Men are less likely than woman to see their GP for health concerns. This section covers many of the health issues that we discuss with men to keep them in good shape.
ACCIDENTS AND RISK TAKING
Men, more so than women, engage in risk taking behaviours. These behaviours lead to more frequent injuries and illness and include
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Workplace injuries
- Extreme and/or contact sports
- Alcohol and drug use
- Travel related infections
Your GP is an outstanding resource – a discussion with your GP could provide you with strategies to manage these risks and minimise harm. They are also an excellent alternative to the hospital emergency department for dealing with minor injuries.
Osteoporosis is a disease affecting many men (although many falsely believe this is a women’s disease). Bones become brittle and more prone to breaking compared to normal bones.
Risk factors for osteoporosis can be categorised into the following;
- Lifestyle – Smoking, excessive alcohol, being underweight, not exercising regularly
- Medications – Certain medications including high dose, long term steroids
- Malabsorptive conditions like coeliac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
- Hormonal/endocrine causes including thyroid overactivity and reduced testosterone
- Genetic factors – Family history and gender
Osteoporosis is diagnosed by doing a Bone Density Scan. This is a special scan that your GP can order if you are at risk. It takes 10-15 minutes to do. It will help determine the density of your bones and what action needs to be taken to maintain their health. Medicare rebates for Bone Density Scans apply for many but not all patients. Your GP can help you understand whether your circumstances will qualify. You may see other establishments advertise a Heel Ultrasound to measure your bone density. This is not a recommended diagnostic test for osteoporosis currently in Australia.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Australians. It is also known as colorectal cancer and usually develops from growths in the bowel called polyps. Polyps can become invasive cancers if undetected. Symptoms of bowel cancer can include a change in bowel habit, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss or fatigue, tummy or anal pain. It is important to see your GP if this is occurring in you, promptly.
There are factors that increase your risk of bowel cancer. This includes
- Family history
- Genetic factors
- Eating a diet high in red meat – especially processed meats
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Inflammatory bowel disease
The faecal occult blood test (FOBT) uses chemicals to check a stool (poo) sample for blood. If you’re over 50, you should have this test once every two years, or after you turn 40 if you have a family history. Men at high risk of bowel cancer may need a colonoscopy. During this test, the doctor inserts a slender instrument called a colonoscope through the anus to visually check the rectum and large bowel for any abnormalities.
Erectile dysfunction (or impotence) is the inability to get or keep an erection that allows penetrative sexual activity. This affects around 1 in 10 men and is often a condition that has physical, psychological or mixed causes. Stress, fatigue, anxiety or alcohol can cause it. Other physical causes can be smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease or a side effect of some medications.
It is an issue that is often not spoken about and most men suffer in silence because of the taboo associated with it. There are suitable treatments for up to 95% of cases.
It is important to raise this issue with your GP as this allows them the opportunity to provide you with treatment options and screen for other diseases that may occur with erectile dysfunction.
Lifestyle risk factors of smoking, nutrition, alcohol and physical activity (SNAP) are common issues discussed by men when they see their GP. These lifestyle factors contribute significantly to the burden of disease, largely due to their effect on the incidence and complications of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and some cancers.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for so many diseases. It’s never too late to give up or even better do not start up at all. For more information see our section on Alcohol and Addiction.
Plenty of vegetables, lean proteins and limiting carbohydrates and sugars are all good starting points for addressing nutrition. Minimising sweetened drinks including juices and soft drinks are also recommended. See your GP to discuss how this could further be optimised.
Globally, alcohol kills almost six times more men than women. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. For further information see our section on Alcohol and Addiction.
All men should be participating in 30 minutes of moderate activity preferably all days of the week. This is just for starters; there are obvious and proven benefits with increasing this amount as well as targeting specific activities. This is above and beyond what you do at work.
45-49 YEAR HEALTH CHECKS
Men should have regular health checks. The age that you should start having these and the frequency of the checks is dependent on your individual health risk factors and you should discuss this with your GP.
Men in the 45-49 year age bracket are eligible for Medicare rebates for a thorough health check if they are at risk of chronic disease. This would involve your doctor taking a history of your health, lifestyle and family history, a physical examination and blood test. Your doctor may also refer you for further tests such as an ECG, bowel cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, plus any other tests that are required depending on your doctor’s risk assessment of your health.
The decision that a patient is at risk of developing a chronic disease is a clinical judgement made by the GP. However, at least one risk factor must be identified. Risk factors that the GP may consider include, but are not limited to:
- Lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity,poor nutrition or alcohol use
- Medical risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or impaired glucose metabolism (high sugar levels)
- Family history of a chronic disease
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia alone, it’s estimated that 45% of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. The impact of mental health issues in men is worsened when you also consider that studies show that men are less likely to seek help than women, with only 1 in 4 men who experience anxiety or depression accessing treatment. Chances are, there is a man in your life that is silently suffering.
Men remain silent about their mental health issues because there are barriers that stop them from seeking help. This is likely to include stigma in seeking help for mental health concerns. Men are also at higher risk of attempting suicide and are also more likely to succeed in committing suicide. 3 out of 4 suicides are by men. 3 factors promote suicide; social isolation, feeling of being a burden and capability for suicide.
How can we reverse this trend? Let’s reach out to the men in our lives. Let’s teach our boys at a young age how to explore and talk about their feelings. Make it ok to ask for help. Let them know that the GP is a safe and useful resource for both their physical and mental health.
Domestic Violence- No one should fear violence at any time, but especially in the home with a domestic partner. Men too can be victims of domestic violence. Speak with your GP where you can seek help. If you are a perpetrator of domestic violence – support is available. Speak up and ask for help.
Prostate cancer remains a leading cause of death in men. In 2016 it was the 6th highest cause of death in Australia.
Prostate cancer is generally a slow growing disease and the majority of men with low-grade prostate cancer live for many years without symptoms and without it spreading and becoming life-threatening. However, high-grade disease spreads quickly and can be lethal. Appropriate management is key.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?
There may be no symptoms in the early stages of prostate cancer. As it progresses into the later stages, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Feeling the urge to urinate and the need to go more frequently
- Difficulty with urinating (such as trouble starting the flow)
- Discomfort/pain when passing urine
- Finding blood in the urine or semen
- Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips
These symptoms may not mean you have prostate cancer, but if you experience any of them, go see your doctor.
Tests that might be used to diagnose prostate cancer include a blood test, palpating (feeling the prostate) and taking samples (biopsy) of the prostate.
Testicular cancer can affect all men but it is younger men (aged 18-39) who are commonly afflicted. It is the second most common cancer in young men.
Testicular cancer may cause no symptoms at all. The most common symptom is a painless swelling or a lump in a testicle. Less common symptoms include:
- Feeling of heaviness and unevenness in the scrotum
- Change in the size or shape of the testicle
- Ache in the back, lower abdomen, the testicle or scrotum
- Enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue
Some factors that may increase a man’s risk of testicular cancer include:
- Undescended testicle as an infant
- Having a father or brother who has had testicular cancer
There is no known link between testicular cancer and injury to the testicles, sporting strains, hot baths or wearing tight clothes.
Tests used to diagnose testicular cancer include:
- An ultrasound and
- Blood tests for specific tumour markers
However, the only way to definitely diagnose testicular cancer is by surgical removal of the affected testicle. While many other types of cancers are diagnosed by biopsy (removing a small piece of tissue from the tumour), cutting into a testicle could spread the cancer to other parts of the body. Therefore, the whole testicle needs to be removed if cancer is strongly suspected.
The survival rate of testicular cancer is high (98%). The best thing you can do for your testicles is to give them a bit of a feel on a regular basis, and if something doesn’t seem right, come and see your GP.
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professional. The authors have made considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. Royal Park Medical accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen.