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Health checklist for men: 4 subtle symptoms not to ignore

Men live on average six fewer years than women, possibly due to resistance to visit the doctor. Men should never ignore these symptoms, one physician advised.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s a fact that, on average, men die earlier than women in almost every society around the world.

In the U.S., the gap in life expectancy between the two sexes has grown to almost six years, with women expected to make it to the age of 79 and men to 73, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One possible reason may be that many men resist going to the doctor unless it’s an emergency. Two-thirds of men think they’re "naturally healthier than most people," one poll found.

More than half of men, 55%, say they don’t get regular health screenings, when problems can be caught early and treated with more success, according to a survey of 1,000 adult males in the U.S. by the Cleveland Clinic. Men of color are even less likely to see a doctor — 63% say they don’t get regular checkups, compared to 53% of white men, the same survey found.

“I think we start with identifying the root of the problem. Is it fear? Is it finances to see the doctor? Can you get time off from work? Or do you have the sense of invincibility that none of these problems will happen to you? Or that you’re not even aware of them?” said Dr. Cedrek McFadden, a clinical associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine and a board-certified colorectal and general surgeon.

“If it’s fear, let's speak to the fear so that we can get men more interactive with their health," he added.

McFadden stressed that men should see a primary care physician at least once a year — more if they have health problems and explained that "it's always a good time to talk to a therapist," no matter what's going on in your life. According to McFadden, other important specialists men should see include:

  • Cardiologist, as needed or if you have heart problems or a family history of them. (Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in men.)
  • Dermatologist, once a year.
  • Dentist, at least twice a year.
  • Urologist, as needed and more regularly after turning 40.
  • Eye doctor, at least once every two years.

McFadden also discussed on the 3rd Hour of TODAY some of the subtle symptoms men shouldn’t ignore:

Excessive fatigue

“We’re not talking about just sort of being tired at the end of the day. We’re talking about falling asleep at the red light that can interfere with your safety,” McFadden said.

This symptom may indicate sleep apnea, he noted, a disorder where a person’s breathing stops and restarts many times during sleep.

One of the big associations with sleep apnea is being overweight, a problem that affects more than 1 in 3 American men, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“When you’re gaining weight around the waist, it’s not just staying there. It’s also staying in the upper respiratory system and that can interfere with how you move air at night, which the next day can cause you to be trying to catch up and get sleep wherever you can get it,” McFadden said.

Excess weight can also increase the risk of having high blood pressure and diabetes, and causes problems with being able to fight infections. There’s an association between sleep apnea and high blood pressure and diabetes, which is then all intertwined with overall health, he noted.

Unintentional weight loss

Most people wouldn’t mind losing 5 or 10 pounds, but if you’re suddenly losing 20 or 30 pounds without trying, one of the big concerns that could signal is cancer, including lung cancer and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract — the pancreas, the colon and the rectum, McFadden said.

It could also be a potential warning sign of diabetes.

“Your body normally tries to use glucose, or sugar, to metabolize energy. When the cells can’t capture that glucose and therefore the body has to use something else, what does it use? It uses your muscles and fat, which causes you to lose weight when you’re not expecting it,” he noted.

Other possible health problems associated with unintentional weight loss include celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by eating foods with gluten that prevents a person from absorbing the nutrients they need through their small intestine.

Dementia is a possibility, too: “There can be a cognitive decline, where people just have this neglect for eating and not even being aware of it,” McFadden noted.

Bladder and bowel habits

This is a subject men often don’t want to talk about.

“It’s embarrassing for some and they just don’t want to perhaps face what it could be signaling,” McFadden said. “This is your yearly public service announcement to look into the toilet.”

Dehydration leads to darker urine, for example. With colorectal cancer, there can be changes in the shape, size, consistency and color of the stool, he noted. Rectal bleeding is the most common warning sign for this cancer.

When it comes to increased urination, prostate problems could be a culprit, but it could also be diabetes. There’s so much blood sugar your body is trying to get rid of that it flushes it out through the kidneys, causing a man to use the bathroom more frequently, McFadden said.

Increased irritability

This is more than just being upset or stressed by a particular event, but understanding the underlying reasons for the anger.

“We know that in men, depression may not look the same. It may not be a tear, it may not be sadness — it may be more frustration or an outburst,” McFadden noted.

Anxiety and low testosterone can also be related to increased irritability. So can substance abuse, which can cause a change in a man's mood that his family members can see.

“The people around the men in their lives need to really pay attention,” Al Roker pointed out.

“If they see the signs, we feel the symptoms,” McFadden agreed. “In many of these cases, we can get help if we can identify (the problem).”