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5 health checks every man must have

We look at the top five leading causes of death in men and the health checks to prevent them.

3 June 2019
5 minute read

Man at doctor

According to research Tuberculosis and HIV remain the top causes of death for men in South Africa, but hot on their heels are cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and lung disease.

Here are the preventative checks that men should have to detect these potentially fatal conditions early, and thus treat them in good time.

1.CancerLung cancer
This is the leading cause of cancer related death in men, and it is estimated that 1 in 76 South African men will develop it.

The test
If you are over 50 and have a history of smoking, talk to your doctor about screening. The test involves examining the lungs with a fiberoptic telescope, sampling sputum to look for cancer cells, and doing a CT scan.

Prostate cancer  
The other main cancer to watch out for is prostate cancer. Prostate cancer occurs in the prostate gland, the gland that produces the fluid that makes up semen.

The test
At age 50, ask your doctor about having a PSA test, a blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) - a protein produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate. Another way to screen for prostate cancer is a digital rectal exam, during which the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to examine the prostate for lumps or anything unusual.  

If you have a family history of prostate cancer, or are of African or Caribbean descent, ask your doctor about these tests at age 45.

2. Heart diseaseHeart (cardiovascular) disease, which refers to narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke, is the leading cause of death in South Africa among men and women, although men are twice as likely as women to have a heart attack. Every hour in South Africa, five people have heart attacks.

A stroke is caused by a blockage or bleeding in the brain that damages brain cells. Depending on where it happens in the brain, a stroke can affect the body, mobility and speech, as well as how patients think and feel. According to healthcare organisation The Angels Initiative, stroke is the fourth biggest natural cause of death in South Africa, with almost 360 people suffering strokes every year, 110 of them dying and 90 left with a life-changing disability.

High blood pressure is the main risk factor for death from heart disease.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the main risk factor for death from heart disease. To reduce your risk of high blood pressure, commit to a healthy diet, and limit your salt and fat intake.

High cholesterol levels, which in turn cause the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries, are another significant risk factor for coronary artery disease.

The tests
High blood pressure can be easily tested at your local pharmacy clinic or at your GP. Blood pressure is tested with an inflated blood pressure cuff on your arm. A blood pressure reading of lower than 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. You can also buy a blood pressure machine to test at home. Test your blood pressure at least once a year, starting at age 18, especially if you are overweight and have high blood cholesterol.

A cholesterol test is also available at your local pharmacy, clinic or GP, and is best done in the morning since you'll need to fast for the most accurate results.

From age 35, have your cholesterol checked every five years, but if you smoke, have diabetes or heart disease runs in your family, start having it checked from age 20.

3. DiabetesDiabetes is the second most common cause of death in the country, according to the latest (2016) Statistics South Africa report on mortality and causes of death.

Diabetes is a condition that impairs the body's ability to process blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. Without careful management, diabetes can lead to a build-up of sugars in the blood, which can in turn increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.

The most common type of diabetes in men is Diabetes 2, otherwise known as ‘adult onset diabetes’. Among the risk factors for diabetes are being overweight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a family history of diabetes. Once diagnosed, self-monitoring blood sugar levels is vital for effective diabetes management, helping to regulate meal scheduling, physical activity, and when to take medication, including insulin.

The test
To test for diabetes, have a simple blood test in the GP’s office or health clinic, which will measure your blood-glucose level (the amount of sugar in your blood).

4. Lung disease (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) means the lung tissue is damaged and loses its ability to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two types of COPD, and both are most commonly caused by smoking. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing, and an increased risk of lung infection including pneumonia.

The disease usually presents itself after the age of 40 years, with a slow progressive onset of symptoms. Damage to the lungs from COPD can't be reversed.

The test
Lung (pulmonary) function tests are conducted at your clinic. These tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and if your lungs are delivering enough oxygen to your blood. The best preventative measure, of course, is to stop smoking.

If you have an ongoing chronic cough, shortness of breath and wheezing, ask your doctor about a pulmonary function test.

5. Don’t neglect mental healthAccording to SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says the rate of depression is at an all-time high. Genetics, substance abuse, a traumatic childhood and relationship issues are the most common reasons people can develop a mental illness.

According to SADAG, instead of acknowledging their feelings, asking for help, or seeking appropriate treatment, men with depression may be more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs, or to become frustrated, discouraged, angry or irritable. Some men throw themselves compulsively into their work or hobbies, attempting to hide their depression from themselves, family, and friends.

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the body, mind and behaviour. Depression can strike anyone regardless of age, ethnic background, social position, or gender.

Need help?
If you feel you are very stressed, sad or not coping, don’t struggle alone. Get help. The SADAG provides free, confidential telephone counselling by trained counsellors from Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm, and Saturdays, 8am to 5pm. Counsellors can be reached on 011 783 1474.

Take charge of your healthThe best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to take good care of your physical and mental health. Live a healthy lifestyle, have the recommended tests to detect problems early, and get the help and support you need.

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