Feature Archive

Both Sexes Make Mistakes in Caring for Health

WebMD takes aim at common health blunders men and women make.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

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 days." 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 getting a prostate exam because it's unpleasant. A digital rectal exam is a screening test for prostate cancer, and is recommended to be done along with a PSA blood test. There may be some discomfort with the rectal exam but it does not cause significant pain. "Every man should have a PSA test after 40, especially men who have unhealthy diets and are obese, which increase the chances of prostate cancer." She recommends a "fractionated" PSA, which can break down the likelihood of benign vs. cancerous lesions, from a blood test. Not all cancerous prostate lesions turn deadly, either. Your doctor can advise on both points.
  • Not being examined for colon cancer. Ninety percent of intestinal cancers can be prevented. Most men (and women) should have a colonoscopy starting at 50 and every five to 10 years thereafter.
  • Not being aware of testosterone levels. Gillespie recommends getting serum testosterone blood tests in middle age. Some medications can lower levels of this sex hormone and cause sexual and mental problems, Gillespie says.
  • Not checking yourself for testicular cancer. This is a cancer that strikes younger men, 15 to 35. Look at it this way: Self-examination means no trip to the doctor.
  • Eating an unhealthy diet. "Men are the biggest purchasers of drive-through," Gillespie says. Yet men are more sensitive to fat than women and should keep their intake to 10% of the diet.
  • Smoking. This applies to both men and women. "This is a real issue," Gillespie says. She recommends getting your teeth cleaned before quitting. "Nicotine can leach out of the crevices and create cravings," she says. Other tools that can help you quit smoking are nicotine patches, gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges; call-in "quit lines;" and prescription drugs such as Zyban. Your doctor can give you a regimen.