Many health problems that are shared by men and women, such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers, tend to affect men earlier in life. There are also certain conditions including prostate disorders, testicular problems and impotence that are specific to men. Men are also at higher risk of injuries, death on the roads and suicide. Overall there are more premature deaths in men than in women.
Despite these challenges to their health, men tend to ignore their symptoms, are less likely to visit their GP for advice, and may be especially reluctant to ask for help for emotional problems.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Prostate health
- Impotence (erectile dysfunction)
- Questions and answers
- Related topics
- Related Bupa products and services
- Further information
Diseases of the heart and the circulation (cardiovascular disease), including heart attacks and stroke, are the main cause of death in the UK. Men are affected earlier in life than women and, up to the age of 75, are more likely to die from these conditions.
Changing your lifestyle – particularly stopping smoking if you do – and controlling risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol can significantly reduce this risk.
Important ways you can help prevent cardiovascular disease include:
- stopping smoking
- taking 30 minutes of physical activity a day
- eating a healthy, balanced diet including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- maintaining a healthy weight
- not drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol
- getting your blood pressure and cholesterol level checked and treated if necessary
- keeping your stress levels under control
These lifestyle changes may also reduce the risk of other diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes.
In the UK, over a third of men drink more than the government’s recommended limits. These state that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day, and that they should not drink alcohol for 48 hours after a heavy session to let the body recover.
It’s easy to underestimate how much you’re drinking. Although there is no firm definition of ‘binge drinking’, a measure of it can be taken as drinking double or more than double the recommended daily limit of alcohol. Nearly one in three men aged 16 to 24 drinks more than eight units in a session at least once a week.
Drinking too much can cause immediate problems, including injuries and alcohol poisoning. In the longer term, too much alcohol can cause liver damage, high blood pressure and memory problems.
Enlarged prostate gland
The prostate is a gland located just below your bladder and surrounds your urethra (the tube for passing urine). Its usual function is to produce a fluid that is mixed with sperm during ejaculation. The gland tends to get bigger with age and this can push on the urethra, interfering with the flow of urine. This condition is called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) – it isn’t cancerous. About half of men over 50 get symptoms of BPH including:
- feeling that you haven’t completely emptied your bladder
- needing to get up several times a night to pass urine
- going frequently during the day
- difficulty in starting to pass urine, a weak stream or dribbling at the end of passing urine
For some men an enlarged prostate can be just a minor nuisance. For others it can have a significant effect on quality of life. Options for treating BPH include lifestyle measures, medicines to relax the bladder or shrink the prostate and surgery.
Around 34,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the UK, three times the number diagnosed 30 years ago. The majority of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are over 60 and the disease is rare in men under 50. The risk of getting prostate cancer is increased if a first-degree relative, such as your father or brother, have had it.
Prostate cancer can press on the urethra and block the flow of urine producing symptoms similar to those of BPH. See your GP if you’re concerned.
The choice of treatment depends on many factors, including your age, general health, stage of the cancer and side-effects of the treatment. Prostate cancer is often slow-growing, so in some older men the best treatment may be ‘watchful waiting’ – close monitoring with no treatment. In other men, surgery, radiotherapy or hormone therapy may be considered.
Screening is available with a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). However, the test isn’t recommended as routine in the NHS because there is uncertainty over whether its benefits outweigh the potential harm it may cause. It’s important to make sure you understand the pros and cons of PSA testing before having the test.
Newer, more specific tests may be available in the future.
The different structures in the male pelvis
All men should examine their testicles regularly for anything unusual. If you notice any changes such as swelling, lumps or pain in your testes, get advice from your GP.
Testicular cancer is most common in men aged between 20 and 45. It rarely causes pain, but it may cause the scrotum to swell. The most common symptoms are a painless lump or a feeling of heaviness or discomfort. See your GP if you have these symptoms because testicular cancer needs prompt treatment.
Torsion of the testicle
Severe pain and swelling of the testicle occurs if the spermatic cord is twisted (this is called torsion). The pain develops quickly and you may also feel sick and vomit. Unless testicular torsion is treated within a few hours, there may be permanent damage. Treatment is usually by surgery. Torsion of the testicle usually occurs in men aged 15 to 30.
Impotence (erectile dysfunction)
Impotence is an ongoing inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Your likelihood of being affected increases with age. There are several medical causes for impotence, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis and previous surgery in the pelvic region (for example having your prostate gland removed). Certain medicines including beta-blockers and some diuretics can also be responsible for causing impotence.
Smoking causes your arteries to get furred up with fatty deposits. This reduces blood flow to your penis, increasing your risk of impotence. Psychological problems including anxiety and depression can cause problems with getting an erection.
Many men are reluctant to talk about impotence but it can often be effectively treated. A range of treatment options is available including psychotherapy, prescription medicines and devices. The medicines sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil are highly effective in treating some forms of impotence. However, these medicines aren’t suitable for everyone and can have serious side-effects, so it’s important that you see your GP before taking them.