What makes men think they are invincible when it comes to getting sick? That's one of those age-old questions that's right up there with why men don't ask for directions. Is it that men don't get sick as often as women do, or is it just part of their genetic makeup to be brave and macho and to ignore serious health issues? While the answers to these and other strange quirks dealing with the male species have been, and will be, debated for centuries, the fact remains that, in general, men arguably are somewhat reckless in their behavior when it comes to health matters. But don't take my word for it; a survey released by the American Academy of Family Physicians that compared the health behaviors of nearly 2,300 men and women confirms it.

Here are just some of the startling statistics that came out of the survey. More than half (55%) of all men have not seen their primary care physician for a physical exam within the past year; four in 10 (42%) men have been diagnosed with at least of one of the following conditions: hypertension (28%), heart disease (8%), arthritis (13%), cancer (8%), or diabetes (10%); almost one in five men (18%) 55 years and older have never received the recommended screening for colon cancer; and more than one out of four men (29%) say they wait "as long as possible" before seeking help when they feel sick or are in pain. Despite this, as incredible as it may sound, almost eight in 10 (79%) described themselves as in "excellent," "very good," or "good" health.

Does being married or having a significant other influence men's health decisions? You bet. The survey revealed that 78% of the men with a spouse or significant other said their partner had some influence over their decision to see a physician. And as far as men thinking they are immune to illness, well that turns out to be just an urban legend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men are at a higher risk of death than are women in most of the top 10 disease categories. These categories include, in descending order: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke, chronic COPD, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, suicide, kidney disease, and Alzheimer's disease. The average man lives 5.3 fewer years than does the average woman. Why is this you might ask? There are many hypotheses, including inherited traits and male sex hormones, which may affect such characteristics as body fat distribution and the effect that might have on some vital organs like the heart. Also, men are more likely to smoke, drink, use illicit drugs, and engage in casual sex than are women. Men are also more likely to take greater risks and behave aggressively, which might explain high blood pressure and accidental deaths.

Whatever the reasons, it is important that pharmacists recognize that men are at an equal or greater risk of developing a serious illness, as are women. It is a well known fact that men generally do not shop in a drug store as often as women. It is also a well known fact that the majority of pharmacists entering retail today are women. This combination makes it difficult for many pharmacists to reach those men they do come into contact with to discuss their health problems. While it is more likely for a female patient to share her personal health issues with a male pharmacist, it is less likely that a male patient will approach a female pharmacist to discuss his personal health issues. Therefore, it is important that female pharmacists make an attempt to approach a male patient to offer consultation on personal health issues.

These alarming statistics and trends are what prompted us at U.S. Pharmacist to devote this issue primarily to men's health concerns, so that both male and female pharmacists have the proper consultation materials to help their male patients get better; because in the end, it really is not just a guy thing.

Harold E. Cohen, R. Ph.