Lets face it, we men are far more likely than women to suffer in silence and avoid seeing our doctors.
The guy who puts off seeing his GP over that niggling cough may sound like a stereotype, but there are many more like him out there, and they’re not doing themselves any favours by burying their heads in the sand, because they’re already more likely than women to be struck down by illness – and much more likely to ignore symptoms.
The average South African life expectancy for a man is 75, and 83 for a woman. Rates of illnesses such as heart disease and common cancers are all higher in men. And they are 37% more likely to die from cancer than women, says a 2013 joint report by Men’s Health Forum and two cancer research organisations.
Here are some key symptoms men should NEVER ignore.
Seek help rather than suffer in silence
Long-term stress can cause problems such as headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, lowered immunity and depression.
Talk about IT
Getting and keeping an erection becomes more difficult with age, but a 2013 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests erectile dysfunction affects around a quarter of men under 40.
There can be a range of causes. While stress and anxiety can be to blame, it’s important to get a diagnosis because erectile dysfunction can also be a sign of a potentially serious underlying condition that affects nerve function or blood flow, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
Another possible treatable cause is a fall in levels of the hormone testosterone. Low testosterone can be treated by hormone replacement therapy.
A lump in your testicles
Examine yourself regularly. The most common causes include a collection of varicose veins, fluid or a cyst. However, a lump always needs checking out as it may be a symptom of testicular cancer, which affects 2,300 men a year in the UK, according to male cancer charity Orchid.
It’s more common among men under 45, with a higher risk among those born with an undescended testicle or those with a close relative with the disease.
Examine your testicles weekly so you can spot anything unusual such as a change in size, weight or texture. To find out how, visit orchid-cancer.org.uk/testicular-cancer . If you’re worried about anything, see your GP. Testicular cancer has a very high survival rate if caught early.
It’s common to need the loo more often as you get older, but certain urinary symptoms could indicate an enlarged or inflamed prostate, or even prostate cancer, which affects 47,000 UK men a year, mostly over the age of 50.
See your GP if you’re getting up several times in the night to pass small amounts of water, or if you’re having difficulty starting urinating or emptying your bladder fully. Also if there’s a weak flow of urine, you have pain, blood in your urine or backache. Your GP should carry out a rectal examination, check a prostate blood test and may refer you for further investigations.
A cough that won’t go away
Persistent coughing isn’t a minor matter
Most coughs will clear up within a week or so, but sometimes a chronic infection such as bronchitis may develop. However, persistent coughs may have a range of common causes from asthma to acid reflux, sinusitis or side effects from medication such as ACE inhibitors, used to treat high blood pressure.
See your GP if you’ve had a cough for longer than three or four weeks. If you’re a smoker, don’t avoid seeing your doctor because you don’t want to be told to stop. A ‘smoker’s cough’ can be a sign of COPD, a serious lung disease that will become extremely debilitating if untreated. Other serious causes include lung cancer, the second most common in men, a blood clot on the lung or heart problems.
A change in bowel habits
A change in your stools could be harmless or something more sinister.
Abdominal pain and a prolonged change in bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation are common and often due to irritable bowel syndrome or poor diet, while haemorrhoids – itchy swellings consisting of engorged blood vessels – are the most common cause of fresh bleeding after going to the loo.
However, all the above are also symptoms of bowel cancer which affects around 13,000 South African men a year. While nine in 10 cases occur in the over-sixties, your risk may be higher at a younger age if bowel cancer runs in your family.
See your GP if there’s blood when you go to the loo, especially if it’s dark coloured, or if you’ve had a change of bowel habits for six weeks with no obvious cause, such as a change in diet
Snoring is no joke – it may be a symptom of a more serious problem.
Some people may treat it as a joke, but severe snoring may be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea, a condition that causes the soft tissues in the throat to collapse, blocking the airway for 10 seconds or more.
It’s more common in men and, besides seriously affecting sleep quality, it can increase risk of high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. You’ll probably feel tired most of the time and your partner will almost certainly be sick of the noise.
Try losing excess weight and avoiding alcohol or cigarettes before bed. There are lots of snoring remedies, but their effectiveness depends on the cause.
Blood could be a sign.
Inflamed or bleeding gums are the first signs of gum disease, which affects men more than women, according to the latest Adult Dental Health Survey. Left untreated, it can eventually lead to tooth loss, but according to the Oral Health Foundation, it’s also strongly linked to several serious conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Brush twice a day – a third of men don’t, according to the Oral Health Foundation – and floss daily. If this doesn’t fix things, see your dentist. Bleeding can also be a symptom of mouth cancer, which is almost twice as common in men as women. Also, recurrent gum disease can be a sign of diabetes so your dentist may suggest you see your doctor.
A new mole or a change in an existing one can be the first symptom of malignant melanoma, the most life-threatening form of skin cancer.
Although an equal proportion of men and women are affected, Cancer Research figures show that the mortality rate is 58% in men compared with 42% in women.
Give your skin an MoT. If you have any moles that have grown, changed shape or colour, become sore, itch, bleed or are jagged around the edges, see your GP right away. Don’t delay – the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better your chances.
It’s normal for your manhood to be slightly curved when erect, but one in 20 men, mainly between the age of 40 and 60, have Peyronie’s disease, when a hard plaque of collagen forms on part of the penis, causing it to bend. This may cause no problems but it can be painful and make sex difficult.
The good news is, it may correct itself within a few months if it’s mild. However, if it’s painful or causing sexual difficulties, see your GP who may suggest steroid injections to combat the build-up of plaque.
Severe cases can be treated with surgery but only 10% of men need this.