The health of American men — or lack thereof — is in need of more attention. Men live an average of 4.8 years less than women and die more frequently from the top 10 causes of death.
The reason behind men’s poor health outcomes is not simply a matter of biology. For one thing, men are more likely to engage in riskier behaviors like smoking and drinking alcohol. They are also less inclined to visit primary care providers such as physicians or family nurse practitioners (FNPs) who can deliver preventive care and education. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that women are 100 percent more likely than men to get yearly checkups and preventive services. Some experts also believe that men are socially conditioned not to ask for help, for fear of appearing “weak” or reliant upon others.
Although there’s no quick fix for minimizing gender health disparities, creating awareness and discussions around preventable health problems in men is a good place to start. This involves talking more about physical and mental health at home, within the community, and in the clinical setting. FNPs and other health care professionals should be armed with a solid knowledge of the health risks facing men as well as preventive care strategies that can lead to early detection and timely treatment.
Below is an overview of the recommended screenings for men according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:
High cholesterol: Men 35 and older should have their blood cholesterol levels checked regularly. These screenings should start at age 20 for men with certain risk factors, such as obesity or history of heart disease.
High blood pressure: This should be checked a minimum of every two years, as high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, strokes, and kidney issues.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm: Men between 65 and 75 or those who have ever smoked should get screened once for AAA. This type of aneurysm can burst, leading to potentially deadly internal bleeding.
Diabetes: Any men with high blood pressure or who are taking medication for high blood pressure should be screened for diabetes.
Colon cancer: Men should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. Those with a family history of the disease may need to be screened earlier.
Lung cancer: Men between 55 and 80 with a current habit or history of smoking should be screened for lung cancer.
Depression: Men of any age who have experienced feelings of sadness or hopelessness or who have lost pleasure in life's activities should be screened for depression.
Hepatitis C: A one-time test for this virus is suggested if a man:
Received a blood transfusion prior to 1992.
Is or ever was an injection drug user.
Was born between 1945 and 1965.
HIV: All men under age 65 should be tested for HIV. Those who are older are advised to speak to their primary care provider about whether they should be screened.
Men may also benefit from regular BMI (body mass index) checks. Those with a score of 30 or higher should speak to their provider about lifestyle changes (e.g. diet and exercise) that can promote healthy weight loss. Immunizations are important as well; men of all ages should receive an annual flu shot as well as vaccinations against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. Older men are advised to get immunized against shingles and pneumonia.
Improving health for males in America is not strictly a men's issue. Partners, friends, family, and colleagues should encourage the men in their lives to adhere to healthy practices such as not smoking and getting annual physical checkups. FNPs and other primary health care providers can do their part by understanding gender-specific risks and empowering male patients to take charge of their health and wellness.
If we are to lower the rate of preventable deaths in men, taking a greater collective interest in their health is paramount. Not just during Men’s Health Month, but all year long.