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Men's Health Week Spotlight: Are More Men Dying From COVID-19?

This week is Men’s Health Week, and this year has introduced an important medical question about men’s health.

According to data from the National Institute of Health, men seem to be affected more severely by COVID-19 than women. Other studies from early research suggest men are also dying at a higher rate from COVID-19 than women.

Why COVID-19 affects men more significantly remains a mystery, and health officials are working to determine if the reason falls to behavior, hormones, genes or the immune system, or some combination of all. The disparity probably has several causes. In the U.S., men have more health problems to begin with but get less medical care. At least in the earlier stages of the pandemic, women also seemed to take the threat of the virus more seriously than men. A Gallup poll from April found that 80 percent of women were concerned about catching COVID-19 versus 68 percent of men.

Even in the time before this coronavirus, it has always been important for men to schedule regular checkups and health care appointments. And now, COVID-19 shouldn’t keep men from visiting their doctors and getting their yearly exams — it’s an even better reason to do it.

Men are dying from COVID more than women

Although age is the biggest risk factor when it comes to higher death rates, there is also a gender gap. Global Health 50/50, a group devoted to equality of the sexes in health, finds that “In most countries, available data indicates that men have been upwards of 50 percent more likely to die following diagnosis than women.”

Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic COVID-19 expert, recently shared his thoughts on a Mayo Clinic podcast on the reasons men may be more susceptible. "This has been noticed everywhere there have been large outbreaks,” he said in the broadcast. “Interestingly, some data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that there's worse severity of this disease even in young male children versus female children… In all those studies, women have superior immune responses to men."

Historically, women live on average six years longer than men, who tend to have higher rates of underlying chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, they have a 20 higher chance of developing cancer, for example, but they are less likely to have health insurance or go to the doctor. In 2017, American men between 18 and 64 accounted on average for $3,979 in health-care spending, compared with $5,447 for women in the same age range.

Because COVID-19 patients with underlying health issues fall victim to the virus more often, health experts believe that men having a higher number of these underlying conditions is a factor in why men die of the coronavirus more than women.

The gender gap of health


Researchers have suggested the female sex hormone estrogen may play a particularly important role in protecting women against diseases like COVID-19. Although estrogen is usually thought of as a female hormone, males also produce estrogen, but at much lower levels. Several clinical trials in the United States are exploring whether sex hormones like estrogen can help men recover from COVID-19.

The Immune System

The immune system may hold other clues. An emerging body of research has revealed that women’s bodies are better at fighting off almost all infectious diseases than men, possibly thanks to the hormones in their systems and the genes on their two X chromosomes. For instance, women with acute HIV infections have 40 percent less viral genetic material in their blood than men and women are less susceptible to the viruses that cause hepatitis B and C.

Social Factors

With health concerns, the data clearly shows that men delay seeking medical care more than women do. The psychology of why men hesitate to visit doctors is an age-old question. Are they too busy? Not “sick enough?” Do they think a doctor’s visit is going to be uncomfortable? Are they afraid of what might be discovered? An online survey commissioned by Orlando Health found that it’s a mixture of all these things.

According to the survey, the top excuse men make to avoid seeking health care is that they are too busy. The second-most common excuse? They are “afraid of finding out something might be seriously wrong.” Finally, the discomfort of some annual exams (such as prostate checks, testicular exams, colon cancer screenings and the like) is another top reason men don’t go to doctors. Another study from the National Institutes of Health theorized that men may fear looking vulnerable and often only seek care when encouraged by their female partners.

Until the complexities of sex differences in the severity of COVID-19 are properly understood, we should use the reliable information that we do have. With all health concerns, men should seek the advice of their doctor early to minimize their risk of chronic disease, which we know will not only improve their health and well-being overall, but will reduce their risk of being severely affected by COVID-19.

A list of important men’s annual check-ups

Don’t let the fear of COVID-19 keep your male loved ones from getting the check-ups and health care they need. In fact, it’s even more vital now for men to get control over their health to help them fight off infections of all kinds. Annual screenings and tests are some of the most important things a man can do for his overall health because screenings find diseases early when they are easier to treat.

Prostate exam

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer for American men, second only to skin cancer. Annual screenings can catch the disease early when treatments are more effective. The American Cancer Society suggests men begin discussions and tests at age 50 for the average-risk male, age 45 for high-risk men, and age 40 for African Americans and men with a family history of prostate cancer.

Blood pressure screening

Men should have their systolic and diastolic pressure checked regularly to check for pre-hypertension or high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of stroke and heart issues.

Testicular cancer exam

The American Cancer Society recommends all men have a testicular exam when they see a doctor for a routine physical. Additional screenings may be needed if a man has a family history of testicular cancer or an undescended testicle.

Colorectal exam

For many years, 50 has been the recommended age for a first colonoscopy; however, the American Cancer Society changed that recommendation to age 45 in May of 2018. This is due to more people being diagnosed at younger ages than in past decades. Some insurance companies don’t yet cover a screening before 50 without symptoms or family history, so check with them to make sure you are covered before you get a colonoscopy. Men have a slightly higher risk of developing colon or rectal cancer than women.

Skin cancer screening

Men are three times more likely to get non-melanoma basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers than women, and older men are more likely than women of the same age to develop the deadly melanoma skin cancer.

Cholesterol level test

High cholesterol could lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A fasting blood lipid panel is a common blood test that checks the levels of total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fat). Men need regular cholesterol testing at age 35, though those with a higher risk factor should begin testing at age 20.

Diabetes test

Starting at age 45, healthy men should begin diabetes screenings every three years using a fasting blood sugar test, glucose tolerance test or an AIC. Testing may begin earlier if you have a higher risk, including high cholesterol or blood pressure.

Glaucoma test

Eye tests for glaucoma are based on age and personal risk, but men under the age of 40 should be tested every two to four years. Men ages 40 to 64 should be tested every one to three years, while men over the age of 65 should be tested every six to 12 months.

By offering a multitude of men’s health resources at INTEGRIS, we challenge all men to take control of their health and make their appointment for their annual check-up. Happy Men’s Health Week, and we hope you are staying safe and healthy.

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