Men’s Health: Prioritizing Wellness

| Posted On Jun 30, 2021 | By:

June is Men’s Health Month – an opportunity to raise awareness around the importance of prioritizing wellness and healthy habits. Over the past 16 months, many of us have put medical visits and routine care on the backburner. As we move into a new and brighter phase, this is a great time to check in with your own personal prevention and health maintenance plans and get back on track with your goals. Let’s take a moment to review some key health considerations for men and consider some actions to ensure ongoing wellness.

Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease

Cardiovascular disease describes a range of conditions that affect the heart. According to the American Heart Association, more than one in three adult men have some form of cardiovascular disease, and it is the leading cause of death. The good news is that many of the risk factors for heart disease are modifiable, which means that you can decrease your risk with some simple changes. These modifiable risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are “silent,” meaning that you wouldn’t know you have them without having them checked. High blood pressure puts stress on your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys, causing damage. Cholesterol causes plaque buildup, especially in areas of damage.  Add in some inflammation and arterial constriction from smoking, and you have the perfect environment for arterial disease.

Knowing your numbers is key. Ideal blood pressure is less than 120 over less than 80 for most men. Cholesterol levels include HDL, the “good” cholesterol, and LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. A healthy diet, a regular exercise routine, and some weight loss (if you are overweight) can raise your HDL and lower your LDL. A good HDL level is over 40, and a goal LDL level of less than 100 is considered the ideal for most, but those with certain conditions may have different targets. What are your numbers, and what are your targets?  If you don’t know, it might be time to check in with your provider.

Lung Disease

Lung diseases, such as COPD and lung cancer, are widespread medical conditions for men. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. COPD is typically caused by long-term exposure to certain toxins, especially those found in cigarette smoke. COPD also puts people at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, which is the most common form of cancer worldwide. When working with volatile chemicals or products, always be sure to work in well-ventilated areas use appropriate respirators.

According to the American Lung Association, more men are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, with smoking being the biggest risk factor. If you are concerned about your smoking habits, your Atrius Health provider can speak with you about sustainable ways to quit.

Did you know that another common and preventable cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon? According to the EPA, nearly 1 in every 15 homes has elevated radon levels. If you are buying or selling a home, be sure to have it tested for radon.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a common type of cancer that occurs in the prostate, a small walnut-shaped gland in the male body. Most prostate cancers grow slowly, making them treatable if detected early, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms. A few things put you at higher risk for developing prostate cancer, including your age, race/ethnicity, and family history. Did you know that a diet high in animal fat and low in vegetables increases your risk of prostate cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, you should discuss with your healthcare provider whether you should be screened for prostate cancer and what type of screening test you should have. Deciding whether or not to be tested involves reviewing the risks and benefits of testing with your provider.

Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer makes up 1% of all cancers in men, and it is the most common solid malignancy affecting males between the ages of 15 and 35. Those with a history of an undescended testicle are at increased risk for this type of tumor. It is one of the most curable solid cancers if it is detected and treated appropriately. Men may note a lump or painless swelling of one testicle as a sign of cancer. Doing regular self-exams is an important tool for detecting this.

Depression & Suicide (Mental Health)

The symptoms of depression in men and women can sometimes present differently. Depression in men can often be misperceived as anger or aggression. Men are also more likely to carry out suicide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the suicide rate among men was 3.7 times higher than among women in 2019.

Various societal pressures may deter men from seeking out mental health treatment. Along with being generally stigmatized, there may be feelings of shame and embarrassment. If you’re feeling depressed, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider or contact the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) to get the help you need. “Toughing it out” is not an effective strategy and puts further blame and guilt on the person who is suffering.

Skin Cancer

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, men are more likely than women to develop melanoma, the type of skin cancer that is more likely to spread to other parts of the body. By age 65, men are two times as likely as women of the same age to get melanoma. Some studies suggest that men may also be more impacted by basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, other skin cancers that are not as likely to spread but are still a cause for concern. This is true for a variety of reasons, with research suggesting that men may be less aware of important sun safety facts and may be less likely to apply sunscreen.

Beyond a trip to your primary care provider or a dermatologist, self-exams can help men detect skin cancer in its early stages. Make sure to inspect your skin regularly for irregular moles or freckles, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Follow the ABCDEFs when checking your skin – asymmetry, border, color, diameter, evolving, and “funny looking.”

Sexual Health

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) affect millions of people every year. The most common STIs in men include chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts, HPV, gonorrhea, HIV, and trichomoniasis. Many men may not know that they have an STI due to a lack of presenting symptoms, but they can still negatively impact your health even when you don’t exhibit any outward signs. For this reason, it’s essential to practice safe sexual practices and get tested regularly to prevent the risk of exposure and spread of infection.  For those with higher-risk sexual practices, there are medication options to consider that can help prevent HIV infection.

While symptoms of STIs vary and may not be present at all, you should talk to your provider if you experience pain or burning during urination, a need to urinate more often, pain during ejaculation, abnormal discharge, bumps, blisters, or sores. It’s essential to maintain an open dialogue with your provider to protect yourself and others.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Sexual orientation and gender identity can be uncomfortable topics for many men, especially when talking with their healthcare providers. Healthcare providers know that both of these topics are essential parts of a person, and understanding these aspects of a person helps providers in delivering better healthcare. Everyone has a right to receive care that is respectful and non-judgmental.   

Erectile Dysfunction

Many men experience erectile dysfunction (ED) from time to time. However, if it is a consistent problem, ED can negatively impact your mental health and relationships and could potentially be a sign of another health condition. It is important to note that many of the same risk factors for heart disease are risk factors for erectile dysfunction. This makes sense, considering erectile function is dependent upon vascular flow. There are various treatments available now that can improve erectile function, and your provider can help you review options.

Vaccinations

Everyone has been talking about the COVID vaccine; however, many other vaccines out there don’t get the attention they deserve. Flu, pneumonia, hepatitis, tetanus, pertussis, and shingles are just a few. Seeing a provider who can assess your risk factors and recommend vaccinations is a proactive step you can take today. Taking a trip somewhere soon now that travel is opening up again? Be sure to check if any travel vaccines are recommended.

Taking control of your health now is the best way to prevent serious health issues in the future and allows you to do the things you love. Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, stress, and sleep are all important in keeping the body healthy.

Regular physical examinations and preventive health screenings are vital in detecting early signs of various diseases and conditions, and your Atrius Health provider is here to support your health journey at every stage.

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About Nathan Samuels, DNP, MSN, ANP-BC

Nathan Samuels, DNP, MSN, ANP-BC, is a board-certified adult nurse practitioner and a PCP at Harvard Vanguard’s Beverly practice. Dr. Samuels received a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Brandeis University and earned both his master’s degree in nursing and doctoral degree in nursing practice from Simmons College in Boston, MA.

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