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What Men Should Know About Women’s Health

For His Health and Hers

By Kate Rockwood | October 15, 2019 | Rally Health

When women see their doctor, they tend to come in with a number of questions, much more so than men, says Arthur Hong, MD, a family physician. But that’s far from the only difference between men and women when it comes to managing their health and wellness. 

We can all learn lessons from people of another gender about what to do and what not to do. Here are some things men should know about the women in their lives that could help them improve their own health and lifestyle.

3 Things Men Should Know About Women

1. Routine exams are really important

It’s not nagging if it’s for a good cause. Men should be aware of which routine exams are important for the women in their lives to be proactive about their health. Early detection of diseases that affect women are crucial to their survival rates. 

Women generally should start to receive regular mammograms between ages 40 and 50, depending on the health guidelines their doctor follows and the woman’s risk factors. Women ages 21 to 65, who are at average risk, should get a cervical cancer screening every three to five years, depending on their history. And finally, women ages 65 and older and postmenopausal women younger than age 65 who are at increased risk for osteoporosis should get a screening that measures bone density and looks for signs of osteoporosis. There is no agreed-upon standard for how often a bone density screening should happen. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 80% of people affected by the disease are women.

Cervical cancer was a major cause of death for women as recently as the 1940s before the development of the Pap smear. Once the relatively simple swab test became commonplace, the rates of cervical cancer incidence and death plummeted by more than 60%. 

2. Her heart attack symptoms might not look like yours 

You know the telltale signs of a heart attack, right? A shooting pain down your arm, chest-clutching pain that makes you fall to the ground. That might be how it looks in the movies, but not for everyone, especially women.   

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women just as it is in men, so it’s important to know all the signs. The most common heart attack symptom for both men and women is chest pain, but women are more likely to experience “atypical symptoms” of a heart attack, like shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or upper abdominal or jaw pain, says Hong. They may dismiss a heart attack  as the flu, or acid reflux, if they don’t know to watch out for these symptoms. 

According to the American Heart Association, anyone, regardless of gender, should call 911 to get to the hospital right away for any of these symptoms:  

  • Pressure, discomfort, or pain in the center of your chest that feels like squeezing or fullness. It may last a few minutes or more, or resolve and return.
  • Pain or discomfort in either or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, which may or may not accompany chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, or lightheadedness.

3. Her pain is real.

“The idea that women are delicate flowers is a hard-to-kill stereotype,” says Lorraine Novas, MD, an OB-GYN at Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, Ill.

This can mean that a woman’s complaints of pain don’t get taken as seriously as a man’s, but that shouldn’t be the case, she says. 

Women, for example, report feeling more intense pain in almost every disease category. And women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men. The gender of the patient and the health care provider can both determine the course of pain treatment. For example, women are more likely to receive an antidepressant or mental health referral than men.   

“Pain is a very individualized symptom and can vary in degree and quality in different people even if the cause is the same,” Hong says. “Finding out where the pain is, what it feels like, and how it’s affecting that person’s life gives a better perspective on the level of their pain.”

So for the woman in your life, take her pain seriously, help her manage it, get the recommended medical screenings, recognize her symptoms may be different from yours, and advocate for appropriate treatment when necessary. 

3 Things Men Can Learn From Women’s Health

1. Ditch the risky habits.

Men are more likely to drink and smoke.

“Men are more likely to drink excessively, compared with women, says Hong. They are also at greater risk of becoming smokers. “Moderation when drinking is important,” Hong says. That means men should have no more than two drinks, and women no more than one.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15.7% of men age 18 and older in the US smoke, and 30.9% of the same population has engaged in binge drinking on occasion. That compares with12% of women who smoke and 19.8% of women age 18 and older who binge drink. 

If you choose to drink, drinking moderately can help keep some of the risks of drinking at bay. And quitting smoking is one of the best things any smoker can do for his health. It lowers his heart rate immediately, and reduces heart attack risk within 24 hours. It can also lower cholesterol, clear up skin, stop damage to the lungs, and allow the body to begin to repair.  

2. Go to the doctor once in a while

“Men may not be as proactive in seeking health care, whether it’s preventive care or for symptoms they’re experiencing,” Hong says.

According to the CDC’s 2017 National Health Interview survey, 20.5% of male respondents age 18 and older had not had contact with a doctor in more than one year, and of that number, 4% hadn’t been in contact with a doctor in more than five years. Of the female respondents, 11% had not had contact with a doctor in over a year, and 1.2% had not had contact with a doctor in more than five years. 

“Men may need encouragement to find a primary care doctor early on so they can build a rapport and feel less hesitant about seeking care when they need it,” Hong says. 

3. Mental Health Counts as Health, Too 

Although women are more commonly diagnosed with depression, the suicide rate among men in the US is nearly four times higher than for women. According to a study by the CDC, women tend to more frequently have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness than men, but according to the World Health Organization they are also more likely to disclose mental health problems to their primary care doctors.

“Any suicidal thoughts need to be taken seriously, and immediate medical attention taken,” Hong says.That may mean calling your doctor, calling 911, calling a close friend or family member, or calling the suicide prevention hotline, 800-273-TALK.

Women are more likely to have depression and anxiety, and their risk factors are often gender-related like economic disadvantage, gender-based violence, income inequality and responsibility for caring for others.

Related: What Women Should Know About Men’s Health

Kate Rockwood
Rally Health