According to Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School, men are more burdened by illness than women throughout their lives and thus die younger. This scientific fact punctures the sociological perception that men are stronger than women. Moreover, health risks men face are also because of certain choices they make.
Among the health risks men face, certain conditions, such as depression, can result from factors beyond anyone’s control. So, while excessive smoking can cause a stroke or lung cancer, bullying can permanently scar a child for life.
Having said that, certain life-threatening diseases men suffer from can also be treated if diagnosed on time or prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Have a look at some of the health risks men face.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are behind most deaths worldwide. CVDs constitute diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, congenital heart disease and peripheral arterial disease.
According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), CVD caused deaths of around 18 million people globally in 2019. The number constituted a third of deaths around the world, with fatalities among men slightly higher than among women at 9.6 million. ACC underlined that two-thirds, or 6 million, deaths were recorded in the age group of 30-70 and most occurred in China, India, Russia, the US and Indonesia in that order.
Men are at greater risk because atherosclerosis, literally meaning “hardening of the arteries”, occurs in their bodies earlier than women. When arteries get blocked, it can cause a heart attack or stroke. The prime reason behind the blockage of arteries is cholesterol. So, it is necessary to always keep cholesterol under check.
The risk from CVD also depends on high blood pressure, smoking, physical activity, diet and alcohol. Even diabetes, although not a CVD, can be a cause of heart disease.
Therefore, it is extremely essential to keep the heart healthy. Some ways to achieve that is to cut down on alcohol and tobacco use, opt for a healthy diet comprising more fruits and vegetables, meditate to keep the mind healthy, and exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes every day.
Cancer is one of the major diseases causing deaths worldwide. According to The Cancer Atlas, around 21 percent of all males around the globe develop cancer in their lifetime. Deaths are as high as 13 percent worldwide among men. By comparison, 18 percent of all women develop cancer and 9 percent die from it.
Prostate cancer is one of the many forms of cancer. Since the prostate is a gland found only in males, this form of cancer affects men only.
There is no clarity on what causes prostate cancer, but if detected early, the chances of successful treatment become higher.
According to the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO) of the WHO, 7.3 percent, or 1,414,259, of all cancer cases in the world in 2020 were prostate cancer. Deaths from prostate cancer stood at 3.8 percent, or 375,304.
According to Mayo Clinic, there may be no symptoms during the early stage of prostate cancer. However, symptoms in the advanced stage include having trouble urinating, blood in urine or semen, less force in the urine stream, bone pain, sudden loss of weight and erectile dysfunction.
Those who suffer from obesity, above the age of 50, or have a blood relative with prostate cancer are at a higher risk.
Once diagnosed with lung cancer, there is a high chance of dying within a year of diagnosis. Most of the time, the problem with lung cancer is that it goes undetected till it has reached a critical stage. This is because there is no effective screening available yet to detect lung cancer.
According to The Cancer Atlas, close to two-thirds, or 66 percent, of all lung cancer deaths worldwide are caused by tobacco smoking. So, cutting down on smoking and other uses of tobacco helps reduce the risk of lung cancer. Deaths from lung cancer have also been historically higher among males than females. This is because of an early spike in smoking among males.
GCO data reveals that lung cancer led to the highest mortality from cancer in 2020, with 18 percent of deaths (both sexes) numbering 1,796,144. The number of incidences was second-highest at 11.4 percent or 2,206,771. For men, there were 1,435,943 new cases recorded globally and 1,188,679 new deaths from lung cancer. The corresponding figures for women were 770,828 and 607,465, respectively, both of which are almost half of that of men.
As has been the case in the last five years, Asia recorded the most incidences and deaths and was followed by Europe. Other continents recorded progressively lower numbers. Additionally, most high-income countries recorded a higher incidence of this form of cancer than most low-income countries — the gap is huge.
Hence, while the incidence of lung cancer among men per 100,000 of the population was over 43.7 in most of Europe, Japan, China, Turkey and Russia, the figure in most of Africa was below 4.1 per 100,000 of population.
Tobacco aside, another major cause is air pollution. As a 2018 The Cancer Atlas report revealed, air pollution was the reason behind 14 percent of lung cancer cases in China, which has some of the world’s most polluted cities.
Though it can happen to anyone, skin cancer affects more men than women and is the most common type of cancer in the US. There are broadly two types — melanoma and non-melanoma.
Non-melanoma form includes Merkel cell cancer and keratinocyte carcinoma, the latter of which is a term meant to refer to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma as a group.
Melanoma cancer is deadlier than non-melanoma. Yet the death to incidence ratio in melanoma cancer is still relatively a low figure.
GCO data reveals that there were 173,844 incidences of melanoma form detected among men around the world in 2020 and 32,385 deaths. Women were slightly less affected at 150,791 incidences and 24,658 deaths.
On the other hand, non-melanoma form recorded 1,198,073 new cases, or 6.2 percent of all cancers among men and women, in 2020. The mortality figure for the year was 63,731.
Both melanoma and non-melanoma types affect more people in developed and developing countries in Oceania, Europe and the Americas than in Asia or Africa.
Symptoms of skin cancer include lesions such as a new mole, bump or dark spot. Spots with unusual colours such as pink, blue, white, black or red could also be symptoms, and if it is a large spot or change in shape, colour or size.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to stay in the shade and protect the body from UV rays.
According to WHO, diabetes has witnessed a 70 percent increase since 2000. Among males, it witnessed the largest rise in deaths in the same period at 80 percent. Because of this, WHO counts diabetes among the top 10 causes of global deaths. In fact, WHO states that deaths from diabetes are rising in lower-middle-income countries.
Besides death, untreated diabetes can cause blindness, stroke or nerve and kidney damage. It can cause sexual impotence among men, which can result in depression – adding on to the health risks men face.
Diabetes develops for years in the body and is characterised by very high blood sugar levels. There are two types of diabetes — Type 1 and Type 2. Both affect a hormone known as insulin, which helps build energy in the body by separating glucose from food.
Type 1 diabetes can happen at a young age. In it, the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells. Type 2, which is more prevalent, happens at around the age of 40 or above. In Type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce insulin or fails to react to it.
It is a known fact that men are more prone to developing diabetes than women. A 2011 research conducted by Glasgow University found that this is because the fat in men is stored in the liver and around the waist, the areas where fat deposits cause diabetes. In women, fat is generally stored in thighs and hips — which are safer areas.
Diabetes can be caused because of bad eating habits, obesity, lack of exercise or even family history. It remains almost undetected until signs such as frequent urination, increased thirst, weight loss or blurry vision develop.
Though there is no cure for diabetes, it can be controlled by regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Regular check-up is also necessary when living with diabetes.
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a type of virus that attacks the immune system and severely weakens it. When HIV is not treated, it becomes ‘acquired immune deficiency syndrome’ (AIDS). Proper treatment for HIV can prevent the development of AIDS, which may cause death. Thus, all AIDS patients have HIV, but not all HIV patients develop AIDS.
HIV/AIDS has fallen out of the top 10 causes of death in the world. According to WHO, deaths from the disease fell by 51 percent in 20 years since 2000. While HIV/AIDS was the eighth deadliest cause of death in 2000, it ranked at 19th place in 2019.
UNAIDS data from 2020 shows that while more women were living with HIV than men in 2010, it became the opposite nine years down the line. An estimated 1.7 million people around the world acquired HIV in 2019. Of them, 52 percent were men and boys. According to UNAIDS, the reason behind men having a higher count is because women are more likely to access treatment than men irrespective of the region they are in. Thus, there was a decline of 27 percent in HIV cases in females since 2010 but only 18 percent in males.
However, men not accessing treatment is not only a problem for their health but also for women. According to UNAIDS, men with HIV not going for treatment “contributes to the higher number of new HIV infections among women in sub-Saharan Africa.” As per the UN body, it has been found that a reduction in the gap helps bring down HIV cases among women.
In its 2021 report, the UNAIDS revealed that there were 1.5 million new HIV infections and 680,000 AIDS-related deaths. There were 37.7 million living with HIV, including 10.2 million not undergoing treatment.
HIV can spread from person to person through unprotected sex or sharing a needle. It can also spread from mother to child during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. Unsafe blood transfusions can also cause HIV, besides other ways mentioned by WHO.
According to UNAIDS, among those at high risk of contracting HIV are gay men and other men who have sex with men, female sex workers, transgender women, and those who inject drugs. Although this is one of the health risks men face, it’s important to note that it easily can be passed on to women as well.
The treatment that WHO recommends is a combination of three or more antiretroviral (ARV) drugs which helps suppress viral replication.
“There is no health without mental health,” says WHO. Mental health is therefore one of the biggest concerns in the world today and can affect everyone, and is among the health risks men face.
From obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to depression and other disorders, mental health covers a wide range of problems. A traumatic experience, such as those resulting from an accident, war or other forms of violence, and bullying can also cause mental health issues.
An extreme mental health problem might result in suicide, one of the biggest killers worldwide. According to WHO, one in every 100 deaths in 2019 was a result of suicide. Even though women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, the WHO said in 2021 that the number of men dying from suicide is more than twice that of women. The rate of suicides among men is high in high-income countries and among women in lower-middle-income countries.
One of the reasons behind the high risk to men from mental health issues is because of their inability to talk about it which stems from the societal stigma that prevents men from appearing vulnerable.
Among the major reasons behind depression in men are financial issues and work pressure. Those without a social life can also be deeply affected. Other reasons include alcoholism, conflict and life-threatening health problems.
“Our attention to suicide prevention is even more important now, after many months living with the COVID-19 pandemic, with many of the risk factors for suicide – job loss, financial stress and social isolation – still very much present,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Though suicide rates differ between countries, it affects mostly the age group of 15-29 among whom, as per WHO, “suicide is the fourth leading cause of death after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence.”
Among the ways to keep the mind healthy are regular exercise, seeking professional help and increasing social contact with friends and family members.
(Main and featured images: Jenny Hill/@jennyhill/Unsplash)