From the day I started FITBEWELL with some of you readers on board, I’ve been asked very often if this would only reckon women’s health, fitness & pregnancy issues as its cornerstone content. HELL NO! We’ve been here to talk about men’s health as responsibly as that of women. Unfortunately or rather coincidentally, as online content has been brimming with colossal stuff about women lately, much required discussions concerning men is seen taking a backseat. So, essentially around this #MensHealthMonth, an official cognizance regarding Men’s Health awareness, here are some bewildering trends & aspects of men’s health that most of us do NOT notice.

Okay, this decade is seeing a lot of transition in terms of building & nurturing awareness around health dangers that women have always been through & are at the risk of developing for whatsoever reasons. Be it Endometriosis, PCOS, Cancer of the Cervix, Vagina & Breast; it’s what all of us are being educated about time & again. We women do go paranoid about the kind of discharge we experience during different phases of our menstrual cycle, mood swings or PMS. Even lumps in lactating breasts can send us into an absolute tizzy, worrying if it could be Mastitis or Breast Cancer! These become our cubicle discussions, whispers or even conversations over the phone or WhatsApp. Don’t they?

But we’ve seldom bumped into men who openly share their health hiccups.

The peculiar stigma around Men’s Health

How often has your male colleague or relative told you that he’s chronically bloated or constipated or experiences sudden pain in the chest for a while? Another male friend might be very well passing off a possibly serious digestive disorder under the ‘ACIDITY’ nomenclature (I’ve learnt of people in the family who were diagnosed much later with terminal illnesses that first began in their stomach, pancreas or liver.)

Surprisingly, even symptoms like those of bloody stools & urine also get ignored by many men. The worst part is, in India, many diseases of the excretory system turn out to have different reservations with women & men. While digestive complications like Haemorrhoids (Piles) & Constipation still invoke ‘laughter’ when they happen to a man; they are associated with ‘shame’ or shady gossip, when a women shares about suffering from them.

None of the men folk around really tells you anything beyond, “It’s effing STRESS & I’m gonna burst!” when finally rattled with office deadlines. No man seems to feel as comfortable as a woman sharing with a buddy that it’s she from the couple who has problems conceiving a child.

Time & oft, over the recent few years, I’ve been as blown as my husband whenever he shared with me that his male friend(s) in their early 20’s, 30’s or below 50 years of age, suddenly succumbed to cardiac death. I still find it disturbing to recollect about those men passing away without a trace before. And so is upsetting the rising number of cases with elderly men in India developing Prostate-related complications/diseases.

Surprisingly, in India, there are a lot of people who discover for the first time that they’ve been diabetic probably since years, only when there creeps a surgery-like situation.

So, today we have 2 doctors along, to decipher the challenges that significantly confront men’s health in India.

Men’s Health – Torn between Negligence & ‘Toughening Up’

According to Dr. Aditya Kidiyoor, men’s health is usually taken quite lightly in an otherwise male-dominated world.

“Most men from a young age are taught to hide pain or toughen it out. Perhaps this is why many men even in their adult lives & old age refuse to go for check ups. Health is of invaluable importance & often lamented in loss when it’s too late. Men, on an average, have a shorter life expectancy. An overwhelming number of deaths in men occur out of unnatural causes. Be it road traffic accidents or suicides.”

Among natural deaths, Ischemic Heart Disease, Hypertension, & Diabetes Mellitus are the leading causes. As age advances, cancers of the prostate, colon, & lungs start to prevail. Regular check ups for both men & women are necessary, despite the apparent feeling of ‘Being fine.‘ A lot of chronic illnesses tend to have insidious symptoms which may not be evident at first & can be detected only through preventive medical screening.

The perennial Cure Vs Prevention Vs Health Budgeting Battle

Dr. Sandeep Naik has some really interesting insight into studying health trends & stats among both the Indian men & women population.

Somehow due to inherent conditioning in the Indian society, health is given a low priority even amongst the well-to-do or educated strata. This is, sadly, also reflected in the abysmal health budgeting by the government of the day, be it any day. And this is not gender- or GDP- specific.

“There are examples galore of even affluent patients thinking twice before spending and/or skipping expenditure on their health & treatment, as opposed to spending on other desires of life. Emphasis is more on treating the illness after it is well-established, rather than on preventive measures. So an individual, for example, might know that a particular sedentary lifestyle & overeating or unmindful eating might expose him to a cardiovascular disease. But he won’t take measures to correct it, & would rather prefer to be on treatment after it happens.

Well in case of cancers, be it men or women, both do not come forward for periodic age-specific investigations to detect early cancers. This, in fact, is a routine practice in the West. This might majorly be due to lack of awareness in general, but also is partly due to a majority not having a health insurance. Some western governments offer these routine screening investigations to their population; which isn’t economically viable nor budget-prioritized here in India. 

While that is true, when it comes to chronic illnesses, a lot of patients tend to discontinue their treatment more often. Either owing to economic constraints or lack of medical awareness & social taboos associated with the disease(s).”

What the Statistics say about Men’s Health in India

India is home to a lot of diabetic men, those with cardiac disorders particularly owing to bad lifestyle more than genetics.

As per a 2016 study, India tops the list of male deaths from Diabetes than any other country. Check this figure out.

So Diabetes alone accounted for an alarming 2% of all age-irrespective deaths in India as per the same study. Diabetes can potentially lead to further health complications like nerve damage, loss of vision, impotence, cardiovascular & kidney diseases.

Cancers in Men

According to a 2018 report by the NICPR, the following observations have been recorded from the incidence & mortality due to various cancers in men & women.

The Risk of developing cancer before the age of 75 years in MALES is 9.81% & in FEMALES is 9.42%.

While in 2018, 3,71,302 women died of cancer, the number of men who died with cancer was 4,13,519.

And it was established that the Risk of dying from cancer before the age of 75 years was 7.34% in males & 6.28% in females.

This brings to us the fact that the risk of developing cancer & death because of it, is BOTH HIGH IN MEN THAN WOMEN.

The department of radiotherapy at PGIMER, Chandigarh opines that women are subjected to more medical scrutiny as compared to their male counterparts. Right from antenatal checkups, menopausal issues & menstrual complications, women get thoroughly investigated &, by default, also get screened for cancer. In such situations, their cancers are picked up at an earlier stage & thus their chances of survival become higher.

Men’s Mortality due to Cancer

Medical experts link the higher cancer mortality rate in men to their tendency to develop lung & oral cancers which are the leading cancers among men. These are usually detected at a much later stage.

Throat Cancer in India

95% of these cancers are due to tobacco consumption, & 40% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco abuse. These are hard to detect at an earlier stage.

Dr Ravi Mehrotra, director of ICMR-affiliated National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NICPR)

Lifestyle-Induced Impotence

A lot of Indian men dealing with erectile dysfunction, which is treatable, still feel inhibitions in seeking medical help. And sadly, this is heavily linked with lifestyle flaws such as work-stop work schedules, lack of quality time with one’s partner, smoking, drinking & diabetes.

And quite unfortunately, many do not resort to getting medical treatment & this also leads to unhappy, broken marriages or divorce. This again can potentially trigger depression in both the partners.

As per stats, 1 in 10 Indian men suffers from erectile dysfunction. This is curable & is often related to bad lifestyle & habits.

Men’s Health: Depression & Suicides

At the same time, since men are conditioned to be mentally strong from childhood, it presumably has horrible repercussions on them dealing with mental stress, emotional rebellion, heartbreak & depression too. Men, apparently, through societal norms aren’t supposed to have an emotional vent out.

Like a lot of depressed people feel suicidal at some or the other point of their lives, the pressure of locking up mental stress into one’s own mind is much greater on a man who is ‘expected not to share his emotional turmoil & fears with anybody else.’

It is devastating to note that in India, on an average, the number of suicide deaths by men is TWICE that of women. You can find some detailed insights on the number of suicide deaths in India here.

So, when you’re a man, please make the following a handsome part of your lifestyle.

  1. Ditch your sedentary lifestyle. Try to workout at least thrice a week. You could start with just walking. It’s dirt-cheap & requires no gym membership or expert knowledge. Walk as much as possible.
  2. Eat & drink responsibly. Cut down or quit white sugar consumption.
  3. Quit smoking & moderate alcohol. If you feel alcohol is becoming a rabbit hole for your health, think responsibly & honestly. Try ways to abstain from it. Or ask somebody you trust to help you in quitting drinking. Steer clear from people who lure you into drinking every time out of peer pressure.
  4. Swear by Love & Warmth. Your problems become only lighter when shared with a reliable soul. It could be your colleague, friend, parents, siblings, wife, girlfriend, sister or even your daughter who’s all grown up. We all know that the more number of sensible brains at work, the better your chances of surviving or fighting the problem become.
  5. Get yourself screened regularly. Check in at your nearest hospital & inquire about health packages recommended for your age & lifestyle.

How is it at your home? Do men have to be nudged repeatedly to get their health checkups done? A simple blood test, or even an ECG?

If this discussion about men’s health intrigued you, do share it with your friends, both men & women to render more meaning to the #MensHealthMonth & otherwise as well. 🙂

Experts’ Bio:

Dr. ADITYA KIDIYOOR is a doctor of forensic medicine with a fellowship in Emergency Medicine. He is an alumnus of Bangalore Medical College, Manipal, and MS Ramaiah. He has been practicing for the last 8 years in Karnataka.

Dr. SANDEEP NAIK is a renowned pulmonologist based in Goa. He is a deemed alumnus of the Goa Medical College.

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