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3 common male health risks + 2 surprising ones you need to know about

The impact of lifestyles choices on male health

17 Nov 2022
3 common male health risks + 2 surprising ones you need to know about

Men often die before women do. In Singapore, the life expectancy of males is at 81.1 years—almost 5 years less than women at 85.9 years. The global average shows a similar pattern, where male life expectancy is at 70.8 years, and female at 75.6 years.

The reason for this gap is well-studied and explained by various sociological and biological factors. Men have a greater tendency to take more risks, they generally hold more dangerous occupations, they tend to avoid doctors, and they are also 50% more likely to die of heart diseases.

While some factors are more difficult to prevent, many of the diseases that plague men can be prevented by making lifestyle changes. Let’s take a look at some of the most common health risks that you should look out for.

3 Common Male Health Risks

1. Heart disease and stroke

Heart disease and stroke fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular diseases, which is the leading cause of death among men. According to the Singapore Heart Foundation, the number of male deaths from cardiovascular diseases in Singapore has risen by 10%, from 4090 deaths in 2020 to 4536 deaths in 2021. Men are twice as likely as women to get a heart attack during their lifetime.

In cardiovascular disease, the gradual build-up of cholesterol plaques in the arteries of the heart and brain can result in a blood clot, which then blocks the artery and causes a heart attack or stroke. This is why it is important to monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure by going for regular health screenings.

Although men may have unique risk factors that predispose them to cardiovascular disease, you can still take proactive measures to prevent it from happening such as eating healthy, reducing stress, exercising regularly, and quitting (or not starting) smoking.

2. Prostate cancer

The second most common cancer in men is prostate cancer. According to SingHealth, 5368 cases were diagnosed in Singapore between 2014 to 2018. The risk of prostate cancer increases with age, and men over the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed. Men with a family history of prostate cancer are also at a higher risk.

Most prostate cancers are slow growing, and typically show no symptoms in the early stages. Most men discover the cancer during routine medical check-ups or blood tests, and many live to an old age without even knowing that they have it. Thankfully, prostate cancer has one of the highest survival rates if diagnosed early—the five-year survival rate is at 95%.

While the cause of prostate cancer is still unknown, there are some factors that increase the risk of developing it such as age, ethnicity, family history, and diet. A diet that is heavy in animal fat, red meat and dairy has been shown to increase your risk of developing prostate cancer, so try to limit your consumption.

3. Diabetes

Diabetes refers to the group of conditions where there is excess glucose in the blood. Type 2 diabetes happens when there is insulin resistance in the body. While both men and women are at risk for diabetes, men have a higher likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes at a lower weight than women.

Diabetes greatly increases your comorbidity burden, which means that your risk for other diseases increases as well. In Singapore, diabetes accounts for 10% of disease burden—1 in 2 heart attack victims and 2 in 5 stroke victims were diabetic, and 2 in 3 new kidney failure cases were diabetes-related. If untreated, diabetes can lead to cardiovascular disease, nerve and kidney damage, and even blindness.

Maintaining a healthy body weight, alongside a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, can prevent diabetes and also potentially reverse it. If you are overweight, consider working with a health provider to figure out the best way to bring your body weight down to healthy levels.

2 Less Common Male Health Risks

Besides the common male health risks that are important to know about, here are 2 less common health risks that may surprise you.

1. Andropause

Also known as “male menopause”—men also have age-related changes to hormones like women do. However, unlike the sudden drop in hormones that occurs with female menopause, the decline in hormones for men is slower and more gradual. Testosterone levels fall about 1% a year from about the age of 40. According to SingHealth, an estimated 26% of men in Singapore have low testosterone levels.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for many of the male physical characteristics, such as muscle strength, body and facial hair, and sexual drive. When testosterone levels drop, men can experience depression, low energy levels, mood swings, and low sex drive.

Men can still experience these symptoms for reasons unrelated to hormones. To properly diagnose low testosterone levels, getting a blood test is one of the first steps. Your healthcare provider can then advise you on the treatment options such as testosterone replacement therapy.

2. Breast Cancer

Less than 1% of breast cancer cases are male, and the National Cancer Centre Singapore diagnosed only 62 cases of male breast cancer over an 18-year timeframe. It may be rare, but it can happen. Doctors believe that 10-20% of male breast cancers are caused by inherited genes (the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation), and so if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you are at much greater risk.

Take note of symptoms such as swelling or a lump in the breast, nipple discharge or pain. Early detection is key to treating breast cancer—if you are aware of your family history or you suspect you may have male breast cancer, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Take preventative action

As you may have noticed, much of the advice given to prevent diseases tend to repeat themselves— eat well, stay active and exercise regularly, don’t smoke (or quit smoking), and go for regular health screenings.

These are the factors that we can more easily control in our lives—compared to changing our genes or societal expectations, eating a bigger portion of vegetables seems a lot more manageable!

Many of you are fathers, brothers, uncles and friends, with people depending on you for emotional and financial support. Take preventative action for your health now, before it is too late.

Prevention is always better than cure—likewise, make sure you are sufficiently covered to protect yourself against the financial costs of hospitalisation and medical bills.

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