June is Men’s Health Month. Historically, men have not been as comfortable as women when it comes to discussing issues about their health, particularly conditions like diabetes, depression or sexual dysfunction. This has resulted in shorter and less healthy lives for men in the United States compared to women.
But why is this? We posed this question to a number of diabetes experts. They concluded that the No. 1 reason men don’t talk about or take better care of their health—regardless of race or ethnic background—is fear of receiving bad news. In general, men don’t like to hear that they are sick because they don’t want to show vulnerability.
When it comes to men and diabetes management specifically, our experts say that the main barriers to good health are lack of understanding and education of the disease, as well as fear of having to change their current lifestyle (including eating habits, level of physical activity and sex life due to developing impotence, a complication of diabetes). Other top reasons that can inhibit care are lack of access to health care, limited time to visit the doctor and inability to afford the doctors’ visits.
Diabetes Can Lead to Serious Health Complications
If unmanaged, diabetes can cause far-reaching health implications such as heart disease, nerve damage and kidney damage. The death rate from heart disease is much higher for men with diabetes than it is for men who don’t have diabetes.
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the eye, potentially leading to blindness. Eye disorders can include retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.
Neuropathy is also very common, as about half of people with diabetes have some sort of nerve damage. Amputation rates from diabetes-related problems are 1.4 to 2.7 times higher in men than in women with diabetes.
Many men with diabetes also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, a breathing disorder in which the airway is blocked when the mouth and throat relax during sleep, often for more than 10 seconds. Being male makes you at greater risk for OSA. Any wives out there who think their husbands snore like a freight train? It could be OSA, and it could increase his risk for high blood pressure or even heart attack and stroke if left untreated.
Some men with diabetes have impotence, also called erectile dysfunction (ED). ED is when a man can no longer have or keep an erection. Over time, blood vessels and nerves in the penis can become damaged from diabetes, leading to this condition. Certain medicines, such as some pills for high blood pressure, depression, stomach ulcers or heartburn, may also cause ED. If you have diabetes, ask your health care provider if ED is a side effect of any of your medicines. There may be other pills you can take.
Lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease and vascular problems also increase the chances of ED. Among them are smoking, being overweight and being inactive. Experts also believe that psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, low self-esteem and fear of sexual failure cause 10 to 20 percent of ED cases.
Be a Man and Take Better Care for Your Health
According to our experts, there are many things men can do to take better care of their diabetes and general health.
First, find a health care provider you can trust, someone who you can have an open discussion with. In addition to the doctor, try to find a friend or family member who can help you adopt healthy behaviors, such as an exercise partner.
Second, try to increase your level of physical activity and modify your eating habits and portion control (small steps are better than drastic changes all at once). Last but not least, comply with your doctor’s appointments. Regular professional care is crucial for keeping your diabetes management on track.
This Men’s Health Month, we encourage all men with diabetes to get out, get active and get informed!
For more information about health for men with diabetes, visit www.diabetes.org/men.