Health risks every man should know about - from heart disease to depression

Health risks every man should know about - from heart disease to depression

When it comes to the health of the nation’s menfolk, the ­statistics don’t make for happy reading. Shockingly, one man in five in the UK dies before 65, while 75% of deaths from heart disease are male, and 67% of men are overweight or obese. Middle-aged men are also twice as likely to have diabetes as women and have a 37% higher risk of dying from cancer. The story is the same for mental health, with 76% of suicides being male. “Men’s health still isn’t as good as it could be, but at least some of the answers are in our hands,” says Martin Todd, chief executive of charity Men’s Health Forum. “We’re likely to smoke and drink more than women and that definitely ­contributes to men dying younger. "And, too often, the pressures of work mean we don’t get our health checked or ask for help early enough. “When it comes to mental health we need to ask each other if we’re OK, and support friends who need to get help,” says Martin. But it’s not all doom. He adds: “We can also do more of what we’re good at – men, for instance, are more likely to take up sports.” Here are the top health risks and how to take control of them... Lifestyle plays a key role in prevention and slowing the progression of heart disease. “Understand your risk factors, such as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, being overweight and smoking, which can all increase the likelihood of a heart attack,” says Ashleigh Doggett, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. Get your blood pressure and cholesterol tested, stay a healthy weight and don’t ignore chest pains. If you’re aged 40 to 74, you’re entitled to a free health MOT on the NHS (visit nhs.uk for info). Don’t smoke – it causes fatty deposits in the coronary arteries – and cut back on salt and cholesterol-raising saturated fats (foods like butter, cream, cheese, cakes and pastries.) Get active – even 10-minute bursts of brisk walking can have a positive effect on heart health. For more info, visit bhf.org.uk “Some 67% of men are overweight or obese and that’s a prominent risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Men tend to store weight around their middle and this affects insulin sensitivity,” explains Emma Elvin, senior clinical adviser for Diabetes UK. Signs include going to the loo more at night, blurred vision, feeling thirsty and tired. Diabetes can lead to other serious issues. “If men reduce their weight, eat a balanced diet and become more active it will reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and can even reverse the condition,” says Emma. To check your BMI, visit nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Healthyweightcalculator.aspx To help calculate your risk, visit riskscore.diabetes.org.uk “We all have times when our mood is low and usually these feelings pass, but if they start to interfere with your life and don’t fade after a couple of weeks, it could be a sign of depression,” explains Jo Loughran, the director of Time to Change campaign. Avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy, finding it difficult to speak or think clearly, sleep difficulties and loss of appetite are warning signs. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men under 50. Jo emphasises the importance of reaching out to a friend who might be struggling with depression: “Keep in touch with texts and calls, even if they’re not responding, and if you ask how they are and they say ‘fine thanks’ ask again. This proves you’re asking for real and willing to hear a response.” For more info, see time-to-change.org.uk. Around one in six men will have a stroke. It’s the fourth biggest killer in the UK and a major cause of disability. It’s caused when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die. “Most people who have strokes are over 55 as the risk increases as you get older, although stroke can happen at any age,” says Esmee Russell, head of prevention and campaigns at the Stroke Association. She adds: “Medical risk factors include high blood pressure (get it checked), diabetes, atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and high cholesterol. “Reduce your risk by managing your weight, limiting how much alcohol you drink and not smoking. “And if you’re concerned about an irregular heartbeat, see your GP.” For more info, call the Stroke Association helpline on 0303 3033 100. Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer globally – it’s linked to 15 types including lung cancer, the second most common cancer among UK men. “It’s tough but it’s never too late to give up,” says health information officer Clare Hyde of Cancer Research UK. “Quit smoking before the age of 60 and you can gain up to 10 years of life. Stop before 30, you can bring your risk down to a non-smoker. “Those who attend their local stop smoking service are around three times more likely to quit compared to going cold turkey. “There’s also emerging evidence that e-cigarettes can help you to quit. Your GP can also prescribe medication to satisfy cravings.” Visit nhs.uk/smokefree for further information. This is the most common men’s cancer, and age is the biggest risk factor with most cases in men over 60. “Survival figures are good with 84% of men still alive 10 years on,” says Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK. Signs include getting up to pee several times at night, having difficulty passing water, a sense your bladder hasn’t emptied properly, having a bit of dribbling when you finish, or difficulty starting. Erectile dysfunction and blood in urine or semen can also be symptoms. “However, these things can be signs of other conditions, including benign prostate disease, which most men will get, so don’t panic.” The good news is, bowel cancer is very treatable if caught early. “If diagnosed at stage one, you have more than a nine in 10 chance of surviving more than five years, so it’s important to be aware of any change in your bowel habits,” says Clare Hyde. It’s linked to obesity. Having less red and processed meat and more fibre can help. Alcohol is also a negative factor. NHS bowel cancer screening is offered to people aged 55 and over. If you’re 55, you’ll automatically be invited for a one-off bowel scope test, if available in your area, and if you’re 60-74, you’ll be invited to do a home testing kit every two years. For more info, call the bowel screening helpline on 0800 707 6060. Around 8,000 new UK cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, are diagnosed yearly. “We know overexposure to UV light from sun is the leading cause, so the best defence is to use shade and clothing when the sun is strongest, between 11am and 3pm, April to September,” advises Clare Hyde. “Sunscreen should really be the last defence, but go for one with an SPF of at least 15 and a four- or five-star rating. Look for changes, itching or bleeding to moles, freckles and normal patches of skin or new growths. Visit cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer. Booze is linked to more than 60 medical conditions including liver disease, stroke, heart disease, some cancers and depression. Almost a third of men regularly consume more than the 14 recommended units a week. To gauge how healthy your drinking is, click on to Alcohol Concern’s audit tool (alcoholconcern.org.uk/alcohol-audit). If your score is 15 or more, you could benefit from cutting back and if it’s 20 or more, you’re at risk of alcohol dependency and should speak to your GP or local alcohol service. You can also call Drinkline, a free confidential helpline, on 0300 123 1110.