Women live longer than men everywhere in the world. In the United States, the life expectancy for women is around 81. For men, it's 76. Some say that the gap is because men are more likely to be risk-takers. But the gender gap in life expectancy is lower among people who are high-income and well-educated. That suggests that men can live longer if we learn about and address the top six health threats for men. 

What are some health threats for men?

Almost every health condition is more lethal for men than for women. Among these, six stand out:

  • Heart Disease. In 2018, the death rate for men from all heart disease was over 207 per 100,000. For women, it was around 130 per 100,000. 
  • Cancer. Men die at a higher rate from cancer — around 177 deaths per 100,000, versus 129 per 100,000 for women. 
  • Diabetes. The death rate from diabetes for men is about 1.6 times the death rate for women. 
  • Liver Disease. Men's risk of death from liver disease is almost double that of women. 
  • HIV. Men die of HIV infections almost three times as often as women.
  • Suicide. Men are almost four times more likely to commit suicide.

Why do more men die of heart disease?

About 1 in 4 men die from heart disease. Heart attacks are about twice as common in men as in women. Researchers are unsure why heart trouble is so common in men. The known risk factors don't account for the gender gap. Researchers once believed that estrogen was protective, but women have less heart disease even after menopause.

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by taking these steps:

  • Check your blood pressure. Almost half of men have high blood pressure. If yours is high, talk to your doctor about how to lower it.
  • Don't smoke. If you do, talk to your doctor about quitting. If you don't smoke, don't start.
  • Know your cholesterol levels. Ask your doctor to run a lipid panel to check your LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Control your weight. Obesity increases your risk of heart disease. Choose a healthy diet that isn't too high in calories.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. Try for no more than one drink a day.
  • Minimize stress. Find ways to reduce the tension in your life, and develop ways of managing stress when it is unavoidable.

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Are men more at risk from cancer?

Men are 20% more likely to get cancer than women, according to a study spanning the years 2009 to 2019. The same study showed that men had a 40% greater chance of dying of cancer. Men are more likely than women to die from cancer of the:

There are several reasons men are at greater risk of cancer. These include gender differences at the molecular level, genetic differences, and the varying roles of sex hormones. Also, men do not respond to chemotherapy as well as women do.

Research also suggests that men may engage in risky behavior, such as smoking, more often than women. They may be less likely to have regular cancer screening tests and may not talk honestly with their doctors about their health.

Is the risk of diabetes different for men and women?

Experts say that we are experiencing a global epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Losing weight and increasing physical activity can help prevent diabetes. One study suggests that these measures work better for women than for men. Men may be more likely to develop diabetes in spite of trying to prevent it.

The U. S. Diabetes Program studied people at risk for diabetes. Researchers put one group on a program of intensive lifestyle modifications. They asked the study subjects to lose 7% of their body weight with healthy eating and to exercise for 150 minutes a week. The men worked out harder and lost more weight, but did not reduce their diabetes risk more than the women did.

Whether you are a man or a woman, diabetes puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease, loss of vision, kidney damage, and amputation. Men with diabetes also triple their risk of erectile dysfunction.

Why do men die from liver disease?

Twice as many men as women die from cirrhosis, a serious form of liver disease. There are three main causes of cirrhosis:

Men are more likely to have liver damage from alcohol abuse or from hepatitis B. Women are more likely to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The gender gap in liver disease could change as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is on the rise. It occurs most often in people who are overweight or obese.

You can reduce your risk of liver disease by keeping your alcohol intake low, controlling your weight with a healthy diet, and getting vaccinated for hepatitis B.

Why are men at high risk for HIV?

In 2018, there were 1.2 million people in the United States with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Over 900,000 of them were men. Men accounted for 81% of the new cases of HIV diagnosed in 2018. The virus is spread mainly through male-to-male sexual contact. It is estimated that about one in seven men with HIV have not been diagnosed with the disease. 

HIV is treated by suppressing the virus. Men respond as well as women to viral suppression. But only 65 out of 100 men with HIV get care for their condition. Only 56 out of 100 are considered virally suppressed. Better education, more testing, and more access to treatment could reduce deaths from HIV.

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What do we know about men and suicide?

In the United States, suicides average 130 a day. Middle-aged men are most at risk of suicide. Firearms are the most common way of committing suicide. 

Researchers have learned these facts that could reduce suicide deaths:

  • 90% of those who die from suicide have a treatable mental condition.
  • Many of those who consider suicide have bipolar disorder, depression, or problems with substance abuse.
  • Most suicides are linked to multiple causes, including risk factors and life events. 
  • Most people who get through a suicidal crisis won't go on to die by suicide. 
  • Both medications and behavioral therapy can reduce the risk of suicide.
  • Starting a conversation about suicide won't increase a person's risk of committing suicide.
  • Suicides can be reduced by limiting access to the means of killing oneself.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/15/2021
References

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: "Suicide Statistics," "Top 10 things we've learned from research."

Biomolecules and Therapeutics: "Sex Differences in Cancer: Epidemiology, Genetics and Therapy."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Diabetes and Men," "HIV and Men," "Men and Heart Disease."

City of Hope: "Why Are Men More Likely To Die of Cancer?"

Diabetes Care: "Sex Differences in Diabetes Risk and the Effect of Intensive Lifestyle Modification in the Diabetes Prevention Program."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Throughout life, heart attacks are twice as common in men than women."

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation: "Men twice as likely as women to die of liver cirrhosis."

Men's Health Network: "Top Causes of Death by Race, Sex, and Ethnicity -- 2018." Population Reference Bureau: "Around the Globe, Women Outlive Men."