On average, men are less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than women.
Part of the reason is that they do not take care of themselves as well as women do. They are also less likely to have health insurance, more likely to work in dangerous occupations, and often do not seek medical attention when they need it. Men’s health issues don’t affect only men – they have a significant impact on their family and friends, too. The conditions we’ll be talking about here can influence everything from sexual and marital relations to quality and length of life. Unfortunately, most of these issues – especially the ones having to do with sex or masculinity – are very hard for men to talk about.
Here’s Where You Come In…
By encouraging the guys in your life to take even the smallest symptoms seriously and discuss them with their healthcare providers, you will be helping them take a more active role in their own health care. And by educating yourself about potential male health problems and passing that information on to the men you love, you may also be able to save a life.
What you can do to help
Know When to Call in the Professionals
If you identify a symptom, get your man to the healthcare provider immediately – and do not take no for an answer. But even if he is the picture of health, one of the most important steps you can take is to get him (and your boys) into the habit of getting regular checkups and age-appropriate screenings. Regular checkups can improve their health and help them live a longer life!
As with most things, the results of specific exams are important, but not nearly as important as changes over time. In the days and weeks before the visit, help him prepare. Spend some time going over his family history (many diseases have family ties), keep track of any symptoms you are worried about, and write down a list of questions he should ask the healthcare provider.
Check Him Out
Somewhere along the line we got the idea that “self exams” have to be done by ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s no reason why your guy can’t help you with your breast exams or you with his testicular exams. And don’t forget about his back. Women get most of their skin cancers in places where they can see them – on their hands and face and below the dress line, but men get most of theirs on their backs, where they are a lot harder to see.
Learn About His Prostate
The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. It is a small gland, the size of a walnut, and is located in front of the rectum and under the urinary bladder. It produces semen, which is the “milky” fluid that carries the sperm out of the body during ejaculation. The prostate also helps control the bladder and sexual functions.
The urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) runs from the bladder, through the center of the prostate, and lastly to the penis, from which urine is removed from the body.
Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
The three most effective things you can do for your man (and yourself, for that matter), are to put him on a low-fat, high fiber diet, help him get regular exercise, and get him to quit smoking. These simple steps can drastically reduce the chances that he will succumb to four of the 10 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Every year, approximately 250,000 men are diagnosed with this disease, and about 34,000 die of it.
If caught early, through either a digital rectal exam (DRE) or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, this disease is often treatable. New tests are being developed, so when consulting with your healthcare provider ask if other tests are available.
Every man should consider a baseline PSA and DRE at age 40. He should know his PSA number so that he can compare it with his PSA number at his next check-up.
Additionally, African Americans, men with a family history of prostate cancer, and men exposed to Agent Orange, should consult with their healthcare provider about yearly tests beginning at age 40.
In the early stages, prostate cancer usually shows no symptoms. However, as the disease develops, so do the red flags. Men should notify a healthcare provider immediately if they notice any of the following:
- Hip or back pain
- Difficulty urinating
- Painful or burning urination
- Blood in the urine
Treatment options for prostate cancer generally include removal of the prostate (prostatectomy), radiation, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, or cryosurgery. Men with localized, low-risk prostate cancer might choose active surveillance, and closely monitoring the cancer to see if it progresses or becomes aggressive, to determine if treatment is needed.
Options and the possible side effects of treatment should be discussed with a urologist or other specialist. Your loved one might consider getting a second opinion before proceeding with any of the options available.
Things Every Woman Should Know about Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer strikes 1 in8 men. Rick factors include race, with African American men having the highest rate of prostate cancer, family history, age, and exposure to certain toxic chemicals like Agent Orange.
A diagnosis of prostate cancer can be a life- and relationship-changing experience for many men. Men react to news and deal with difficult situations much differently than women.
The news of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and having prostate surgery can result in various relationship and intimacy challenges. Things between you and he may change. You may find there to be depression, psychological stress, anxiety, issues with intimacy, or shame from not being able to perform or having erectile dysfunction (ED). Luckily, there are many ways to help deal with it.
If the prostate treatment he chooses has caused erectile issues, there are many techniques that he can try to improve intimacy. There are treatments available such as oral medications, penile injections, vacuum erection devices, or penile implants. Counseling or sex therapy is also another option where the therapist may suggest additional creative ways you two can recover the sexual intimacy, such as incorporating specific sex toys into your lives.
It will take time, but you will find something that works for you two. Your loved one should begin by talking to his health care provider about treatment options.
BPH or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Is the man in your life making frequent trips to the bathroom during the night?
Is he enjoying social activities less because he always has to be near a bathroom?
Has he complained about weak urine flow or difficulty in starting urination?
If your partner is over the age of 50, these symptoms may indicate that he has a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate known as benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH). Although BPH is easily treatable, many men are unaware that treatment is available.
When your partner complains of urinary difficulties (such as frequent urination, incomplete emptying of the bladder, a weak urine stream or difficulty starting urination) or if you notice changes in urinary patterns, encourage him to make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Medications are available which, in some cases, could begin to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of prostate enlargement within four to eight hours.
The good news is that, in general, BPH does not cause erectile dysfunction and does not diminish your partner’s sex drive. The reality may also be that the uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms of an enlarged prostate may not put your partner in a romantic mood. Having the sudden, urgent need to urinate can be a distraction.
When BPH symptoms affect your partner’s lifestyle, the quality of your life also may be affected. What fun is it to go to a movie, if he feels embarrassed by the need to find the bathroom a couple of times during the show? Why go on a leisurely ride through the countryside if you both get annoyed by the constant need to be on the lookout for a rest stop? Why have friends over if a lack of sleep caused by repeated nighttime trips to the bathroom makes him grumpy or if concern about his urinary problems makes it difficult for him to concentrate on the conversation?
BPH does not need to cause disruptions in your partner’s quality of life or affect your lifestyle. The symptoms of an enlarged prostate can usually be treated quickly and effectively with medications that reduce the pressure of the prostate on the urinary system. Once that pressure is reduced, BPH symptoms may improve. That’s why you should encourage your partner to see a physician.
Things Every Woman Should Know about BPH
- An enlarged prostate is the most common prostate health problem among men, usually affecting men over 50
- BPH is a condition associated with aging, probably due to hormonal changes
- By about age 50, about half of all men have begun to develop an enlarged prostate
- For men over 50, prostate enlargement is likely to continue through the rest of their lives
- BPH symptoms occur when the enlarged prostate presses against the urethra, the tube that carries urine away from the bladder
- As the prostate slowly continues to enlarge, symptoms may gradually worsen, interfering with sleep, physical comfort, and routine activities
- BPH symptoms vary with the individual. Some men with BPH experience an urgent need to urinate, while others may have difficulty starting
- In most men, BPH symptoms can be effectively managed with medication
- If left untreated, BPH may eventually curtail or slow down a man’s activities and interfere with his lifestyle – and could lead to more serious medical complications requiring surgery
- BPH is a non-cancerous condition. There is no known link between BPH and prostate cancer
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate that may be caused by an infection. It is the most common problem among men under 50; about 50% of all adult men will be treated for it during their lifetime. Research is being conducted to determine if a history of prostatitis is a risk factor for prostate cancer.
There are three major types of prostatitis: bacterial prostatitis, nonbacterial prostatitis, and prostatodynia.
Symptoms of prostatitis are similar to those of BPH and prostate cancer. They can include:
- Occasional discomfort in the testicles, urethra, lower abdomen, and back
- Discharge from the urethra, especially during the first bowel movement of the day
- Blood or urine in ejaculate
- Low sperm count
- Sexual difficulties
- Aching muscles
- Frequent and/or painful urination
Men with symptoms of prostatitis should see a doctor, to prevent symptoms from turning into serious complications.
Treatment depends on the type of prostatitis and the cause. If the cause of the prostatitis is a result of an infection from bacteria, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Other treatment options may include other anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medications, alpha-blockers to relax the muscles around the prostate, prostatic massages, a hot bath, or heating pads to relieve pain when sitting.
Many times, prostatitis may come and go or get better on its own.
Erectile Dysfunction /Impotence
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability of a man to get or maintain an erection sufficient for his sexual needs or the needs of his partner. ED is incredibly common – most men have it briefly at some point in their lives. But for as many as 30 million men in the United States, ED is a chronic condition.
Although ED becomes more common with age, men of any age can suffer from it. Sadly, they generally refuse to discuss it with either their partners or their healthcare providers.
As a result, men feel embarrassed and women often feel that the man in their life doesn’t find them attractive. So if you want to make love and your husband says he has a headache, pay attention. It might be something far more serious.
About 70% of the time, ED is caused by an underlying health problem, most often diabetes (as many as half of all men with diabetes suffer from ED). ED may also be caused by kidney disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and drug or alcohol abuse. The remaining 30 percent of cases are caused by stress, anxiety, depression, or sometimes the medications used to treat those conditions.
In most cases, whether ED is caused by a physical or psychological problem, it’s treatable, which means that it doesn’t have to be a natural or inevitable part of growing older. Treatments include drug therapy, penile implants, vacuum devices that manually create an erection, injections, or other alternatives. Your loved one should talk to his healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment.
Below are a few websites you may find helpful while taking care of the men in your lives.
Men’s Health Resource Center: www.menshealthresourcecenter.com
Men’s Health Network: www.menshealthnetwork.org
Men’s Health Library: www.menshealthlibrary.com
Prostate Health Guide: www.prostatehealthguide.com
What Women Need to Know About Men’s Health: Sensitive Issues: www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/sensitiveissues.pdf
National Cancer Institute: www.cancer.gov
American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org
Healthy Women: www.healthywomen.org
Women Against Prostate Cancer: www.womenagainstprostatecancer.org
Male Breast Cancer Resource Center: www.malebreastcancerresourcecenter.com
Please note: Men’s Health Network does not provide medical services. Rather, this information is provided to encourage you to begin a knowledgeable dialogue with your physician. Check with your healthcare provider about your need for specific health screenings.