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Men’s health

Key points

  • Many men feel embarrassed to ask for help from their GP about their health.
  • Causes of men’s health conditions vary. Some may be caused by age and family history. Others may be caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and drinking excessively.
  • It’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle, do regular body checks, and if you’re worried about your health, see your GP.

Some health problems, including cardiovascular disease, are more common in men than women. There are also certain conditions of the prostate, testicles and penis that are specific to men.

About men’s health

Some cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary heart disease, are more common in men than women. There are other conditions including prostate disorders, testicular problems and erectile dysfunction that are specific to men. But despite these health issues, men often feel embarrassed to get help from their GP. Men may also be particularly reluctant to ask for help with emotional problems.

Cardiovascular disease

In the UK, diseases of the heart and circulation (cardiovascular disease), including heart attacks and stroke, are the main causes of death. Nearly 1.4 million men have coronary heart disease in the UK and around 50,000 men in England alone have a heart attack each year.

There are lots of things you can do to help prevent cardiovascular disease including:

  • stopping smoking
  • doing regular physical activity
  • 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
  • controlling your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels if you have diabetes

Generally, if you have any pain or tightness in your chest that feels worse when you do physical activity, contact your GP. If you get sudden crushing pain or heaviness in your chest that won’t go away, it may be a sign of a heart attack and you should call for medical help immediately.

Prostate health

Only men have a prostate gland. It’s about the size of a walnut and located just below your bladder. Your prostate surrounds your urethra (the tube that allows urine to pass out of your body). It produces a fluid that is mixed with sperm during ejaculation.

Illustration of the position of the prostate gland and surrounding structures.

Benign enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)

 

Your prostate gland tends to get bigger with age and this can push on your urethra, interfering with the flow of urine. This condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia. It’s sometimes also referred to as benign prostatic enlargement (BPE). It isn't cancerous. About half of men over 50 get symptoms of BPH.

Symptoms include:

  • having difficulty passing urine
  • having a weak flow of urine that sometimes starts and stops
  • dribbling of urine before or after urinating
  • feeling that you haven't completely emptied your bladder after passing urine
  • a frequent or urgent need to pass urine
  • needing to get up several times in the night to pass urine

These symptoms may also be caused by problems other than BPH. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP for advice.

Sometimes an enlarged prostate may be just a minor nuisance and won’t affect you too much. But if it’s bothering you, it can have a big impact on your life. Depending on how severe it is, your treatment options may include making simple lifestyle changes, taking medicines and having surgery. Having an enlarged prostate doesn’t increase your risk of getting prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer

In the UK, around 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and the majority are over 70. Your risk of getting prostate cancer is higher if a close relative, such as your father or brother, has had it.

There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. A PSA test – a blood test that measures levels of a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA) is available. This may be worth considering if you’re over 50 years old. However, the test isn't recommended for everyone and you need to discuss the pros and cons first with your GP.

There is uncertainty over whether its benefits outweigh the potential harm it may cause. For example, this may lead to unnecessary investigation and treatments for slow growing cancers that wouldn’t have caused any harm. A raised level of PSA can also be caused by other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate or a urinary infection. In fact, two out of three men who have raised PSA levels don’t have prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer can press on your urethra and block the flow of urine, producing symptoms similar to those of BPH. These symptoms aren't always caused by prostate cancer but if you have them see your GP.

Treatment for prostate cancer depends on a number of factors, including your age, general health and the stage and grade of your cancer. For example, you may be offered monitoring such as watchful waiting or active surveillance. These mean you will be closely monitored but won’t have treatment. They are slightly different so discuss them with your doctor. Monitoring may be offered to you because prostate cancer is often slow-growing and you may not need to have other treatment.

Prostate cancer may also be treated with surgery, radiotherapy or hormone therapy. For more information about how prostate cancer is monitored and treated, see our factsheet.

Testicular health

All men should examine their testicles regularly to check for anything that isn’t normal for them. As a general guide, if you notice any changes such as swelling, lumps, hardening or pain in your testicles, see your GP.

Testicular torsion

If your testicle becomes twisted (this is called torsion) you will have severe pain and swelling. It occurs mainly in teenage boys aged between 13 and 17 and rarely in men older than 30. The pain develops quickly and you may also feel sick and vomit. Unless testicular torsion is treated within a few hours, it can cause permanent damage that can lead to fertility problems. Testicular torsion is usually treated with surgery.

Testicular cancer

Testicular cancer is rare – about 2,100 men are diagnosed in the UK each year. However, it’s the most common cancer in men aged between 20 and 34 years old. Symptoms usually include having a painless lump or a feeling of heaviness or discomfort in your scrotum. If you find a lump, or are concerned about changes in your scrotum, see your GP. Going sooner rather than later can make a significant difference. Your GP may refer you for further tests or a biopsy.

Treatment options for testicular cancer will depend on the type of tumour you have and its stage, but options may include surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Most types of testicular cancer can be treated successfully with early treatment.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is the ongoing inability to achieve or sustain an erection for sexual activity. The likelihood of you having erectile dysfunction increases as you get older. There are many different causes of erectile dysfunction, including:

  • cardiovascular disease (diseases that affect your heart and circulation)
  • high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels
  • diabetes
  • surgery affecting the blood vessels or nerves that supply your penis
  • certain medicines, including some antidepressants and some medicines for high blood pressure such as beta blockers
  • psychological problems such as anxiety and depression
  • tiredness, illness or stress
  • smoking or drinking too much alcohol

There are several treatments for erectile dysfunction. Sometimes, lifestyle changes such as reducing how much alcohol you drink can help. Your GP will also advise you to lose excess weight, stop smoking and increase your physical activity. Medicines that you take orally, such as sildenafil (Viagra), are effective in treating forms of erectile dysfunction caused by the narrowing of the blood vessels. There are other medicines available that you inject into your penis. However, these medicines aren't suitable for everyone and can have side-effects.

If medicines are not suitable or don’t work there are other treatments available such as vacuum pumps, and surgery. Talking therapies, such as counselling may be recommended if your condition is caused by anxiety or stress. Your GP will be able to discuss the most suitable treatment options for you. As erectile dysfunction can often be a sign of cardiovascular disease, your GP may suggest you have some tests for risk factors. These may include checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose (sugar) levels.


Reviewed by Natalie Heaton, Bupa Health Information, February 2014.

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For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.


  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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