By Richard Dettman, Ph.D., RDCS, FASE, instructor, MATC Cardiovascular Technology Associate Degree Program

June is an exciting month. Not only do we welcome summer with open arms, it also designates Men’s Health Month. Why is this so important? Men’s Health Month offers the opportunity for men to take an active role in facilitating a change in the attitudes and practices toward personal health care. As little boys we are programmed to dealing with a scraped knee by someone telling us “Rub some dirt in it! You’re fine. Be a man and get over it! No whining!”

This really does not work so well later in life when a middle-aged man is experiencing chest pain upon exerting himself, and just takes it in stride and neglects to have it evaluated by a medical professional. More likely than not, he will just disregard the pain, self-medicate and rationalize it, saying it was just a result of that extra helping of gravy laden prime rib devoured late last night. Or, he will think, “Maybe I just pulled a muscle.” This kind of rationalization may be why so many men take a hands-off approach to their personal health and well-being.

This month gives medical professionals, doctors, public policy makers, the media, and individuals like you and me an opportunity to encourage the men around us to seek medical advice and pursue early treatment for suspected diseases or acquired injuries. As a public health professional, educator, and a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer (echocardiographer, if you will), I would like to share information about men and cardiovascular disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, followed by cancer and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are classified as cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), with the contributing conditions of high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease and diabetes. The American Heart Association reports that more than 39 million American men, or one in every three men, are afflicted by one or more of these conditions, and that every year approximately 500,000 men die of cardiovascular disease, meaning one in four deaths of men in the U.S. each year are caused by CVD.  That’s more than cancer and diabetes combined. While widely known as the leading cause of death, CVD also serves as a significant contributor to disability worldwide.

The goal of Men’s Health Month is to emphasize the importance of public health disease prevention for men through screening and wellness promotion. So what are the anticipated benefits regarding disease prevention? It appears that our own attitudes get in the way of seeking out preventive measures. Many of the basic risk factors for CVD, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, poor diet, lack of physical activity and obesity are modifiable. We can make a substantial impact on our personal health and wellness. But if we choose to ignore our symptoms, reject lifestyle changes, and avoid free screenings, over time, these controllable risk factors for CVD can lead to a devastating heart attack or stroke. It is crucial to address the behavior of these factors early in adult life and to prevent the potentially devastating complications of developing chronic CVD. According to the CDC, women are 100 percent more likely than men to visit a doctor for an annual examination or preventive services.

So gentlemen, the ball is in our court! According to Dr. David Gremillion of the Men’s Health Network, “There is a silent health crisis in America…it’s the fact that, on average, American men live sicker and die younger than American women.” Choose to live longer, and healthier, and we can all experience the rich benefits of good health practices. Choose health and live well.

Oh, and by the way, my students and I offer FREE echocardiograms during the fall and spring semesters on the Downtown Milwaukee Campus. Look for information later this year!

Here are details about Men’s Health Awareness Month at MATC:

Men's Health Awareness 2015