|Lifestyle diseases — the main killers of men|
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter
Published: Jun 12, 2012
Ensuring that you are in good health is not only for your sake, but also for the sake of the people you love. This is what medical professionals hoped men would remember as Men’s Health Awareness Week is celebrated to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.
Men’s Health Awareness Week will be celebrated Monday, June 11 - Sunday, June 17 under the theme “Awareness. Prevention. Education. Family.”
And Dr. Patrick Whitfield, general practitioner who practices out of Oxford Medical Center encourages men of every age, race and socio-economic status to take charge of their health and have the necessary tests recommended by medical professionals to ensure their good health.
“Men need to stop looking at taking care of their health as something not a part of the masculine image. Knowing what is going on in your body is of utmost importance not only for you, but for your family’s sake,” said Dr. Whitfield.
“One of the top reasons men should want to know where they stand healthwise is that about 70 percent of the leading causes of death across the board are caused by preventable diseases,” said the doctor. “This means if you had been doing the recommended checkups on time, a doctor would have been able to detect a problem, intervened early and possibly saved your life. If it’s too unmasculine to get yourself checked out regularly and you become ill, the disease can interfere with your ability to provide for your family and where will you be then? If you get really sick and you can’t work as well, it can further threaten the financial stability of your family and cause unnecessary physical, emotional and financial stress.”
Dr. Whitfield said men should start doing health checkups from as early as their 20s.
Men of all ages tend to place more value on material things than their health. With a car they will ensure that it is serviced like clockwork — not wait until there is a serious problem to attend to it. They ensure that their car is clean and in perfect working condition. It is with this same vigilance that men should approach their health said the physician. He said as early as age 20. Men should be aiming to take the necessary tests to maintain their health.
“Just getting an annual physical is a small, but significant building block in one’s health management plan,” said Dr. Whitfield. “Although much major screenings take place after a man turns 40 years old, there are some that they should take regularly in their 20s and 30s.”
In younger men, most doctors aim to help them manage their lifestyle choices like eating, drinking, smoking, road safety and anger management. The annual check up should consist of reading the cholesterol, checking blood pressure and blood sugar levels. They will also be weighed to see where their Body Mass Index (BMI) lies and whether he is at an ideal weight. Depending on the results, the doctor would recommend proper diet solutions and an exercise regimen.
According to Dr. Whitfield, small lifestyle changes made in their 20s will do wonders for men down the line.
“As a young man it is easy to see the world ahead of you and time stretching onward, but that does not mean you should neglect your health assuming you have time to get in shape or eat better. Whether you have a fast metabolism or not, it is not a good idea to binge on bad foods.”
Poor health practices he said would reflect on men in later years. A slightly elevated blood pressure that is not monitored or managed he said could get out of control in five to 10 years time. A high blood sugar level that you never knew about he said could quickly become diabetes over time, if changes aren’t made to the diet. And he said high cholesterol could eventually lead to heart problems among other problems if not monitored in more youthful days.
“So really, the small things do matter — even at this age,” said Dr. Whitfield.
He also said sexually active young men should be safe in their practices, as many young men tend to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases more so than lifestyle illnesses.
“Keeping on top of one’s sexual health by regularly doing blood tests will keep the young man aware of illnesses he can contract so he can deal with them as soon as possible.”
The medical professional said a major problem they see with young men is trauma and that they more than any other age group suffer from bodily harm from car accidents and violence among themselves. Dr. Whitfield said medical professionals find themselves giving advice on how to lessen the risk by advising young men to wear seatbelts while driving a car, and wearing a helmet while on a motorbike. He also said anger management, if the young man tends to get into fights, is something they can discuss.
“These may not be direct medical problems but being on top of these things keeps the body healthy and strong.”
Young men contemplating marriage he said are encouraged to get tested for common hereditary conditions like sickle cell anemia.
“Knowing what they are getting into and what chances their potential children will have of inheriting an ailment is essential for responsible family planning,” he said.
Men in their 40s
Once a man is in his 40s, more specified screenings become increasingly important. Tests for things like prostate cancer become essential, but many men are afraid to take the exam needed to test for the cancer. Dr. Whitfield said that the digital examination most men find invasive can be done virtually now.
“Men can also opt to take a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test which was the normal test physicians would use along with the digital test. This test however is under debate by many medical professionals as the results gotten from the test are not always correct since there are many factors that could give a false positive. As a result, most physicians will sit men in this age group down and explain about the test’s pros and cons and allow them to make a decision as to whether they want to do it or not.”
Another cancer doctors will also check for is testicular cancer. It is done manually and while a little uncomfortable, Dr. Whitfield said the exam can prevent a painful experience with cancer if anomalies are found and treated. Testicular cancer is rare, but occurs most commonly in men between the age of 20 and 54.
During the 40s the doctor said the regular tests like blood sugar, cholesterol and hypertension should also still be consistently done.
Hitting the 50 milestone and beyond
When a man reaches the age of 50, checking for colon cancer should be added to the list of annual tests, if not already started, due to family history, according to Dr. Whitfield. He said the best way to check for colon cancer is by having a colonoscopy or a CT (computed tomography) scan done.
During these years, Dr. Whitfield said men should also be aware of their increased risk for heart disease and strokes — diseases that kill men more so than accidents or even homicide.
“Men in this country don’t die from everyday publicized problems like murder and violence. Rather their main killers are lifestyle diseases. They don’t keep up with their health and by their 50s or sometimes sooner it catches up with them. If 100 men died due to homicide multiply that 10 more times for the number of men who die from heart disease or stroke. Not taking care of oneself in your youth will be detrimental in old age.”
As men get older, the doctor said the problems turn to things like arthritis, and loss of eyesight, but he said they should not let unnatural symptoms go unchecked because just like an old car that can still run well as long as it gets a little more care and attention an older body needs just as much consistent vigilance and treatment.
Men’s health awareness
Although men’s health awareness is globally recognized as a week-long event, in The Bahamas, health officials are encouraging people to celebrate it for the entire month of June. People are also encouraged to wear blue. And to take their support a step further by raising funds for men’s health organizations in their communities.
Dr. Whitfield also suggests that rather than buying the cards, neckties or tools men are usually given for Father’s Day to give the gift of health to your father by making appointments with their physician for a check up.
“Men tend to die almost a decade sooner than women and this doesn’t have to be,” said Dr. Whitfield. “We want to see our men doing better healthwise in years to come and the only way to do that is through preventative measures like healthier eating habits, regular exercise and doctor visits. So I encourage men to take charge of their health this month so they can be around for their families in years to come. After all, it is important to be a good example for young men to see that being a man is just as much about being able to take care of one’s family as it is about taking care of oneself,” he said.
While he admitted men tend to be a lot more shy about visiting a physician on their own, the doctor urged the women in their lives to help them see what they should be doing to promote their good health.
“Young men tend to know the status of their bank accounts or their cars, but they know little about their body’s health. They are too relaxed about their health because they can depend on science and medicine to correct or treat the problem, but they need to see that none of the stresses of pill-taking, operations or physical therapies that can come with treating an illness after the fact is even necessary if they take preventative measures. And to start it all off, just getting your annual physical is a small, but significant building block in one’s health maintenance plan,” he said.