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Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD
The average life expectancy for men in the United States is 76 years old, five years less than for women. Why is this?
There is a joke about a man who goes to the doctor because of problems with his vision. “I see spots,” he tells the receptionist. She queries “Have you ever seen a doctor?” “No,” he responds, just the spots.” While this may evoke a chuckle, it also hits close to home. According to the CDC, women are 100% more likely to engage in annual physicals and health screenings. Additional reasons for the mortality discrepancies include: men, in general, tend to take bigger risks, are more likely to have dangerous jobs, are less socially connected (loneliness is as hazardous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day), die of heart disease more frequently and at younger ages and die by suicide more often than women.
What is taking men’s lives? According to the Center for Disease Control, the top eight leading causes of death for males in the United States are:
Fortunately, there is much men can do to enhance their health and live longer. And, because it is Men’s Health Month, we wanted to explore the top eight causes of death among men, as well as what can be done to stop or limit early mortality.
#1 Heart Disease
When it comes to heart disease, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is the number one killer of men (and women) in the United States. The good news is that a significant proportion of cardiovascular illness can be prevented or lessened.
What’s going on
Coronary artery disease can develop when the arteries supplying blood to the heart become hardened or narrowed, reducing blood flow and subsequent oxygen, to the heart. This can result in a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain as well as lesser known physical manifestations such as shortness of breath, jaw or neck pain, unexplained fatigue and nausea or cold sweats.
What to do
According to the American Heart Association, men usually develop heart disease 10-15 years earlier than women. And so, it is vital that males of all ages take steps to cultivate a healthier heart. The top three ways to prevent heart disease are:
Cancer accounts for almost 22% of all deaths for men.
The top three causes of cancer deaths in men are:
When it comes to lung cancer, the majority of those who develop this malignancy smoke. As such, the best way to prevent it is to not smoke or quit smoking. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine study found those who quit before age 40 reduced their risk of death from smoking by 90 percent.
For the latter two types of cancer listed, early detection is key. That means it is vital that you have regular checkups with your primary care provider to get screened and tested.
#3 Unintentional Injuries
Accidents are actually the leading cause of death in men until they are 45 years old.
When it comes to death by unintentional injuries, the biggest culprits are motor vehicle accidents and drug overdoses. What’s more, men are almost 50% more likely to die from a fall as compared to women.
When it comes to car accidents, the easiest way to prevent death is to be alert while driving. That means not drinking and driving (use ride sharing services liberally), as well as making sure you get your sleep and stay off your phone. According to AAA, “research shows that getting less than five hours sleep is the same as driving drunk.” Distracted driving caused by texting or being on the phone can also be deadly.
Drug overdoses can be prevented by not abusing drugs. Drug abuse tends to be related to depression, anxiety and stress, so take steps to address your mental well-being. Getting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength.
#4 Chronic lower respiratory diseases
Chronic lower respiratory disease includes lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (often called COPD).
These disease processes result in reduced airflow, impairing breathing and preventing a healthy amount of oxygen from being delivered throughout the body. The major culprits causing lung issues are smoke, air pollution and chemicals.
If you smoke, stop immediately. And stay away from second-hand smoke, which can also contribute to lung diseases.
Living in an environment without air pollution is ideal, but if you cannot, consider using an air purifier to help your lungs.
Chemicals that can cause problems with your lungs include those with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s can be found in many substances associated with industrial labor, such as exhaust from vehicles, paint and construction materials. Increase ventilation or wear a mask if you are exposed to VOC’s.
A stroke, also called a cerebrovascular accident, occurs when there is an interruption to the blood flow in the brain.
A stroke is caused by a blood clot or rupturing of a blood vessel. The symptoms depend on where the stoke takes place in the brain and can include slurred speech, numbness or paralysis on one side and severe headaches. Risk factors include genetics, excessive body fat, diabetes and smoking.
The best thing you can do to prevent stroke is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, refrain from smoking and eat a healthy diet. Also, because early intervention is vital, know the symptoms of a stroke. Facial droop, difficulties moving an arm or leg and problems with speech can be indicators that something is wrong. If you or a loved one experiences any of these, call 911 immediately.
Diabetes is a condition where the body has problems with insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (or blood sugar).
When blood sugars are not properly regulated, organs can be damaged and ultimately fail to function. Symptoms can include excessive urination and thirst.
There are two types of diabetes. In type 1, which is believed to be caused by auto-immune factors, the body has a deficiency of insulin. In type 2 the body has an inability to use insulin. Over 95% of people with diabetes have type 2. And the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes are obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, a family history of diabetes and high blood pressure.
If you have diabetes, be fastidious about checking your blood sugar levels.
Given the high-risk factors, the best way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to exercise, eat a healthful diet, maintain a healthy weight and address any elevation in blood pressure. Because high blood sugars can often go undetected, if you have any of the risk factors, it is important that you get a blood screening from your healthcare provider.
#7 Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that results in decreased cognitive functioning.
Alzheimer’s disease destroys the connections among nerve cells in the brain, causing problems in thinking (such as dementia) and eventually moving (such as the ability to feed oneself and swallow). Symptoms can include memory loss, problems planning and solving problems and confusion.
The disease itself does not cause death but the complications from declines in brain functioning (such as infections) can be lethal. Risk factors for developing this disorder include age, genetics and ailments that can cause cardiovascular damage such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.
What to do
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis can allow for prompt use of approved medications to help with cognitive decline.
What’s more, addressing modifiable risk factors may help. So that means: achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Men die from suicide 3.5 times more than women because of their increased likelihood to use more fatal means, such as firearms.
Depression is a significant risk factor for suicide. And, for many men, depression often goes undiagnosed. They may deny or suppressed classic symptoms of depression, such as intense sadness or not enjoying activities they used to enjoy. Common symptoms of depression for men (that often go undiagnosed) include: physical pain (especially in the back and/or headaches), sexual problems, problems sleeping, anger, substance abuse and reckless behavior.
More than depression, the biggest predictor of suicide is hopelessness or the belief that things will never get better.
If you are having any thoughts at all about hurting yourself or ending your life, please seek help immediately. You do not have to go through this alone. Reaching out for assistance can take a lot of strength and courage. In addition to 911, there are numerous resources including the 24/7 Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
Hope is actually a skill that people can learn. What’s more, learning strong coping skills can help combat depression. For a limited time, Online-Therapy is offering free training to help treat depression. Invest some time into helping yourself now. You will benefit not only in the present, but also in the future from having those skills.
A Final Note
Regardless of the ailment, it is important to remember that stress plays an integral role in illness. In fact, research demonstrates that stress causes or worsens over 90% of all illness. So, managing your stress can be a pivotal step to address these and many other health issues. Don’t know where to start? Try going for a walk, taking some deep breaths, doing a relaxation training or spending time in nature.
Take control of your health so you can live a longer and healthier life. You- and your loved ones- deserve it!
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She has partnered with Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.
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