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Both Sexes Make Mistakes in Caring for Health

WebMD takes aim at common health blunders men and women make.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

We are besieged daily by health advice: Take this, eat that, don't do the other. Yet even the most health aware -- not to mention the doctor averse -- can make mistakes in caring for themselves.

Common Health Mistakes Men Make

The conventional wisdom says that the average man takes better care of his car than his body. "All male health blunders come from the essential male blunder, and that is the notion (many men have) that a real man is a man with no vulnerabilities," Terry Real, MSW, a family therapist and author in Watertown, Mass., tells WebMD

"Unless something is falling off," Larrian Gillespie, MD, a urologist in California, tells WebMD, "men won't go to the doctor."

Men have a shorter life expectancy compared with women, Real says, because they don't take care of themselves. "They don't recognize that they need help, they don't seek it, and when they do seek it, they don't do what the doctor says." The bottom line, Real says, is that men die. "I could call that a big blunder -- costly."

Men experience depression differently than women, says Real, who is author of You're Not Crazy It's Your Hormones. "A woman knows she is depressed, feels the pain, asks for help. But even if a man knows what he is experiencing, he won't ask for help."

Some of the symptoms of depression include feeling sad, sleeping too little or too much, a drop in libido, and a feeling that nothing in life is giving pleasure.

"Many more men than women have what I call hidden depression," Real says. "It isn't as pronounced because they are doing everything they can to ward it off -- drinking, running around with women, lashing out and being irritable or even violent, or watching too much TV. Many health professionals will miss the signs."

Yet treatment of depression is a health success story. Real says that nine out of 10 people who seek some form of help report substantial relief. "The problem is, fewer than one in five will seek help."

Women Can Help

Real aims this message toward women, ironically. "Women get men to see that this is a chemical imbalance, biological and genetic, and thus there are medications that work. Depression is not moral weakness! There was also a time when men didn't get help for diabetes. Soon depression will be in that same routine category of treatment."

Some other health errors men tend to make:

  • Denying the obvious. Blood in the stool, weird rashes or moles, sudden thirstiness. "Men are great deniers," Gillespie says.
  • Denying even something as serious as a heart attack. Most men have read about the symptoms of a heart attack (which can be different for women): fatigue, numbness in the left arm, chest pains, shortness or breath, nausea, or a feeling of extreme weight on the chest. Sometimes all of these begin to appear. "Yet, men will drive themselves to the hospital," Gillespie says. When the signs of a heart attack appear you should immediately call 911.
  • Not being screened for colon cancer. Most men (and women) should have colon cancer screening starting at age 50 and every five to 10 years thereafter.
  • Not getting a prostate exam just because you think it is unpleasant. A digital rectal exam can evaluate for prostate size and irregularity that may be suspicious for an enlarged prostateor cancer.
  • Not checking yourself for testicular cancer. This is a cancer that more commonly strikes younger men, 15 to 35. The earlier it is found, the greater the chance for successful treatment.
  • Eating an unhealthy diet. "Men are the biggest purchasers of drive-through," Gillespie says.
  • Smoking. This applies to both men and women. "This is a real issue," Gillespie says. Tools that can help you quit smokinginclude nicotine patches, gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges; call-in "quit lines;" and prescription drugs such as Zyban. Your doctor can go through the options available and then both of you can come up with a regimen together.
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