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Men Vs. Boys (And The Price Of Their Toys)

A Doctor's Perspective On Guys, Cars, and Their Check-ups

Written by Steven N. Gange, MD, FACS

"The difference between men and boys is…" There really isn't much difference: they still care more about their toys than their bodies. The average boy loves cars; the love affair blossoms fully in adulthood. Most men can tell you all sorts of annoying facts about their favorite vehicle: number of cylinders, horsepower, what grade of fuel it requires, and when the next oil change is due-they probably even have a favorite place to take it into for scheduled maintenance and when it's "sick".

Ironically, many of these same men haven't seen a doctor in the past 5 years and don't have a regular source of healthcare. They practice an "if it's not broken why fix it" attitude toward their own bodies, and it doesn't pay off. Men die 7 years younger than women-at least in part due to their lack of attention to preventative care--and they are at disproportionately higher risk of dying from heart attacks, cancer, accidents, complications of diabetes, and stroke. Maybe if they took care of their bodies as well as they do their vehicles they'd enjoy a longer and healthier life.

What type of oil are you running on? Knowing "10W40" is far less important than being "<200". Knowing one's cholesterol and its subtypes, and managing these with diet, exercise, and even medication could save a man's life. While hereditary risk of dying of a heart attack can't be controlled, having a cholesterol test (performed as part of a "fasting lipid profile") can help a primary care physician offer recommendations that could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The trouble is, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol doesn't cause any symptoms early on. The detection of this important risk factor requires "preventative maintenance".

How "pfat" is your ride?
Great-you call your cool car "pfat". But being fat is not cool. Obesity is an epidemic. The >30% of American men who are obese are at higher risk of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis, breathing problems, and colon and prostate cancer. If you haven't seen "Supersize Me", now's the time. Get inspired to shape up for life.

Is there sugar in your tank?
Like sugar in a gas tank, diabetes can stop a man cold. This disease, which results from a lack of insulin production, causes a high blood level of glucose, which eventually poisons every organ in the body. Early symptoms include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability, and blurry vision. Simple blood testing leads to early diagnosis and intervention (diet, medication) that controls sugar levels and saves lives.

How's your paint job holding up?
Men will notice the first nick in their vehicle's finish and go to great lengths to prevent damage by applying protectants and wax. But what about sunscreen? Men are more likely not to apply it than women, and are at greater risk of severe sunburn. Utah men are at greater risk of skin cancer than men in almost any other state, related to pigmentation and altitude in addition to bad habits. Skin exams are painless, and can even be fun if performed with your partner. Any new mole and any mole that has changed in size, shape, or color, requires professional evaluation. The most lethal form of skin cancer, melanoma (which occurs in men most commonly on the abdomen, chest, and back), can be cured if removed at any early stage. Better still, applying sunscreen regularly can prevent skin cancer. Again, an ounce of prevention pays here…

Could you be running on empty?
While men don't come with gas gauges, the hormone testosterone gives men energy, muscle mass, and sex drive. When those are lacking, a simple blood test can exclude "hypogonadism" (low testosterone level). Many more men have this problem than have been evaluated and treated. While not life-threatening initially, chronically low levels of testosterone can increase a man's risk of osteoporosis and fracture, which can have lethal consequences. The blood test is best performed early in the morning, because of the circadian variation in testosterone production leading to highest levels in the morning (which incidentally explains why so many men seem to have their engines running at higher "rpm" in the morning than the evening). Bear in mind, testosterone is a double-edged sword: more men die of accidents and trauma than women, in part due to their tendency towards unnecessary risk taking; so buckle up, don't drink and drive, and follow the speed limit!

How's your vehicle's performance?
When a car doesn't perform as it once did it may be because of faulty wiring, the wrong fuels or additives, clogged fuel lines, etc. A thorough inspection by a skilled mechanic often uncovers the underlying problem. When a man's sexual performance falters, it may have serious explanations. Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs in up to 40% of 40 year olds, increasing to 70% of 70 year olds. The most common cause is blood vessel disease, often brought about by smoking, hypertension, or diabetes (low testosterone is a less common explanation). While straightforward treatment options now exist, the importance of a thorough evaluation prior to taking a pill like Viagra cannot be stressed enough.

What fuel and additives do you rely upon?
Some men spend more than their car really needs on high octane gas and special fuel additives. Does the body benefit from similar attention? While most men don't pay enough attention to what they eat and drink, others overdo the supplements. Simple advice for the human ride: drink plenty of water, eat five fruits and veggies daily, and take a cheap multivitamin. If you feel the need to add "STP", try fish oil capsules and flaxseed powder.

Is your vehicle due for scheduled maintenance?
The human body doesn't come with an owner's manual, so who can blame a guy for not knowing better? Fortunately, the American Cancer Society has compiled a list of recommended tests for the male vehicle. Bear in mind, these screening tests are those recommended for men at "average risk"-a strong family history of heart disease, diabetes, colon or prostate cancer might require testing earlier and more often. Be sure to find a good mechanic (primary care physician) to guide you through the process.
  • Blood pressure measurement: Starting at age 20, each regular healthcare visit, at least every two years
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)-to test for obesity: Starting at age 20, each regular healthcare visit
  • Blood cholesterol test: Starting at age 20, at least every five years
  • Blood glucose (sugar) test: Starting at age 45, every three years
  • Colorectal screening-for colon cancer: Starting at age 50, every 1-10 years depending on the test your doctor uses
  • Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and digital rectal exam-for prostate cancer: Starting at age 50 (ask your doctor about the pros and cons of testing)
  • Why do men hassle with scheduled oil changes and smog certifications, but resist simple doctor's visits? Maybe we just fail to educate them. Or is it that our society puts pressure on men to be (or at least act) tough, and not admit to weaknesses or vulnerability. Regardless of the explanation, men need to step up to the plate, and take care of the only vehicle they will have for life. If the thought of becoming a vintage collectible isn't enough inspire meticulous self-care, they would do well to think of those who love them, and need them around for the long haul. Drive to the doctor's office and get a check up. Don't get caught speeding.
    Article Reviewed: July 5, 2012
    Copyright © 2014 Healthy Magazine
    ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    Steven N. Gange, MD

    After completing his education at the UCLA School of Medicine and the University of Kentucky, Dr. Gange entered the US Army as a urologist, where he was twice awarded the military medal of meritorious service. Now at the Western Urological Clinic, Dr. Gange works to advance the field of urology and serve the community. He researches prostate cancer, BPH, prostatitis and more and is widely published. Locally, Dr. Gange is president of the Utah Healthy Living Foundation, which works to improve Utah's health through education and screenings. He also chairs the Prostate Cancer Task Force in Salt Lake, and is a frequent community lecturer. » MORE INFO

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