The Latest in Men’s Health

Atrial Fibrillation, Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Heart, Healthy Living, Power to the Patient
on June 12, 2012

June is Men’s Health Month, and June 11 to June 17 (which happens to be Father’s Day)—is National Men’s Health Week. The goal: To raise guys’ awareness of preventable health problems and encourage them to visit their doctor regularly. Face it: Guys don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to taking care of themselves. The American Academy of Family Physicians reported that 55 percent of men surveyed in 2007 had not had a health check-up during the previous year. Twenty-nine percent admitted that if they’re sick or in pain, they wait “as long as possible” before seeing a physician. This has to stop. Encourage the men in your life to be proactive about their health. To help start the conversation, we scoured the headlines to bring you some of the latest findings on men’s health issues—some scary, some helpful, some hopeful, all important.

Memory loss tops health worries.Canadian researchers recently shed light on the issues men are most concerned about as they age. After surveying more than 2,300 men ages 55 to 97, the researchers reported that 64 percent were worried about memory loss; an equal number said they were concerned being impaired physically. Sixty-three percent worried about medication side effects. Other top concerns were: loss of vision (61 percent); hearing loss (52 percent) and falling (51 percent).

A cocktail  (or two) adds years to your life. Men who have survived a first heart attack and drink in moderation reduce their overall risk of dying by 14 percent and their chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 42 percent, according to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The researchers defined moderate drinking as about two drinks per day: One drink consists of a four-ounce glass of wine; a bottle or can of beer; or a shot of spirits. Men who drank in moderation prior to their heart attacks and who continued the habit afterwards fared better as well.

Diabetes raises heart attack, stroke risk. If you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and need insulin, keep a close eye on your heart health. In another study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researchers found that men with no history of cardiovascular disease who meet these criteria have a 70 percent greater risk of experiencing a major cardiac problem such as heart attack or stroke over four years. By comparison, men who had cardiovascular disease prior to their diabetes diagnosis and insulin use have a lower risk for a cardiac event.

Men more likely to skip cancer screenings. More men than women die of cancer—that could be because their cancer screening rates are much lower than those of women, reports a study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health. While guys are as likely as women to believe that cancer screening is effective, about 41 percent of men have never been screened compared with just five percent of women. However when given specifics about what screening involves and who does it, men are more willing than women to be checked. Possible reasons men shy away from screening: fewer cancer awareness programs are targeted to men than women, and women tend to see their doctors more than men do.

The same study found that men are less willing than women to be checked for skin cancer. That dovetails with recent findings from an American Academy of Dermatology survey, which found that just 46 percent know how to do a skin self-check versus 59 percent of women. That’s worrisome because after age 40, rates of melanoma are almost twice as high in men than in women. What’s more, men don’t take sun protection seriously. The survey found that fewer than one-third of men always protect their skin when they venture into the sun compared with 43 percent of women. And 39 percent prefer not to worry about sun protection versus 28 percent of women.

Even slightly elevated blood pressure a cause for concern. Just because you don’t have high blood pressure—officially defined as 140/90 and above—doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. If your upper number (systolic) is 120 to 139 and your lower number (diastolic) is 80 to 89, you have what is called prehypertension, and you need to get those numbers down. The reason: Middle-aged men—ages 40 to 59—whose pressure is in the upper range of normal are at high risk for atrial fibrillation (AF) down the road, according to a study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association. AF, which affects nearly three million Americans, is characterized by irregular heartbeats that can cause stroke or other heart problems. In the study, men with a systolic reading of 140 or above had a 60 percent increased risk of developing AF compared to men with a normal systolic reading of less than 128. On the other hand, men whose systolic reading was in the 128 to 138 range upped their risk for AF by 50 percent. A diastolic reading of 80 or above increased AF risk by 79 percent compared with men whose diastolic reading was less than 80.

Just one soda per day raises heart disease risk. If sugar-laden drinks like soda, lemonade and fruit punch are your beverages of choice, be forewarned. Quaffing just one sugary drink per day can raise a man’s heart disease risk by 20 percent. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health report that men who consumed the sugary drinks had higher levels of triglycerides and C-reactive protein and lower levels of HDL cholesterol (the good type), all of which raise heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends that men get no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars (women should get no more than 100 calories per day). One teaspoon of sugar equals about 16 calories.

Repeat hospitalizations are higher in men. A study at Boston University Medical Center reports that within one month of being discharged from the hospital, men are more likely than women to need urgent care and be readmitted. This was despite the fact that the men were, on average, four years younger than the women and had more access to good health insurance. Some possible explanations why men fared so poorly: They were less likely than women to have a family physician and a social network. Being single or retired upped the risk of being readmitted to the hospital by 72 percent. Not seeing a family doctor raised risk by 64 percent.

New hope for bald guys. If your man is follicly challenged, he’s going to love this news: University of Pennsylvania researchers report that men with male-pattern baldness have an abnormal amount of a specific protein in bare scalp areas. Called Prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), the protein interferes with hair growth. The researchers analyzed scalp issue from balding and non-balding spots on men’s scalps and found that levels of PGD2 were three times as high in the bald tissue. Though more studies are needed, this finding could lead to new treatments for male pattern baldness.