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American health crisis: men live sicker and die younger

By Kathy Hubbard

“There is a silent health crisis in America …it’s a fact that, on average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women.” This is a quote by David Gremillion, MD, Men’s Health Network. So you know his credentials, Dr. Gremillion is an expert on men’s health, infectious diseases, AIDS, and issues surrounding domestic violence and suicide. Dr. Gremillion is a past president of the Society of Air Force Physicians and a Special Advisor to the USAF Surgeon General.

Whew. That’s a lot of introduction to a man whose quote I wanted to use to open this discussion about men’s health, isn’t it? He says that men don’t take care of themselves as well as women do, which is why women typically outlive men.

“Men are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior and less likely than women to adopt preventive health measures. We’re also less likely to have health insurance, more likely to work in dangerous occupations, and often put off going to the doctor even when we really should go,” he said in an introduction to an informative book called Blueprint for Men’s Health by Armin Brott which you can download by going to www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/blueprint.

The sentence that really caught my eye was when he said that “more than half of premature deaths among men are preventable. But you can’t prevent a problem if you don’t know it exists.”

Healthgrades.com identifies the top six conditions that most commonly threaten men’s lives: heart disease, lung cancer, Parkinson’s disease, skin cancer, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). If you want the top ten, Healthline.com adds depression and suicide, accidental injuries, liver disease, and diabetes.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you that your lifestyle choices – smoking, drinking alcohol, not exercising, or not eating a balanced, healthy diet – affect your health. And, I’m pretty certain that you’ll put a blind eye to any advice I give you about those choices.

What I don’t want you to ignore is paying attention to your body! You know when it just isn’t functioning well. You’re short of breath after a short walk or going upstairs. You’re feeling fatigued. You’re feeling down in the dumps. You’re not interested in doing things you used to love to do (like having sex). You have pain, or an itch, or a headache, or gas. You feel sweaty and clammy. You name it.

Women live on average five years longer than men do because they are more apt to seek medical care. According to Brott’s book, “Men are half as likely to visit a doctor for a checkup as women are, and there are over seven million American men who haven’t seen a doctor in over ten years.” Are you one of them?

Brott says that there are a lot of reasons why men ignore obvious symptoms. It starts with the way you were brought up.

“As little boys, we’re taught not to cry, not to complain, and not to show any signs of weakness. We ignore our aches and pains and play through our injuries. In our twenties, we think we’re indestructible and see going to the doctor as a waste of time and money. In our thirties, we’re too busy with our career and family to go, and by the time we’re in our forties, we don’t go because we’re afraid of what we’ll find out or we don’t want to have a rectal exam (who does?),” Brott says.

I’ve said this before, and I firmly believe it: You are the star of your healthcare team. So think about it. Is it time to stop procrastinating? If you don’t have a primary care provider, find one. Bonner General Health’s Family Clinic’s number is 208-265-2221. Or, you can call around to see which other practices are taking new patients.

I hate to be a nag, but Brott gives me license to when he says to us women, “Even if he’s the picture of health, one of the most important steps you can take is to get your husband (and sons) into the habit of getting regular checkups.”

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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