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The biggest health risks for Australian men

The biggest health risks for Australian men

Take control of your health by knowing the dangers

We’re fortunate that our nation has one of the world’s highest life expectancy rates, but on average, women are still living longer than men (84.3 years for women as opposed to 80.1 years for men).[i]

Here are some important facts about men’s health in Australia that can’t be ignored:

When it comes to non-gender-specific health issues, men die in greater numbers than women in almost every health category.

Men are more likely to become ill from serious health problems than women.

Men are notoriously blasé about visiting a doctor when something is wrong. Compared to women, they visit health practitioners less frequently, have shorter visits and are more likely to wait until a health problem has reached an advanced stage before seeking help.

 

Male deaths outnumber female deaths in all age groups below 65, and the only reason men aren’t outnumbering women in deaths in later years is because so many of them die before getting to retirement age.

When it comes to health, some Australian men are at greater risk than others. Higher risk groups include Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, men with disabilities, men in prison, migrant men, men who live in remote or rural parts of Australia and socially disadvantaged men.[ii]

Leading causes of death

According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (March 2015), the leading causes of death for Australian men are (in order):

1. Coronary heart disease

2. Lung cancer (including trachea and bronchus)

3. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)

4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases

5. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

6. Prostate cancer

7. Blood and lymph cancers (including leukaemia)

8. Bowel cancer

9. Diabetes

10. Suicide/intentional self-harm[iii]

Many of these male health issues are preventable through simple lifestyle changes like becoming more active, switching to a healthier diet, not smoking, cutting down on alcohol consumption and seeking medical intervention for health issues more quickly. Let’s look at these risks individually:

Heart disease

When fatty deposits build up in the arteries, the blood and oxygen supply to the heart is reduced – and when arteries get too narrow, chest pain and/or a heart attack may result.

If you don’t get enough exercise, have high cholesterol levels, smoke, eat an unhealthy diet or have high blood pressure, your risk of heart disease is increased. Family history can also play a part.

Make sure you can recognise the warning signs of a heart attack. The Heart Foundation is a terrific source of information on what signs to look for and what action to take if you or someone else is showing heart attack symptoms.

Make sure you can recognise the warning signs of a heart attack. The Heart Foundation is a terrific source of information on what signs to look for and what action to take if you or someone else is showing heart attack symptoms.

Lung cancer

Cigarette smoking accounts for around 90 per cent of lung cancer deaths in Australia, and men make up 63 per cent of these deaths. The health complications of smoking are well documented, but conquering nicotine addiction is never easy.

If you need help, a number of online resources are available. Every cigarette you don’t smoke helps your health. If you’re already a smoker, now is the time to get serious about quitting. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.[iv]

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)

Cerebrovascular diseases are those caused by disruption of normal blood supply to the brain. The mostly commonly known is stroke – an extremely serious condition that can lead to brain damage or death.

Stroke doesn’t just happen to older people. Twenty per cent of those who suffer a stroke are under the age of 55, with men more likely than women to experience a stroke at a younger age.

Stroke doesn’t just happen to older people. Twenty per cent of those who suffer a stroke are under the age of 55, with men more likely than women to experience a stroke at a younger age.

It’s estimated that more than 500,000 Australians will suffer a first-time stroke within the next decade. When a stroke happens, it’s vital to know the symptoms and seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

Risk factors for stroke include many of the usual suspects: inactivity, poor diet, high blood pressure, smoking, too much alcohol, being overweight, diabetes and high blood cholesterol.[v]

Chronic lower respiratory diseases

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a collective term for various lung afflictions that interfere with proper breathing. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common types of COPD.

Although oxygen therapy, lung rehabilitation and medicine can help slow progression and relieve symptoms, there is no real cure for COPD.

The most prominent risk factor for chronic lung diseases is smoking, with 20-25 per cent of all smokers developing COPD. Ex- smokers are susceptible as well. Severe air pollution and exposure to irritants like wood dust or chemical fumes can also increase your risk.

Symptoms include persistence coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and being extra-prone to chest infections.[vi]

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Dementia (including Alzheimer’s, the most well known form) is a growing problem in Australia for both genders. It’s currently the single biggest cause of disability in Aussies over 65; with our aging population, it’s predicted to become even more of an issue in coming years.

It’s believed around 400,000 people will be afflicted with dementia by the year 2020, and about 900,000 by 2050.[vii]

Dementia (including Alzheimer’s, the most well known form) is a growing problem in Australia for both genders. It’s currently the single biggest cause of disability in Aussies over 65

Recurring trouble with memory is often one of the first symptoms of dementia. Problem-solving skills may be impaired and there can be mood or personality changes, communication difficulties or confusion about events, people and places.

The main risk factor for dementia is advancing age. Once we reach the age of 65, our risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. Genetics, cardiovascular health and traumatic brain injury are also risk factors.

The link between heart health and brain health suggests that whatever helps your circulation (better diet, more exercise, healthier habits, etc.) may help in the battle against dementia.[viii]

Prostate cancer

Ask the average Australian man what he knows about prostate cancer, and there’s a good chance his answer will be “Uh, not too much.” And this, unfortunately, is a large part of the problem.

One in nine men in this country will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Each year, around 20,000 new cases are diagnosed and 3300 men lose their lives from this cancer.

One in nine men in this country will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Each year, around 20,000 new cases are diagnosed and 3300 men lose their lives from this cancer. Risk increases with age: if you’re in your 40s your chances are one in a thousand, but by the time you’re in your 80s this has jumped to 80 in a thousand.

To put this health danger into perspective, consider that roughly the same number of men die from prostate cancer in Australia as women die from breast cancer. However, a survey showed that 78 percent of women felt well informed about breast cancer, while only 52 per cent of men said they felt well informed about prostate cancer.

The good news is: early detection of prostate cancer is a simple matter of visiting your doctor for a straightforward test. The bad news is: surveys show only about 10 per cent of Aussie men between 50 and 70 reported they’d had these tests done in the previous year.[ix]

Blood cancers

Each day in Australia, over 30 people are diagnosed with lymphoma, leukaemia, myeloma or a related blood disorder.[x]

In Australia, lymphomas are the most common type of blood cancer. Cases of lymphoma have more than doubled in the past two decades, but the reason for this increase is not known. Symptoms include swollen lymph glands, weakness, night sweats and loss of appetite/weight loss. There are no routine screening tests for lymphoma.[xi]

Bowel cancer

17,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia annually. The risk of being diagnosed with this cancer by age 85 is 1 in 10 for men and 1 in 15 for women.

The risk of being diagnosed with this cancer by age 85 is 1 in 10 for men and 1 in 15 for women

Factors that may increase bowel cancer risk include high red meat consumption (especially processed meats), family history (inherited genetics), high alcohol consumption, being obese or overweight and smoking.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is available for Australians over 50 years of age. It involves a simple, non-invasive faecal test kit that can be used at home to screen for the cancer. Contact the Cancer Council for additional information on bowel cancer screening.[xii]

 Diabetes

When you think about the major problems facing the world today, your mind probably drifts toward poverty, political instability and environmental issues – not diabetes. But diabetes is an epidemic that some experts consider the most serious health problem facing modern society.

Professor Paul Zimmet, international research director at Melbourne’s Baker Idi Heart and Diabetes Institute, believes diabetes will “bankrupt the economies of many nations unless we take urgent action” and calls it potentially “the greatest epidemic in the history of the world.”

Diabetes is our fastest-growing chronic disease.

Diabetes is our fastest-growing chronic disease. Around 1.7 million Aussies currently deal with diabetes, which costs the country $ 6 billion annually. Because spiralling obesity rates are the main driver behind the disease, some refer to this issue as “diabesity”.

By 2031, 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes[xiii] – a figure roughly equivalent to the current populations of Brisbane and Adelaide combined.[xiv] In Australia, men are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than women, regardless of their age group or socioeconomic status.[xv]

Suicide and intentional self-harm

Male suicide is a catastrophic problem in Australia. Of the 2000+ suicides that occur in our country each year, almost 80 per cent are male deaths. In 2008 alone, there were over 1700 male suicides.

Of the 2000+ suicides that occur in our country each year, almost 80 per cent are male deaths.

According to Suicide Prevention Australia, men are more at risk from suicide for a number of emotional, social and interpersonal reasons. Men have higher levels of ill health than women generally, including in crucial areas like alcohol/drug misuse, obesity, injury and physical disease.

The male habit of internalising problems is also a factor: men are not as likely to share personal issues with their family or close friends and their support systems are often smaller than those of women.[xvi]

A number of crisis support services are available around Australia for those who need help with depression, anxiety and other personal issues. These include Lifeline and Beyond Blue, which both offer telephone and online support.

How to be a healthy man in Australia

If you’re an Aussie man, knowing about your biggest health risks is a good first step. Knowledge is power – the power to make changes in your lifestyle that improve your health.

One thing that’s apparent from the above list is that many health risks are largely preventable simply by changing some harmful habits and taking a more proactive approach to personal health.

The 21st century has become the century for ‘lifestyle diseases’ but it doesn’t have to be that way. For Australian men, “she’ll be right” doesn’t cut it anymore. Here are five quick tips for men who want to boost their health:

  • Find a doctor you’re comfortable with and don’t be afraid to visit them, whatever the problem might be.
  • Go for your regular medical check-ups.
  • When deciding what to eat, focus on nutrients, not calories.
  • Make sleep a priority. Get at least 7 hours a night, every night.
  • Exercise regularly and mix up your workouts (stretching, weights, swimming, aerobics, weekend sport, etc.)
  • Do whatever it takes to stay at your optimum healthy weight – your life may depend on it.

Staying healthy isn’t just about you – it affects your family too. The best way to look after them is to properly look after yourself: a healthy lifestyle is more fulfilling when it’s shared as a family.

And make sure your health insurance is appropriate for your needs, so you know you’re prepared for any unexpected medical events that come along.

 

[i] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4125.0~Feb%202015~Main%20Features~Health~2321

[ii] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/mens-health

[iii] http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2013~Main%20Features~Leading%20Causes%20of%20Death%20by%20Sex~10036

[iv] http://health365.com.au/articles/mens-health/top-10-killers-of-australian-men

[v] https://strokefoundation.com.au/~/media/strokewebsite/resources/factsheets/understandandpreventstroke_web.ashx?la=en

[vi] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/lung-conditions-chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd

[vii] http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dementia-statistics

[viii] http://www.alz.org/au/dementia-alzheimers-australia.asp

[ix] http://prostate-cancer-support-act.net/24statistics/24statistics.html

[x] http://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancers

[xi] http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/lymphoma.html

[xii] http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/bowel-cancer.html

[xiii] http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/health+news/diabetes+the+epidemic,20885

[xiv] http://blog.id.com.au/2012/population/australian-census-2011/top-33-largest-cities-in-australia-by-population/

[xv] http://www.aihw.gov.au/how-common-is-diabetes/

[xvi] http://suicidepreventionaust.org/statement/men-and-suicide-future-directions/

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