9 Surprising Health Risks Men Need to Watch Out For
Men have a reputation for neglecting their health, so it's critical to know which risks they face—and how they can work to prevent them.
Watch how you feel
Whether it’s itching, burning, fatigue, or weight loss, you should never ignore common men’s health symptoms. Some could be an indication of a disease or an infection. Even though the following health risks are more common in women, they can still hit men, as well.
While women account for 80 percent of osteoporosis cases, men can get this bone disease too, especially when they’re over 50. “By the age of 65, men and women have the same rate of bone loss and the same risk of breaks or fractures. Women might get it earlier because of those sharp drops in estrogen at menopause, but men catch up later,” says Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, a urologic surgeon and co-director of the PUR Clinic at South Lake Hospital in Clermont, Florida. Your doctor can perform bone density testing (DEXA) to see if you’re at risk, but maintaining good calcium and vitamin D levels may help keep bones stronger longer. Note that DEXA might not be covered for men as the United States Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend testing men.
Despite men having a one in 1,000 chance of developing breast cancer (compared to a woman’s chance of one in eight), male breast cancer is a risk and needs to be caught early for the best possible prognosis. That means it’s critical to call your doctor if you notice any changes to your breast, such as a painless lump (usually under or near the nipple) and inverted, scaly, or bleeding nipples. (These are the other signs of breast cancer you should never ignore.) “Men are less likely to bring breast changes to the attention of their physician, which is why they’re more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage,” says Lisa Sclafani, MD, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “It’s important to discuss any changes with your doctor when you first notice them.”
You’ve heard of varicose veins—those dark, crooked veins most commonly appearing on the legs or feet when veins become enlarged. While these are often simply a cosmetic concern, they can be much more problematic when they occur on the scrotum. “The testicles are super sensitive, especially to temperature, so when veins get larger, it affects their ability to regulate the testicular environment,” says Dr. Brahmbhatt. “This can impact sperm quality and production, possibly affecting fertility and hormone levels.” Be familiar with your scrotum, and see a doctor at the first sign that something looks or feels different. (Varicoceles sometimes is painful.) Usually, a minimally invasive surgery can correct the issue, leaving you good as new, he says. Note that this often doesn’t need treatment unless it causes symptoms or is large.
Urinary tract infections
Though rare, men can have a urinary tract infection too—except it’s often a sign of a larger problem. “Once a guy gets a UTI, we need to figure out exactly why because it’s very unusual to just get one out of the blue,” says Dr. Brahmbhatt. The symptoms are the same as for women—frequent and urgent need to urinate, with burning when you do go. But while UTIs in women are caused by bacteria entering and moving up the urethra, a UTI in men can signal major issues like an enlarged prostate, an injury that’s preventing the bladder from emptying, a kidney stone, or a sexually transmitted disease, he says. UTIs can be quite common in men with prostate enlargement, which is common, but not generally in younger, healthy men, however.
About one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, but men are less likely to seek help than women are. “This is one of those things where men are just as prone as women, but they don’t really talk about it and there’s not much out there making it OK for them to do so,” says Dr. Brahmbhatt. “But just like women open a magazine and are mentally affected by photos of beautiful models with a ‘perfect body,’ the same is true for men.” And gay men are, particularly at risk. According to the NEDA, among males who have eating disorders, 42 percent identify as gay.
Testosterone levels naturally decline as men age, so low levels of this hormone are generally harmless; however, it can result in symptoms that may become bothersome. “Just having a low testosterone number doesn’t require treatment, but if you’re affected by severe fatigue, low libido, impotence, difficulty concentrating, or depression, it’s certainly worth trying out testosterone supplementation to see if it helps,” says Dan Shoskes, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that causes hypothyroidism—an underactive thyroid—and it affects about two million men each year. The clues can be hard to miss, so if you notice any of these persistent changes—such as sudden weight gain, depression, fatigue, sense of cold, or sore muscles—ask your doctor to test your thyroid gland. “It produces a lot of symptoms that seem disconnected, but they’re actually all connected when it comes to the body’s inflammatory cascade,” says Dr. Brahmbhatt.
The prostate is a gland located right below the bladder. When the prostate or the surrounding area becomes inflamed or swollen, it can trigger pain in the pelvis, groin, or genitals; difficulty urinating; or flu-like symptoms. “Infection or inflammation of the muscles and nerves of the pelvic area can cause this,” says Dr. Shoskes.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can do more than impact your sex life. Nearly one-third of men who see a doctor about erectile dysfunction discover it’s caused by clogged arteries in the heart, which raises your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Other causes of impotence are being overweight, injury, stress, depression, medications, and even your diet.
Next up, don’t miss what men say they wish they could tell their younger selves about their health.
- Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, urologic surgeon and co-director of the PUR Clinic at South Lake Hospital in Clermont, Florida
- National Breast Cancer Foundation: "Male Breast Cancer"
- Lisa Sclafani, MD, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City
- National Eating Disorders Association: "Eating Disorders in Men & Boys"
- Dan Shoskes, MD, urologist at the Cleveland Clinic
- Circulation: "Cardiovascular Implications of Erectile Dysfunction"