965 are at highest risk. Screening is a simple blood test. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends getting screened at least once for it.
5. Obesity. If you’re age 50 and over, carrying around more weight than you should can significantly increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and even cancer. If your BMI (body mass index) is over 25, you’re overweight, over 30, morbidly obese. Even a 10% reduction in your weight can lower your risk for serious, life-threatening illnesses. Getting more exercise can offset weight gain as well.
6. Nutritional status. Many men ignore vital nutrition in return for foods they like. These often consist of too high animal fat foods, sugars and starches. As a result, your heart, brain, eyes, lungs, are likely operating at a deficit for crucial health-preserving antioxidants like Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, selenium, as well as many other supporting nutrients.
According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, the typical “meat and potatoes” guy is at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, vision damage and dementia. Limit starches to 1-2 servings a day and add more fruits and vegetables (6-8) servings a day. Take a good multivitamin/mineral supplement daily.
There you have it, six crucial areas that have far-reaching effects on a man’s health. So, this June, think of all those who love you. Get a long-needed check up and get yourself screened – even if you’re not having symptoms. If you are having symptoms, please swallow your manly pride and get to a doctor. There’s nothing “sissy” about saving your life to enjoy the rest of it with your loved ones.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Men and Heart Disease, http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_men_heart.htm
Colon Cancer, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/index.htm
Meat and Potatoes: Red Before You Eat, http://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/issues/2011-september/eatmeatpotatoescancer.html
Healthy Men, http://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/patient-involvement/healthy-men/healthy-men.html