Spotlight on Men’s Health Awareness Month | 4 min read

Silent killers – How yearly check-ups can save lives.

More than half of all premature deaths among men are preventable. Getting an annual physical exam or check-up and scheduling the necessary health screenings can detect and treat preventable health problems like heart disease, prostate cancer, hypertension and diabetes early. These silent killers, with no visible signs or obvious symptoms, prefer men as their targets, and can progress to an advanced stage before they are discovered. Unfortunately, these medical conditions are often overlooked until it is too late to intervene. But most men are unlikely to seek medical care unless they are experiencing symptoms, they cannot ignore any more, or are confronted with a serious health issue. In fact, men are 25% less likely than women to go to the doctor for annual exams and preventive care.

Being aware of the deadliest silent killers can help you or a man you care about, be proactive in preventing and treating these health issues.

1.    Heart Disease

Heart disease and stroke are South Africa’s biggest killers after HIV/AIDS. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) encompasses a wide range of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, which includes heart failure, angina, coronary artery disease and arrhythmias.

Heart disease is so deadly because it causes few to no symptoms in its early stages. Several of the most common risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of heart disease do not necessarily have symptoms a person can feel. If left unchecked, these risk factors can add up over time. It is important to see your doctor on a regular basis to make sure all of your cardiovascular risk factors are well-controlled. 80% of heart disease and strokes can be prevented.

Did you know?

Erectile dysfunction can be the first sign of heart disease. Somebody who doesn’t have any other problems, but notices he is having a difficult time either getting or maintaining an erection should see this as a first sign that he needs a heart check-up.

2.    Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in South African men. An estimated 1 in 19 men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. This form of cancer is life threatening if left untreated. Unfortunately, prostate cancer typically produces no symptoms until it has metastasized, or spread throughout the body. It is thus important for men to go for regular check-ups as many men do not notice the symptoms during the early stages. For this reason, regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening is of the utmost importance for detecting prostate cancer while it is localized to the prostate.

CANSA recommends talking to your doctor about screening by age 45, or sooner if you have a family history. The most common risk factors are being from African ancestry, older than 50 years and a family history of prostate cancer on either the mother or father’s side. If detected early there is a 98% chance of survival beyond 5 years. If detected late, the % chance of survival beyond 5 years is only 26%.

The main function of the prostate is to produce prostatic fluid to carry the sperm. Three quarters (75%) of men over 50 do not know what the prostate’s function is.

3.    Hypertension

Hypertension or high blood pressure, which, if left untreated, can lead to a fatal heart attack. Although 1 in 4 men have hypertension, most people do not know they have it.

Blood pressure may gently increase over time due to a lot of different factors: chronic stress, poor diet, and family and genetic influences. Uncontrolled hypertension causes premature death. It increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and other complications.

Did you know?

Blood pressure higher than 135/80mm Hg may be a sign of diabetes or other cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

4.    Diabetes

The number of SA adults with diabetes has soared to 4.5-million people, according to a recent report from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). It means SA now has the highest proportion of adult diabetics on the continent, and the greatest number of deaths due to the disease.

Diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease, and can cause complications involving the eyes, skin and nervous system. It’s easy for diabetes symptoms to go undetected, but frequent urination, fatigue, weight loss and blurred vision are all symptoms of the condition.

A blood glucose screening test, starting at age 45 and repeated every 3 years is recommended. Screenings may begin earlier or be done more frequently if you are at risk for diabetes (for example, being overweight or having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol).

Did you know?

Worldwide half the people with diabetes are undiagnosed, and in SA the figures are not much better. An estimated 2-million South Africans do not know they have diabetes.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and scheduling routine check-ups can help prevent or catch these silent killers before it’s too late. The best screening test is the one that gets done. Missing out on potentially live saving screenings may put your health at risk. Early detection is key. See your doctor – routine check-ups can spot a number of conditions that can impact a man’s health.

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