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Health issues some men tend to ignore (and why they shouldn’t)
It's important to consult a doctor on these common symptoms. Here’s what to know.
Seeing your doctor regularly is a great way to stay on top of your health. But for some people, those visits never seem to get scheduled. And that’s especially true for men. Guys are more likely than women to put off checkups and medical care.1
“Most of the time, if I’m seeing a male patient, it’s because someone made the appointment for them or they had a health scare,” says Howard K. Bland, MD. He’s an Optum family medicine specialist in Seal Beach, California.
Men may put off talking to their doctor about a health issue because they’re embarrassed. Or maybe they don’t want to hear that they need to change how they eat or other lifestyle habits, Dr. Bland notes.
But it’s important that you stay current on recommended checkups. It’s also a good idea to get help if you’re having a health issue or symptoms you can’t explain.
Here’s why: If you delay care, your symptoms can get worse. Or it could even put you in danger. Here are six common issues you might be ignoring, and why it’s best to see your doctor for them.
You may not know you snore unless your partner, friend or family member tells you. And even when men know they snore, some may not see it as a reason to visit a doctor.
“From their perspective, they’re sleeping just fine, so it’s not their problem,” Dr. Bland says.
But snoring can be a sign of a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.2 When you have sleep apnea, your breathing stops and starts while you’re asleep. It can happen when the airway intermittently becomes too narrow to let air pass through.2
These constant breathing troubles can lead you to sleep poorly. You may be in bed for seven or eight hours but still feel sleepy during the day.2 And sleep apnea can affect your health in ways, including:3
What to do next: Let’s say your partner tells you that you snore. Or you’re feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep. Both would be important reasons to talk to your doctor. Your doctor may do a sleep study to see if you have sleep apnea.2 That’s a test to see if you have a sleep disorder.
Doctors usually suggest using a special machine called a CPAP if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea. That stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” It’s designed to help you breathe normally while you sleep.4,5 Some patients struggle with CPAP therapy. In some cases, or for people with certain types of anatomy, surgery may be considered.6
2. Chest pains
Many men ignore subtle chest pain or discomfort, thinking it’s heartburn, says Dr. Bland. “They might say, ‘I don’t think it’s my heart. I just need to take more antacids. It’s just heartburn,’” he says.
Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It’s also known as acid indigestion. It occurs when stomach acids travel up into your esophagus. This is the tube that carries food or liquid from your throat to the stomach.7,8
But chest pain or discomfort might mean something more serious is going on with your heart. It could be a sign that you’re having a heart attack. That can happen suddenly or slowly over time. So, if you’re experiencing symptoms like the following, you should call 911 immediately:9
- A squeezing pain or feeling of fullness in your chest
- Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
- Pain in either your arm, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
“It could be a missed opportunity if you’re actually having heart ischemia or other symptoms,” says Dr. Bland.
Heart ischemia means the heart is getting less blood and oxygen than it should.10 It happens when substances such as fat and cholesterol (plaque) build up inside the arteries and make them narrower. This is called coronary artery disease (CAD), and it can lead to a heart attack.10
A type of chest pain called angina is the most common symptom of CAD. Angina can feel like squeezing or pressure. And any of the following kinds of angina can be a warning sign for a heart attack:11
- Stable angina can happen when you are exercising or feeling stressed. You may feel a sense of squeezing or fullness.
- Unstable angina can happen when you’re sleeping or at rest. This can last longer than stable angina and can come as a surprise.
- Microvascular angina is caused by spasms in the blood vessels. It causes a dull chest pain that can last for up to 20 minutes.
- Vasospastic angina usually happens when a person is at rest. It can be very painful and tends to happen in the middle of the night.
What to do next: If you’re experiencing chest pain or any of the symptoms listed above, you’ll want to seek emergency care right away. Call 911 and get to the nearest hospital, so you can get the care you need.9
3. Erectile dysfunction
Problem getting an erection? Things impacting your body, like alcohol and antidepressants, can sometimes impact blood flow to the penis, especially as you get older.12
But if it happens a lot, you’ll want to talk with your doctor about it. Erectile dysfunction (ED) might not only affect your sex life. It may also be a sign of other underlying health issues, including:
- Heart disease12
- High blood pressure12
- Low testosterone levels (that’s the hormone controlling development of male reproductive organs and traits, like facial hair and lower voice)13
- Multiple sclerosis14
ED is a common health issue. As many as 30 million American men experience this treatable condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while it affects one out of two men over 50, younger men can also experience ED.12,15
There is some good news: Dr. Bland notes that some of his patients are comfortable bringing up ED. “There’s not as much concern or embarrassment as there used to be.”
What to do next: If you have ED, it’s important not to ignore it. Are you worried you’ll be embarrassed talking about it? It’s good to remember that it’ll just be you and your doctor in the room together. (You might even be able to talk with them virtually.) And they’re going to help you get better.
If they suspect you have ED, they’ll often do a full physical exam to figure out what may be causing it. They might prescribe you medication or other treatments, which can help.12
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4. Trouble urinating
Urination problems can show up in several ways. Your urine stream might come out slowly. Or you might be going to the bathroom too often. If you feel embarrassed talking about it, that’s all right.
But it’s important to bring up these things with your doctor. “Most men won’t come in for urinary issues,” says Dr. Bland. “But they’ll bring it up during a checkup.”
Your doctor will want to know, because it could be a sign of a more serious health issue. It might have to do with your prostate, a small gland located below your bladder that tends to get bigger as you age.16
If your prostate gets too large, it can sometimes make it harder for you to urinate. It might also be a sign of a health issue called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), sometimes known as an enlarged prostate. It’s actually quite common; about half of men between the ages of 51 and 60 have it, and up to 90% of men over age 80 have it.16
Other common symptoms of an enlarged prostate include:
- Needing to stop and start repeatedly while going
- Waking up more than twice during the night to go
- Weak urine flow
In some cases, problems urinating can also be a sign of prostate cancer.17 But your doctor will be able to figure out whether it’s an enlarged prostate, cancer or another condition. That’s why it’s so important to talk to them. For men who are at average risk and expected to live at least 10 more years, the American Cancer Society suggests talking to your doctor about whether to be screened for prostate cancer beginning at age 50.18
Some men may need to start that discussion with their doctor earlier. For example, if you’re Black or have a close family history of prostate cancer, that could be a reason.18
What to do next: Your doctor can do a few types of screening tests to see what the problem may be. If they suspect you have BPH, those might include a physical exam, a type of test called a Symptom Score Index, urine tests or a scan.16
Your doctor may also do a simple blood test called a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test.16 A PSA can help in the evaluation of an enlarged prostate, infection or prostate cancer.
5. Skin spots
Are you the type of guy who spends a lot of time out in the sun? Maybe you coach your kid’s sports team. Or you have a job where you work outdoors.
Checking your skin regularly can help you catch any strange changes in the moles on your skin. If you see any, it’s important to tell your doctor or dermatologist (skin doctor).19 It could be a sign of skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer.20
Not all suspicious spots on your body are cancerous. But it’s good to know what to look for. Here are some key warning signs that a skin spot may be cancer:20
- It has uneven coloring.
- It’s growing or changing in appearance.
- It’s not showing signs of healing.
Dr. Bland points out that men don’t always take steps against skin cancer until after they’re diagnosed. He suggests a few easy things you can do to help protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Always wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher when you’re outdoors.21 Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing and avoid being in the sun from 10am to 4pm when the sun’s rays are strongest.
It’s important to follow these rules year-round. But it’s especially important during the summer, when you may be outside more often.
What to do next: You’ll want to stay vigilant. Check your body regularly for changes in the moles on your skin. If you have a suspicious skin spot, see your doctor or dermatologist to get your skin checked.19
We all get sad or irritated from time to time. But if you have these or other feelings associated with depression most of the day or almost every day for more than two weeks, you might be depressed.22 And men may be less likely than women to seek help for their mental health.22
“Some men feel like admitting mental health issues means they’re a failure or that there’s something wrong with them,” says Dr. Bland.
Symptoms of depression can also appear differently in men than women. Both men and women may experience symptoms of depression, like:22
- Feeling anxious or restless
- Feeling tired, unable to sleep or sleeping too much
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Having thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Having trouble concentrating or remembering details
- Withdrawing from family and friends
But men may experience different symptoms than women. For example, some men (and women) may present with symptoms like anger or irritability. Men may also be more likely to use alcohol or drugs to cope with depression.22
What to do next: If you think you might be depressed, it’s important to know that you can get help. The best place to start is with your doctor, who can help you figure out your next steps.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, call 911 or go to the closest emergency room. To reach a trained crisis counselor, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You may also chat at 988lifeline.org. The lifeline provides 24/7 support.
Find mental health resources that fit with your life. Work 1-on-1 with a virtual coach or therapist from AbleTo. Find support.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Men: Take charge of your health. Last updated December 22, 2022. Accessed May 16, 2023.
- National Library of Medicine. Obstructive sleep apnea - adults. Last reviewed January 1, 2022. Accessed May 1, 2023.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Obstructive sleep apnea. August 2020. Accessed May 12, 2023.
- National Library of Medicine. Polysomnography. Last reviewed January 1, 2022. Accessed May 1, 2023.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. CPAP. Last updated March 24, 2022. Accessed May 16, 2023.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine. New guideline provides clinical recommendations for surgical referral of obstructive sleep apnea patients. September 9, 2021. Article accessed June 5, 2023.
- American Heart Association. Heartburn or heart attack? Last reviewed December 6, 2022. Accessed May 1, 2023.
- National Cancer Institute. Stomach. Article accessed June 5, 2023.
- American Heart Association. Warning signs of a heart attack. Last reviewed December 5, 2022. Accessed June 13, 2023.
- American Heart Association. Silent ischemia and ischemic heart disease. Last reviewed December 5, 2022. Accessed May 12, 2023.
- American Heart Association. What is a heart attack? Last reviewed December 2, 2022. Accessed May 12, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and men. Last reviewed December 2, 2022. Accessed May 17, 2023.
- Endocrine Society. Hormones and erectile dysfunction. Accessed June 5, 2023.
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Sexual problems. Accessed June 5, 2023.
- Urology Care Foundation. Erectile dysfunction. Last update 2021. Accessed June 5, 2023.
- American Urological Association. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Updated September 2021. Accessed May 17, 2023.
- American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. Last reviewed August 1, 2019. Accessed May 18, 2023.
- American Cancer Society. Recommendations for prostate cancer early detection. Last revised February 24, 2023. Accessed June 5, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What screening tests are there? Last reviewed April 18, 2023. Accessed June 13, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic information about skin cancer. Last reviewed April 18, 2023. Accessed May 18, 2023.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What can I do to reduce my risk of skin cancer? Last reviewed April 18, 2023. Accessed June 13, 2023.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Men and depression. Revised January 2017. Accessed May 1, 2023.
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If you or someone you know have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, get help right away. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.
To reach a trained crisis counselor, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You may also chat at 988lifeline.org. The lifeline provides 24/7 support.
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