Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au.
This week, Dr Zac Turner looks at why women live longer than men.
Question: I heard you on the radio the other day discussing it being Men’s Health Week. It got me thinking about my own health and what I need to look out for. Many of my concerns were put to bed but one has remained unanswered: Why do women live longer than men? – Andrew, 28, Sydney
Answer: Hi Andrew, thanks for your great, and also philosophical, question. From first glance this conundrum does seem complex, with dozens of mitigating factors and a multitude of genetic predispositions to consider.
And that perspective would be entirely true, however, my main rule of thumb for writing these columns is: make it simple, stupid. So rather than listing off a barrage of medical jargon, I’ll synthesise the answer into one simple statement.
The reason women live longer than men is because they are more honest with their doctors.
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According to statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a boy born in 2016-2018 can expect to live to the age of 80.7, and a girl would be expected to live to 84.9 years. Coupled with the fact women are more likely to visit the doctor than men, and when they do visit are more likely to be honest about their health issues – the answer to your question becomes glaringly obvious.
That’s the big problem with men’s health, and their visits to the doctor: they hide. Men are conditioned to deflect any vulnerabilities, their strength and health dictate their masculinity. A third of Australian men (37 per cent) withhold information from their doctors. One study even found 72 per cent of men would rather be doing household chores, like cleaning toilets, than going to the doctor.
This leads to men ignoring health problems longer, like I was saying in the radio interview you heard, such as growing waistlines, skin spots and scars which can all lead to serious health issues.
From the age of 18, men should be undertaking regular health checks with their doctors for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and cancer.
There certainly are three common health issues a male will hide from their doctor, and I’ll take you through them.
This has become the modern-day boogey man for all sexually active men. It terrifies them and they lose sleep over it. The stigma surrounding male performance in bed has led to many men fearing any type of discussion with their doctor regarding ED.
As I’ve stated before in my previous column on Viagra, Erectile Dysfunction is when the nerves in your penis don’t communicate properly with your brain during arousal. It’s most often caused by things such as blood pressure, stress and anxiety and diet, which are common to everyone and not a surprise phenomenon.
The first thing to know about the condition is that every sexually active male will experience ED at some point in their life. Many things will cause ED and unless you visit your doctor to discuss what it could be, you will never be able to treat it.
Your doctor will work with you closely in determining the severity of your ED and whether it’s caused by a specific health condition, and will take you through varying treatment plans. There are now companies, such as my own, Concierge Doctors, that offer discrete, virtual appointments to discuss treatments.
2. Hair loss
Men will often hide the fact they are losing their hair, using either hats or toupees. Male pattern baldness, also called androgenic alopecia, is the most common type of hair loss in men. According to studies from the US, it affects nearly 50 per cent of all men over the age of fifty.
Losing your hair can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition, and if you never check you will never know until it’s too late. We do know some men are genetically predisposed to lose their hair, and others are lacking in hormones called androgens, which are responsible for regulating hair growth.
3. Prostate Cancer
This is the most serious of the three which men hide from their doctors. It is the leading cancer in Australian men. The reason men hide any prostate issues has a large part to do with the fact the test involves the doctor examining the prostate through the anus.
The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut located just below the bladder and above the rectum. Prostate cancer is the growth of abnormal cells on the gland. Science still hasn’t determined the cause of it or even found clear prevention strategies.
The danger is there are virtually no early warning signs, the only way to know is by doing a prostate examination. When men experience late-stage symptoms of prostate cancer, such as blood in their urine and pelvic pain, it’s almost always too late. Which is why it is so important to regularly test for it.
I recommend you visit the Men’s Health Week website and read up and watch the fantastic material they have. To help better your education, check to see if there will be a community event in your local area, you’ll meet men with different levels of experience who may be able to teach you a thing or two.
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors, and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist, past Registered Nurse and currently a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering. | @drzacturner