Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, women tended to be more attentive to their health than men, including recognizing symptoms that need medical attention and scheduling regular checkups and screenings. But the coronavirus has taken this disparity to a new level: more men than women are testing positive for COVID-19 and more men are dying from it.
June is designated as Men’s Health Month and it’s usually a time to remind men to get their checkups and to look out for symptoms that could signal an underlying health issue, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes — all contributors to heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.
Recent studies have shown that men are not as likely to practice proper hygiene and social distancing, compared to women, to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19, explains Elliott Elias, M.D., a cardiologist with a focus on interventional echocardiography at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.
“Women are more likely to wash their hands, to maintain social distancing, and also to just be a little bit more aware of their surroundings,” says Dr. Elias. “And that’s partially how researchers explain the gender difference — as to why coronavirus is more common in males more than females. And that would be one actionable thing that men should be aware of.”
Women are more likely “to ask for help or call for help or be more attuned to their symptoms,” he adds. “Men tend to not be as vocal about symptoms right away and not seek help in a way that women do,” says Dr. Elias
Coronavirus-related studies in the U.S., Italy and other nations hit hard by COVID-19 have found that men are more predisposed to contracting coronavirus and have more susceptibility to serious COVID-19 complications.
There is also a biological factor that puts more men at risk from the coronavirus, compared to women. In the search for treatments for COVID-19, researchers are focusing on a specific protein that allows the virus to infect human cells. Called the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2 “receptor,” the protein provides an ease of entry for the coronavirus to infect a range of human cells. Men have been found to have more of these ACE2 receptors, compared to women.
Researchers believe that men may be more vulnerable to the virus for other reasons, aside from ACE2 receptors. Men tend to be more prone to preexisting conditions that may worsen the outcome of the virus, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. In many countries, including the U.S., men also smoke more than women.
“Smoking is definitely a modifiable risk factor,” said Dr. Elias. “Researchers are finding that some of the enzymes or hormones that increase when you smoke are also elevated in COVID-19 patients that become seriously ill.”
Dr. Elias emphasizes that the most important takeaway for men is to get medical attention immediately if they suspect heart attack symptoms or other serious warning signs.
“You know the mortality rate for coronavirus is about 3 percent,” said Dr. Elias. “But for those patients who are actually having a heart attack, the mortality rate is closer to 30 percent if they go untreated. Having heart attack symptoms is something that you don’t want to minimize. Since the coronavirus has swept over the United States, people are calling 911 or coming into the ER later than they would normally.”
Enhanced protective measures, including mandatory face masks, social distancing guidelines, and entranceway screenings, will help keep everyone safe at all Baptist Health facilities.
“There are people that are afraid, but it’s really important to realize that getting untreated for a serious heart ailment or other issue is more important than the risk of COVID-19,” said Dr. Elias. “Across the U.S., and at all Baptist Health facilities here, everybody’s doing a great job of testing patients and making sure that we’re significantly minimizing exposure to anyone coming through our doors.”