Many men ignore serious health symptoms. We look at six health issues that men should seek professional advice for.
Dr. Larry Goldenberg is a man on a mission: to add 10 quality years to men’s lives. The co-director of the Men’s Health Initiative of BC (aboutmen.ca) points out some startling facts: all over the world, men die on average four to five years earlier than women.
Furthermore, the outlook for several conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, is worse for men than women.
Yet it’s likely you’ve had to drag a man in your life—your spouse, dad, adult son, brother, or lifelong friend—to the doctor. Although there’s no hard evidence to support the popular notion that men experiencing unusual symptoms are reluctant to seek medical advice, there’s no denying the stereotype.
“Many 40-year-old men are more interested in looking after their cars than their bodies,” says Goldenberg.
But symptoms can be warning signs of serious illnesses and shouldn’t be ignored.
1. Chest pain
Heart disease is the leading killer of men. Chest pain is a red flag, along with pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, or back. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, indigestion, vomiting, sweating, and feelings of anxiety or denial. All potential signs of a heart attack, they must be treated as a medical emergency.
A heart attack occurs when blood supply to the heart slows down or stops. More than 90 percent of heart attacks are a result of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of coronary arteries due to plaque buildup. Men over 55 are at higher risk of heart attack than younger men.
To treat heart disease, conventional medicine commonly uses medication, such as beta-blockers or calcium-channel blockers.
Prevention is crucial.
“Heart disease is killing so many people,” says Edmonton Optimum Wellness naturopath Michael Mason-Wood. “We see 18-year-olds who are having heart attacks. What’s going on?”
Several natural health practitioners can help treat and prevent heart disease. Naturopaths and doctors of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can advise on maintaining a balanced diet—one high in fibre, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, while low in fat and red meat—as well as getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum.
Mason-Wood tests for insulin resistance, the body’s inability to respond to the insulin it produces, which is often linked to obesity and hypertension. He sometimes suggests high doses of magnesium, which is said to calm the heart.
Many naturopaths use chelation, in which a chemical agent, usually ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), is administered intravenously. It’s said to bind to minerals and metals, allowing the body to excrete them in the urine.
“It’s like using CLR in clogged pipes: it clears arteries of plaque buildup,” Mason-Wood says.
The value of stress reduction can’t be emphasized enough, whether it’s through yoga, tai chi, meditation, nature walks, deep breathing, or acupuncture.
Ayurvedic practitioners view heart conditions as indicators of emotional distress. Their centuries-old holistic medical system centres on the principle that everyone has a unique constitution made up of a combination of three doshas, or metabolic types. Corresponding treatment includes Ayurvedic herbs and body work such as massage.
Finally, herbalists aim to control or reverse heart disease by using heart-healthy herbs rich in magnesium, vitamin B6, coenzyme Q10, vitamins C and E, and selenium.
2. Lump in testicle
Although testicular cancer is rare, it’s the most common cancer in men aged 15 to 34. Caught early, it’s treatable and usually curable.
Besides a lump, other symptoms of testicular cancer include swelling of the testicle, a change in the testicle’s shape, a dull ache in the testicle, groin pain, or unexplained fatigue. Most malignant lumps are not painful in the early stages.
The main conventional treatment for testicular cancer is the removal of the testicle through surgery. Sometimes chemotherapy or radiation are also used, treatments that can cause infertility. (Some men bank their sperm if they want to have kids.)
Self-examination is vital. Men of all ages need to know how their testicles should look and feel. (It’s normal for one to be larger than the other.) The best time to check is after a bath or shower, when the muscles of the scrotum are relaxed.
TCM practitioners might suggest maitake mushrooms as well as traditional herbs such as bark of Phellodendron chinense Schneid and garlic, all of which are said to boost immunity. In addition, green tea contains catechins, antioxidants that are said to bind to a protein found on tumour cells and slow their growth.
3. Sudden severe headache
The instant onset of an unusual headache can be a sign of stroke, as can sudden confusion, vision problems, trouble speaking, dizziness, and numbness in the face, arm, or leg. Such symptoms must be treated urgently.
A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function caused by the interruption of blood flow to the brain or the rupture of the brain’s blood vessels. The ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason, read, and write can all be negatively affected.
Conventional treatment includes the use of a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) within three hours from the onset of symptoms, as well as antiplatelets or anticoagulants, which prevent or destroy blood clots.
In some cases, surgery is recommended to remove plaque or blood clots. Doctors might also prescribe medication to control blood pressure and improve cholesterol.
Naturopaths and TCM doctors use many herbs to prevent and treat stroke, including Ginkgo biloba, which is said to increase blood flow to the brain and improve memory; garlic, an anticlotting herb that reduces blood pressure and cholesterol; and ginger, which improves circulation. Other herbs that promote blood flow include hawthorn and turmeric, the latter of which helps prevent the formation of blood clots and is commonly used in Ayurveda.
4.Blood in semen or urine
Perhaps the most dreaded of all male health problems are those related to the prostate.
Along with painful ejaculation, blood in the semen can be a symptom of prostatitis, or prostate infection. Other signs are painful urination, lower back pain, chills, fever, and sexual difficulties.
Most cases of prostatitis are caused by a bacterial infection. Unprotected sex can let bacteria into the urethra, and it can then travel up to the prostate. In other cases, muscles of the pelvis or bladder do not work properly, and urine flows back into the urethra and enters the prostate.
Severe complications can develop if infections aren’t treated promptly with antibiotics.
Other forms of prostate infection include chronic bacterial and nonbacterial prostatitis. With each, white blood cells might appear in the urine, and antibiotics are routinely prescribed.
Prostate cancer might not cause any symptoms, particularly in the early stages, when the disease is most curable. It’s usually detected after a digital rectal exam or a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. One in seven men will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime, with the risk being highest after age 60.
When symptoms do appear, often because of a tumour pressing on the urethra, they include an intense need to urinate, inability to urinate, pain during urination, or blood in the urine or semen.
Naturopath Mason-Wood checks patients with prostate problems for heavy-metal toxicity.
“The prostate is the man’s garbage dump: toxins accumulate in that neighbourhood,” he says. “Zinc is the number one mineral for prostate problems; a lot of men have zinc deficiency.” He says pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, and certain herbs such as saw palmetto can help with prostate function.
Nutritionists can help men avoid items that irritate the urinary tract, such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. Physiotherapists, meanwhile, can help develop muscles on the pelvic floor.
Herbalists might suggest garlic, a natural antibiotic, and echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus to boost immune functioning. Lycopene is a natural antioxidant found in tomatoes that appears to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Vitamin E, too, seems to reduce prostate cancer risk.
5. Blood in stool
This alarming symptom could indicate several conditions: anal fissure, polyps, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, ulcer, colon cancer, or stomach cancer.
Starting at age 50, men should have yearly stool occult blood tests. Those with a family history of colon polyps and cancer require further testing, such as a colonoscopy, to remove polyps before they become cancerous and find cancer before it spreads.
One in 14 men will develop colorectal cancer. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, but if caught early, 90 percent of cases could be cured. Risk factors include age (people over 50 are at higher risk than younger ones), polyps, a high-fat diet, inactivity, obesity, smoking, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Naturopaths can suggest ways to improve colon health, such as colon cleanses, and a diet high in fibre and low in fat.
Mason-Wood also recommends probiotics, which contain “good” bacteria that aid with digestion and help protect against harmful bacteria.
“Probiotics are so beneficial,” he says. “Everyone should be on them.”
6. Difficulty attaining or maintaining erections
Low testosterone, or hypogonadism, occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone to function optimally. The condition can affect men of all ages, though about 40 percent of men over age 45 have it, and men over 65 are more than twice as likely to have hypogonadism as younger men.
Those with diabetes, obesity, and hypertension have higher rates of hypogonadism than those without. A 2008 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that one-third of middle-aged men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels and required treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Other symptoms include low libido, infertility, reduced body hair, tender breasts, and night sweats.
The main conventional treatment for hypogonadism is testosterone replacement therapy via injections, patches, or pills.
Naturopaths, TCM doctors, and nutritionists can suggest healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and reducing stress and anxiety, as well as taking herbs and vitamins, to improve testosterone levels. Homeopathic medicine is also used to boost testosterone.
“Everyone should have their testosterone measured,” Mason-Wood says. “It’s often way too low. So many men have low testosterone but they’d never suspect it.”