With Movember this month and International Men’s Day on 19 November, men’s health is very much in the spotlight. Vitality’s Head of Clinical Services, GP Dr Dawn Richards, answers five of men’s most-asked health questions
1. I sometimes have trouble urinating. Should I be worried?
One of the most common causes of having trouble urinating is an enlarged prostate, effecting more than 30 per cent of men over the age of 50. The prostate is a small gland at the base of the bladder that is involved in the production of semen and it tends to grow as men get older, often making it difficult to empty the bladder fully, causing straining. It may also cause you to have weak urine flow or the need to go to the loo more often or very suddenly.
What to do
If urinating is causing you problems, it can be treated with a range of medication or surgery. Mild symptoms often don’t need treatment but you should still see your GP to rule out potentially serious conditions, especially if you’re experiencing pain in the lower back or pelvic area, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
Your doctor will carry out blood tests for infections, kidney function, diabetes and prostate problems, including a physical examination and a PSA blood test that can help diagnose prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer affects one in eight men in the UK and is more common in older men, those whose close relatives have had the disease and Afro-Caribbean men. It’s often slow growing, though there are some aggressive forms. There’s no link between an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
Another less serious cause could be an overactive bladder, which also becomes more common with age, as your bladder becomes less able to store urine.
2. I’m having trouble getting and keeping an erection. What can I do and could it be anything more serious?
This is more common after the age of 40. If it persists over several weeks, see your GP. It can happen for many reasons, including stress, anxiety and relationship problems, but it’s important to get a proper diagnosis because it could also indicate a medical problem with blood flow or nerve function, caused by a potentially serious underlying condition such as heart disease or diabetes.
Other possible reasons include side effects of certain medications, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs.
What to do
Your doctor will carry out an assessment including tests such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, and treatment will depend on the cause. It may include lifestyle changes, statins to reduce cholesterol, or medications specifically designed to improve blood flow to the penis.
3. Is a lump the only symptom of testicular cancer?
Although a lump is among the most common symptoms of testicular cancer, fewer than four in 100 lumps turn out to be cancerous. Most lumps are harmless and caused by a collection of varicose veins, a build-up of fluid or cysts.
What to do
It’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you have a lump or another unusual symptom such as swelling, pain, discomfort or change of any kind. These can also be symptoms of testicular cancer, which affects 2,300 men in the UK every year. It’s most common between the ages of 15 and 40, and is more likely if you’ve had the disease before, if it runs in your family or you were born with undescended testicles.
The good news is that if caught at the earliest stage, it has a survival rate of 100 per cent. Get familiar with how your testicles normally look and feel so you spot changes early. Here’s how to carry out a self-check.
4. I’m feeling down and I don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to. Who can I turn to?
Sharing your concerns can help you deal with challenges and problems, while ignoring negative feelings can leave you feeling isolated and overwhelmed, leading to chronic anxiety or depression.
The importance of seeking help can’t be overstated. Statistically men are only a third as likely to use mental health services as women but three times as likely to commit suicide, according to charity Men’s Health Forum.
What to do
Your GP can refer you for talking therapies, but services vary and there may be a waiting time. Fortunately, there are lots of free services run by mental health charities such as Samaritans, Mind and Calm, which allow you talk to someone right away via a telephone helpline, web chat or email. For a list of what’s available, check out the Movember website and for online help and information, visit NHS Choices’ Moodzone.
5. I’m increasingly stressed at work. How could this affect my body?
Short-term stress is a normal part of life, but if it becomes chronic, the ongoing presence of stress hormones in your body can lead to a whole host of physical symptoms, including headaches, muscle aches and pains, digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhoea, low energy, chest pains, lowered immunity and high blood pressure. If you choose unhealthy coping strategies, such as smoking, drinking and eating fast food, this can make the consequences worse.
What to do
The key to dealing with stress is to take back control. Prioritise urgent and important tasks, delegate others and manage expectations by being realistic about what you can achieve during your normal working hours. Visit your GP for a blood pressure check if you haven’t had one for more than two years. For more on dealing with stress, visit Mind.
Remember, regular exercise, a healthy diet, sleep and relaxation will all help you to cope better.
If you’re concerned about your health or wellbeing, visit your GP.
See these four ways men can look after their health here.