Seven in 10 men would rather do house chores than go to the doctor, according to a recent survey by the Cleveland Clinic. But men who skip annual exams or put off discussing a health concern may want to rethink their health and wellness approach — especially when it comes to health issues that affect more men than women or affect them differently. This includes heart disease, skin cancer and even gout, which is a very painful form of arthritis.
“Certain conditions tend to affect men more frequently than women, and they may also exhibit different symptoms,” says Luigi Simone, MD, a primary care physician at Scripps Clinic Encinitas. “Checkups can help catch health issues early before they can develop into something worse.”
Some conditions that affect men more than women — such as color blindness — are benign and can easily be dealt with. Color blindness is not a form of blindness, but a deficiency in the way you see certain colors.
Most people who are color blind are able to adapt without a problem. Heart disease and melanoma — the deadliest skin cancer — are a different story because they can be life-threatening. Gout can also lead to more severe problems, especially if left untreated.
Heart disease — which includes coronary artery disease and heart attack — is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, accounting for more than 600,000 deaths annually or one in every four deaths in the country. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2015 were in men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While anyone can develop heart disease, it tends to develop earlier in men than in women.
“Your doctor can perform several tests to diagnose heart disease,” says Dr. Simone. “You can also take several steps to reduce your risk, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and preventing or treating any health condition that puts you at risk.”
High blood pressure, high LDL or “bad” cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors, according to the CDC.
Other risk factors include medical conditions — such as diabetes — and lifestyle choices, such as obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol.
Melanoma is much less common than other types of skin cancer, but it is considered the most dangerous as it is more likely to grow and spread if not caught early and treated. According to the American Cancer Society, men have a higher rate of melanoma than women overall, although this varies by age. After age 50, the risk is higher for men.
In 2019 about 96,480 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed, about 57,220 in men and 39,260 in women, according to the American Cancer Society. About 7,230 are expected to die of melanoma — about 4,740 men and 2,490 women.
In addition, while melanoma is more likely to occur in older people, it is also found in younger people. In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30.
Your risk of melanoma is also higher if one or more of your first-degree relatives (patents, brothers, sisters or children) has had melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society, around 10 percent of all people with melanoma have a family history of the disease.
All first-degree relatives of patients with melanoma should have a total body skin exam at least once a year with their doctor, according to Dr. Simone.
Gout — a type of inflammatory arthritis — strikes men more often than women. Men are also more likely to develop gout at an earlier age than women — between the ages of 30 and 50.
Gout occurs where there is too much uric acid in the body, which allows uric acid crystals to build up in joints, fluids and tissues. The body makes uric acid when it breaks down purines, which are found naturally in the body and in foods that we eat. Gout occurs more often in men, mainly because women tend to have lower uric acid levels.
Gout attacks center most often in the big toe, but can also affect the foot, ankle and knee. Without treatment, attacks can continue, and over time the excess uric acid may cause long-term damage.
Being obese is a risk factor for gout along with having certain health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and congestive heart failure. Lifestyle matters too and include drinking alcohol, consuming foods and drinks that are high in fructose (a type of sugar), and a diet high in purines, such as red meat, organ meat and certain seafood, including anchovies, sardine and scallops.
Gout can be treated with dietary changes and medications. “You can help prevent future gout attacks by drinking plenty of fluids and limiting sweetened and alcoholic beverages, limiting certain foods that are high in purines and maintaining a healthy body weight,” says Dr. Simone.
“The signs and symptoms of gout can look like those other inflammatory diseases, which is why it’s important to see a doctor who can make an early diagnosis and recommend any necessary treatment,” he says.
If you can’t remember the last time you went to see your doctor, it’s probably been too long. People often pass on going to a doctor until they get sick, meaning the visit focuses on treating an illness instead of offering preventive care, such as screenings.
The Cleveland Clinic survey of 1,174 men revealed some of the reasons why many avoid going to the doctor or fail to disclose a health concern when they do. Only half of the men surveyed considered getting an annual checkup a part of taking care of themselves. Those who said they were not always completely honest with their doctor said they were embarrassed or didn’t want to hear that they needed to change their lifestyle or something was wrong but weren’t ready to face the diagnosis.
“Generally, women are more in tune with health issues and learn from a young age to receive regular check-ups,” says Dr, Simone. “Men learn something different and generally don’t seek care until there is an issue. It’s the ‘I feel fine, must be fine’ mentality.”
According to the survey, 41 percent of men were told as children that men don’t complain about health issues.
“It’s important for men to overcome any barrier that is keeping them from engaging in preventive care,” Dr. Simone says. “Denying there are health problems leaves the potential for long-term, detrimental health issues.”