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Men's health: What you need to know

When it comes to health, men are notoriously backwards about coming forward. Which is why we’ve highlighted the symptoms you should never ignore. 

According to the statistics, men fare worse than women on virtually every health issue. They drink more heavily and are more likely to be overweight and eat badly. All of which means they pay the price – men are 40 per cent more likely than women to die from cancer, and 22 per cent of deaths occur in men under 65. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The key to staying healthy is to check out symptoms as soon as they appear. You wouldn't ignore the warning light on your dashboard telling you that there's no oil because you know that within 40 miles the engine will be finished. So why do that with your body when you experience symptoms which could be a warning of something more serious?' says Dr Ian Banks, president of the European Men's Health Forum. The good news is that a little knowledge and prompt action goes a long way, so read on to discover the essentials every man needs to keep his body in good working order.

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13 warning signs you should never ignore

If you notice any of these symptoms - particularly if they persist - then it's time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Pain in your Calf

  • Pain when you walk, which may also affect your thighs, hips and feet. The pain always affects the same spot, eases off when you stop and may be worse in cold weather and also when you walk uphill.
  • Intermittent claudication, which is a condition where the arteries in your legs have become blocked with fatty deposits. This results in a lack of blood to the muscle, hence the pain.
  • See your doctor - if the arteries in your legs have become blocked, there may also be problems elsewhere in your body, which could leave you vulnerable to a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will advise you to stop smoking, to walk more in order to condition the muscles and may prescribe medication aimed at improving circulation.

Increased thirst

  • Thirst and tiredness, needing to urinate a lot, especially at night, and experiencing itchiness around the genital area.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms tend to creep up on you, so it's easy to attribute them to getting older, but diabetes is a dangerous condition, which significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and can cause severe complications, including blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage. Your risk of type 2 diabetes is greater after the age of 40, if you are overweight, sedentary, or have a family history of the condition.
  • Get your blood glucose levels checked. The doctor may give you a fasting glucose test (where you don't eat for eight hours beforehand) and a glucose tolerance test. If you do have diabetes, your GP will suggest lifestyle changes and can prescribe medication to increase your body's insulin production, or help your body to make better use of the insulin it does produce.

Erectile dysfunction (ED)

  • Problems getting, or maintaining, an erection.
  • Although ED is likely to affect most men at some time in their lives, when it happens repeatedly it could well be a symptom of a more serious underlying disorder - possibly diabetes, high blood pressure, or narrowed arteries.
  • Many men resign themselves to their situation because they're too embarrassed to talk about it, or because they think there is nothing that can be done. While it is probably one of the hardest things for men to talk about, it is absolutely vital that you talk to your doctor. Only a quarter of all cases are purely due to psychological causes but, whether your underlying problem is physical or psychological, treatment is available and ED can nearly always be treated.

Urinary problems

  • Difficulty passing urine, weak flow, urgency, increased frequency especially at night.
  • An enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)) or, more rarely, prostate cancer. BPH affects 50 per cent of men by the age of 60, and 80 per cent of men in their 80s.
  • Explain all your symptoms to your doctor, who will perform a digital rectal examination - using a gloved finger to feel the size and the texture of your prostate, which may give clues as to what is causing the problem. He may also suggest a PSA test - this test measures levels of a protein (PSA) in the blood stream. A raised PSA level can possibly be a symptom of cancer, but it may also be caused by infection, or by an enlarged prostate.

Change in bowel habits

  • Bouts of diarrhoea or constipation, changes in the consistency of stools, bleeding or blood in stools - which persist for longer than a few weeks.
  • Bleeding can be a sign of piles, other changes in bowel habits may be symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other bowel conditions. But these symptoms could also be warning signs of bowel cancer, which affects more than 21,000 men every year.
  • See your doctor as soon as possible. You'll be asked about your family history and the doctor may do a physical examination and refer you for tests, usually a colonoscopy which involves examining the inside of the bowel.

Other symptoms that should be checked out

  • Sores that don't heal
  • New unexplained lumps anywhere on your body
  • Recurrent pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Blood in the urine
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nagging cough or hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Health-on-Line's modular health product includes access to Health at Hand, a 24-hour telephone health information service. So if you have any health worries and would like more information, it's likely that Health at Hand will be able to provide you with the help you need. Through Health at Hand, you have access to a qualified and experienced team of healthcare professionals, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Your DIY well-man checklist

Just doing these simple self-checks and making some changes, if they're needed, can make a real difference to long term health

  • Check your weight - two thirds of men are now overweight or obese, but many aren't aware of it. You can find out which category you fall into by calculating your Body Mass Index. Divide your weight in kg, by your height in metres squared. An ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9; 25 and over is overweight; 30 and over is obese. The risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers starts to rise once you're into the overweight category and escalates when you become obese.
  • Measure your waist - health-wise it's probably as important as your weight, because your abdomen is the most unhealthy place to carry extra weight. Use a tape measure rather than relying on your trouser size. A waist measurement over 94cm/37ins increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and the higher the measurement, the greater the risk.
  • Feel your testicles - and do it regularly, so you will notice any lumps or changes. Although testicular cancer is most common in men under 35, it can affect men of any age.
  • Have your blood pressure monitored regularly - your doctor will advise you on how often you need to go for check-ups, depending on various lifestyle factors.
  • Know your family history - it pays to know whether conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, or certain cancers run in your family. If there is a history, particularly if any close relatives developed the conditions at a young age, it may be important for your health, so always tell your doctor.

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