Men's health

Expert reviewer, Dr Naveen Puri, Bupa Clinics GP and Lead Physician
Next review due November 2023

From problems affecting your sex life or your prostate gland to mental health and general fitness, there are many health problems that men face. But men can be reluctant to seek help for health issues – or even acknowledge when there may be a problem. Here we look at some of the main health issues affecting men.

Three men stood in a circle, sharing a joke

Seeking help for health problems

It’s common knowledge that men tend not to contact their GP or other health professionals as often as women. This may be partly because women are more likely to have regular interactions with health services – for cervical screening, contraception and antenatal care, for example. But there may also be a tendency for some men to downplay their symptoms through a fear of being thought to be weak.

It’s really important to seek help for medical problems when you need it. Never feel that it’s a weakness – in fact, it means you’re being proactive by taking control of your health. Picking up on problems early can mean that they are easier to treat and quicker to sort out. On the other hand, delaying getting medical help can mean minor problems become more serious and more difficult to treat.

Depending on your problem, your GP will usually be your first port of call – although a pharmacist may be able to help with minor illnesses.

Sexual health problems in men

Many men experience problems with their sexual health at some point in their lives. This might be a physical problem or psychological (mental health) problem or a combination of both. Here are some of the most common issues men can face.

Trouble getting an erection (erectile dysfunction)

If you can’t get or keep an erection long enough to have sex, you may have erectile dysfunction. It’s more common as you get older but don’t worry – there are things you can do and treatments available to help.

There can be various underlying causes for erectile dysfunction including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain medicines and previous surgery. There can also be psychological reasons – for instance, you might be feeling stressed or have anxiety or depression. Your doctor will try to identify if you have any underlying problems or conditions like these and manage them as necessary.

Making changes to your lifestyle may help with erectile dysfunction. Such changes include stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol and losing weight if you need to. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines, such as sildenafil (Viagra) or refer you for specialist treatment if necessary. For information about buying medicines for erectile dysfunction online, see our FAQs.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are transferred from person to person during sex. With some STIs, you might not get any symptoms at all. But if you do, they may include:

  • discharge – mucus or pus – from your penis
  • pain when you pee
  • rashes, lumps or blisters around your genital area
  • pain in your testicles

It’s important to visit a sexual health clinic or your GP if you think you might have an STI. Getting treatment can help your symptoms and stop the infection spreading to other people. Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s worth getting tested for STIs if you’ve recently changed your sexual partner.

You can protect yourself from STIs by practising safe sex – this includes wearing a condom whenever you have sex.

Other sexual problems

There are various other sexual problems that men can experience. These include premature ejaculation (when you ejaculate sooner than you or your partner wishes), not being able to ejaculate, or loss of libido (sex drive). Don’t be embarrassed to seek help for problems like these – your doctor is likely to have seen men with similar problems many times before.

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Mental health in men

If you’re having problems with your mental health, you’re not alone. Over a third of men report feeling as though they’ve experienced a mental health problem like depression or anxiety, at some point in their life. There are many things that can lead to mental health problems, from something that happened in your past to your current life circumstances. Being stressed either at work or in your personal or home life can be a trigger or can make other existing triggers worse.

Looking after your mental health and getting help when you need it is just as important as looking after your physical health. But talking about how we feel or asking for help isn’t always easy – especially for men. Fewer men than women access mental health services, which may be partly due to men not wanting to speak up and seek help. Unfortunately, men are more likely to turn to harmful behaviour such as drinking or drug-taking in order to cope. They are also far more likely to commit suicide.

Seeking help for mental health problems

You can do a lot to improve your mental wellbeing and develop your resilience, so you can cope better with any stress in your life. But getting the right support and treatment when you need it is really important too. Treatments for mental health problems include talking therapies (like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy) and treatment with medicines.

If you live in England, you can refer yourself to NHS psychological services without needing to see a GP first. (Similar programmes are available in other parts of the UK.) Or you can see your GP if you’re having mental health difficulties, and they will advise and direct you to the best treatments for you.

For more information on what to do if you feel depressed, see our FAQs.

Men’s general health and fitness

One of the main health concerns for men as they get older, is how to keep fit and keep their weight under control. Nearly seven in 10 men are overweight or obese. Being obese increases your risk of numerous health conditions including diabetes, coronary heart disease, arthritis and certain types of cancer.

Coronary heart disease is associated with angina (pain and discomfort in your chest) and heart attack. It is a particular problem for men and is the leading cause of death for men in the UK.

Making some lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease as well as other long-term health conditions. If you’re ready to make a change, here are some of the key things you can do to benefit your health.

  • Stopping smoking (if you smoke). We know it’s not easy to do, but it really is one of the most important things you can do for your health. If you need help stopping, your GP or pharmacist may be able to direct you to Stop Smoking services in your area.
  • Losing excess weight. Make sure you know what’s a healthy weight for you. If you need to cut down, it’s important to lose weight safely, reducing your calorie intake as well as trying to be more active.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. This means a diet that is based on wholegrain carbohydrates with plenty of fruit and vegetables and is low in fat and sugar.
  • Keeping active. Ideally, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (activity that makes you feel warm and a bit breathless) over the course of a week. Don’t worry if you can’t yet manage this amount – any amount you do is better than nothing, it’s most important to start exercising.
  • Drinking alcohol sensibly. The recommended alcohol intake is no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. This means not regularly drinking more than about six pints of average-strength beer or six medium (175 ml) glasses of average-strength wine.

Prostate problems

Men often start to have prostate problems as they get older. Your prostate is the gland that produces the fluid that mixes with sperm during ejaculation. If you have a problem with your prostate, the symptoms may vary, but it’s likely that you’ll notice changes in how you pass urine. This is because your prostate surrounds your urethra (the tube that allows urine to pass out of your body). Symptoms may include:

  • needing to pee more often or more urgently than usual
  • having the urge to pee during the night
  • trouble passing urine – you might notice a delay before you can pass urine or that you’re straining
  • a weak flow of urine
  • dribbles of urine after you’ve finished
  • feeling like your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
  • pain when you pee

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to get it checked with your GP – no matter what your age. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you, and may recommend certain tests, including a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test.

Most often, prostate symptoms are down to an enlarged prostate, caused by benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is a non-cancerous growth of cells in your prostate and can be managed with lifestyle changes, medicines, and if necessary, surgery. But there can be other causes, such as prostatitis (an infection of your prostate gland) or, less commonly, prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the commonest cancer in men in the UK. It’s very treatable though, especially when it’s caught at an early stage. So never be afraid to see your doctor if you’re having symptoms like those listed above.

Testicular health

It’s important for all men to check their testicles regularly for anything that isn’t normal for them. The best time to do this is during or just after a warm bath or shower. To check your testicles, hold your scrotum in the palm of your hand and check each testicle by rolling it between your thumb and fingers.

It’s completely normal for one testicle to be bigger than the other or to have one testicle that hangs lower than the other. If you notice any changes in your testicles such as swelling, lumps, hardening or pain, see your GP.

These symptoms could be a sign of:

  • an infection or cyst
  • inflammation of your epididymis – the tube at the back of your testicles, that stores sperm
  • a build-up of fluid, known as a hydrocele
  • an abnormal swelling of the veins in your testicles, known as varicocele
  • damage to your testicles
  • torsion (a twisted testicle) – although this is mainly seen in teenage boys

It’s also possible that your symptoms may be due to testicular cancer. Testicular cancer most commonly affects men in their 20s and 30s, peaking between the ages of 30 and 34. Although it’s rare, around 2,300 men are diagnosed in the UK every year. Checking your testicles and spotting cancer early can make a big difference to how well treatments work. Many cancers can be cured if caught early. So, if you notice anything unusual, don’t delay getting it checked out.

Frequently asked questions

  • If you buy medicines over the internet, it’s important to make sure they come from a registered online pharmacy. For medicines for erectile dysfunction, you’ll need to have a consultation with a doctor – whether in person or online.

    If you buy medicines from unregulated or illegal websites, there is no guarantee of their safety, quality or effectiveness. They may not contain the right ingredients and, in the worst case, could be harmful to you. Without having a consultation with a doctor, you risk buying medicines that aren’t suitable for you.

    Any company that sells medicines online must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). As part of their registration, they are required to display a logo on each page of their site where they are selling medicines. If you click on the logo, it should confirm the organisation’s registration. All pharmacies in the UK should also be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC). They may also choose to display this logo on their website to indicate their registration.

  • Depression is when you have a persistent low mood and/or a loss of pleasure in most activities. Certain symptoms can be more common in men. For example, men are more likely to become irritable and experience outbursts of anger or aggressiveness.

    If you think you might be depressed, it can really help to talk to someone about how you feel. There are lots of options for where to turn for support – see what feels right for you.

    • It might help to talk things over with a supportive friend, colleague or family member.
    • You can make an appointment to see your GP. Your GP can give you advice and recommend what help is available locally or refer you if necessary.
    • You might be able to access NHS psychological services such as therapy and counselling through self-referral.
    • Your workplace may offer an Employee Assistance Programme with free access to mental health support services.
    • You may prefer to talk to someone on a helpline. See our section: Other helpful websites.

    You can also help yourself by:

    • exercising and keeping active
    • eating and drinking well – this includes cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink
    • making sure you get enough good-quality sleep

    For more ideas on keeping fit and healthy, take a look at our section: Men’s general health and fitness.

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  • Reviewed by Pippa Coulter, Freelance Health Editor, November 2020
    Expert reviewer, Dr Naveen Puri, Bupa Clinics GP and Lead Physician
    Next review due November 2023