The male health symptoms you should never ignore

    Published: 19 November 2021. Written in by Howard Calvert.

    Vitality’s Dr Roshane Mohidin guides you through the men’s health warning signs to look out for, and what to do if you spot them. 

    Whether it’s mental or physical health issues, men are notoriously slow to report worrying health symptoms to their GP. Not only that, large numbers of men aren’t aware of warning signs they should be looking for, and what these symptoms could mean.

     A survey by Prostate Cancer Research and cancer care provider GenesisCare found that 49% of men bury their heads in the sand when it comes to health-related matters, and 75% are unaware of the physical symptoms of prostate cancer.

     Prostate cancer is just one of a number of health issues men should be on the lookout for. ‘According to the Office For National Statistics, men currently lag around four years behind women in terms of life expectancy [at birth] – 79 years versus 82.9 years,’ says Dr Roshane Mohidin, head of health behaviour change at Vitality.

      ‘The reasons are multifactorial, with men more likely to be affected by some conditions, such as heart disease, as well as being less likely to visit their GP for medical help.’ When it comes to mental health, research found that 40% of men said it would take thoughts of suicide or self-harm to compel them to seek professional help.

     So to guide you through becoming more aware of the health symptoms you should never ignore, we asked Dr Mohidin to highlight some important symptoms every man should be aware of, and what to do if you are worried.

     

    A change to your urine flow

    Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, and although it’s uncommon in men under 50, it becomes very common in men aged 65-plus, and it’s more prevalent than you might think. Research suggests that 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer at some point in their life.

     Dr Mohidin says that most men with early prostate cancer don’t have symptoms until the cancer grows sufficiently to put pressure on the tube carrying urine away from the bladder. ‘This results in urinary symptoms such as passing urine more frequently and urgently, particularly in the night-time, finding it difficult to start to pass urine, straining to pass urine, the flow of urine being weak and having a sensation the bladder has not fully emptied afterwards.’ He adds that another warning sign to look out for is blood in the urine or semen.

     However, don’t immediately panic if you notice any of these symptoms, as it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. ‘As men get older, their prostate will naturally increase in size, which can lead to similar symptoms,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘However, I’d recommend speaking with your GP if you’re experiencing these symptoms, especially if you’re over 50 or have a family history of prostate cancer.’

     If you’re worried that you’re suffering from prostate symptoms, you can find out your international prostate symptoms score (IPSS) by filling out this form that has seven questions relating to symptoms you might be experiencing and will help your GP assess how severe they are.

     

    A constant feeling of anxiety

    Male suicide is the biggest cause of death in men aged under 35 – in 2020, according to Samaritans, 3,682 men took their own lives in England. Research by Mind in 2019 found that two in five men admit to regularly feeling worried or low, with the number of men having suicidal thoughts doubling to 10% since 2009. Thanks to a rising awareness about mental illness in the media and on social media, it’s a more talked about issue now than it was 10 years ago.

     ‘If you’re generally feeling low in mood, find yourself feeling constantly on edge or anxious, or you feel your use of alcohol and other substances is getting out of control, I’d recommend speaking with your GP, who can support you. Or you can self-refer yourself for NHS psychological therapies,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘However, if you’re in distress with thoughts of harming yourself or others and need immediate help, then please call 999 or attend A&E.’

     

    A lump on your testes

    Testicular cancer typically affects younger men aged between 15 and 49 and is relatively rare, with around 2,300 men diagnosed in the UK each year according to Macmillan. However, Dr Mohidin says that it’s important to be aware of the signs, which can easily be missed. ‘The most common symptom is a hard lump or swelling in one of the testicles. It’s usually painless, which can delay the diagnosis, but in some cases can cause a dull aching pain or heavy feeling in the scrotum.’

     The advice for men is to self-examine their testicles regularly. ‘Be aware of what is normal for you,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘If you notice any lumps, swellings, unusual changes or simply any differences between your testicles, I’d recommend speaking to your GP.’ It’s important not to ignore these symptoms, so please do not feel embarrassed about visiting your GP.

     If you’re unsure how to check your testicles, Macmillan has put together some useful practical advice to guide you through the process. Hold your scrotum in the palm of your hand, and use your fingers and thumb to feel each testicle. You should be aware of what your testicles normally feel like, which will make it easier to spot any differences in the texture or feel of the testicle.

     

    Chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea or feeling faint

    The main symptoms of heart disease are pain in the chest, shortness of breath, feeling sick and feeling as if you might faint. However, Dr Mohidin says that some people may not have any symptoms before they’re diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

     Statistics from the British Heart Foundation reveal that there are 7.6 million people living with heart or circulatory disease in the UK and, of these, four million are men. ‘You can lower your risk by making lifestyle changes such as keeping physically active, maintaining a healthy diet and stopping smoking,’ says Dr Mohidin. ‘The NHS also offers a health check for those aged 40 to 74, which can help to pick up certain risk factors of heart disease, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and raised blood pressure.’

     If you experience sudden onset chest pain which makes your chest feel tight or heavy, spreads down your arms, back, neck or jaw and is associated with sweating, shortness of breath, feeling faint or sick, you should call 999 immediately.

    As a Vitality member, you could get a Vitality Healthcheck or a Bluecrest Health Screening. Available with qualifying health insurance, life insurance and investment plans. Log in to Member Zone for the details.