11 Health Symptoms Men Should Never Ignore
From crankiness to chronic thirst, how to recognize little problems that sometimes mean big trouble
Attention all men: Stop playing chicken with your health. According to a national survey from the Commonwealth Fund, a health research foundation, too many of you are skipping routine checkups and important health screenings. What’s more, the survey found that one in four guys admitted to waiting as long as possible before seeing a doctor for pain or another worrisome symptom. Men often “delay seeking care until there is a medical crisis,” the group concluded.
Here are 11 warning signs of potential health trouble that you (and those who love you) should be aware of. Getting medical attention sooner rather than later can help you head off problems like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, or catch them in an early stage when treatment is easier and more effective.
1. Feeling winded when you climb steps. More than one in three men has some type of cardiovascular disease. It’s the leading cause of death in men, too, according to the American Heart Association. But some early warning signs of heart disease can be subtle. Feeling unusually breathless after a small amount exertion is one of them.
Take action: Talk to your doctor. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. And know the symptoms of a heart attack: pain, pressure or discomfort in your chest; pain in your jaw, neck, stomach or either arm; shortness of breath; nausea, light-headedness, a cold sweat. If you experience any of these, call 911 right away.
2. Thirst. Excessive thirst is a classic symptom of Type 2 diabetes, the high blood sugar problem that affects 14 percent of men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than five million men have undiagnosed diabetes; tens of millions more are at high risk due to prediabetes. Other symptoms include blurry vision, frequent trips to the bathroom (especially at night), slow healing of cuts and scrapes, unexplained weight loss, genital itching or recurrent yeast infections.
Take action: See your doctor right away for a blood sugar test. Note that everyone needs one at 45, sooner for folks who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.
3. Fatigue. Exhaustion after a long week of work is one thing. Ongoing or worsening fatigue that doesn’t improve is another. It could be a sign of heart disease, diabetes, depression or even cancer.
Take action: See your doctor if you’re perpetually tired, even after a night or two of good sleep.
4. Erection problems. Every man has problems achieving or maintaining an erection once in a while. But ongoing erectile dysfunction is frustrating, can affect your relationship and may be a warning sign of circulatory problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Take action: See your doctor if erectile dysfunction becomes chronic. Often weight loss and exercise can help.
5. Irritability, apathy, trouble concentrating, unexplained pain. These are all possible symptoms of depression, which men tend to experience differently than women. You’re more likely to be quick to anger, to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, have problems focusing and suffer from headaches or digestive problems. Depression is serious. It can harm relationships and interfere with your ability to take care of yourself if you have other health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. Depression also raises the risk of heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. And depressed men are more likely to succeed at suicide.
Take action: Don’t try to tough it out. Talk with your doctor if you have any symptoms that might mean you’re depressed.
6. Poop problems. Dark or bloody bowel movements, rectal bleeding, or diarrhea, constipation or narrow stools that last more than a few days can all be warning signs of colon cancer. Men are 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop this common cancer than women and to die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
Take action: If you’re over 50 (or younger and have a family history), schedule a colon-cancer screening test. If you have symptoms, see your doctor pronto.
7. Coffee-colored urine. Unusually dark urine can be a symptom of hepatitis C, a serious viral liver disease that affects an estimated 2.7 million Americans, according to the CDC. Eighty percent are baby boomers who may have picked it up from a blood transfusion or by using illegal injected drugs. Some healthcare workers develop hepatitis C after an accidental needle stick. Most affected people don’t know they have it.
Take action: The CDC recommends everyone born between 1945 and 1965 be tested once for hepatitis C. If you have symptoms — in addition to dark urine these include fatigue, headaches, nausea and abdominal pain — see your doctor.
8. Trouble urinating. A host of urinary problems can signal that the prostate — the walnut-sized gland that produces the fluid in semen — is enlarged. A swollen prostate can press on the urethra, causing problems like frequent urination, trouble starting to urinate, a weak stream, incontinence or pain or an unusual odor when you pee. An enlarged prostate can also be a sign of prostate cancer.
Take action: Talk with your doctor. Get help right away if you can’t empty your bladder, have blood in your urine or develop a fever, chills or pain.
9. An odd-looking mole. One in fifty men will be diagnosed with melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, in their lifetime. While death rates are dropping for most cancers, melanoma deaths among men are on the rise, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanoma can show up anywhere (on toes, under a fingernail), but common areas for men are shoulders, neck and head.
Take action: Let your doctor know if you develop a new mole or if an existing one changes size, shape, color, texture or starts to bleed or itch. Have regular skin checks by a dermatologist if your primary caregiver recommends it.
10. A lump on your testicle. Cancer of the testicles is the most common cancer in men ages 15 to 34, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Take action: Check yourself regularly for lumps or swelling. Most testicle lumps aren’t cancer, but if you find one, make an appointment with your doctor for an exam and testing. The sooner testicular cancer is caught, the more effective the treatment.
11. Deep down bellyache. Ongoing pain in the middle or side of your abdomen or a pulsing feeling below your naval may be early warning signs of abdominal aortic aneurysm. This condition develops when the main artery that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs balloons out. Only one in five men survives when an aortic aneurysm ruptures, warns the National Institutes of Health. Men over 60, especially smokers, former smokers and those with high blood pressure or a family history, are at highest risk for this problem.
Take action: If you’re over 65 and have ever smoked, ask your doctor about a screening test. If you develop symptoms, call your doctor right away.