White coats and stethoscopes can make grown men run the other way, especially when it comes to sexual health. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have seen a doctor in the past year.
But avoiding the doctor will not make health problems go away, whereas opening up to a primary care physician might. Many common conditions that occur in men over 50, such as low testosterone or an enlarged prostate, may be awkward to talk about, but are easily treated. In some cases, they are associated with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
“Most men will not ask about symptoms that affect their libido,” says Luigi Simone, MD, a family medicine doctor at Scripps Clinic Encinitas. “Often, they think their symptoms are just a natural part of getting older, but they don’t have to suffer in silence. Asking your doctor for help and getting a thorough evaluation is the only way to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.”
Testosterone production peaks during early adulthood and begins to gradually decline as men age. While a slow decline is a normal sign of aging, an unusually low level of testosterone can cause wide-ranging symptoms, including:
- Decreased sexual function and desire
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hair loss
- Decreased muscle mass
A simple blood test can determine if low testosterone is the culprit, and a comprehensive evaluation with your physician will help dictate what type of treatment should be prescribed. Several options for testosterone replacement are available, including patches, injections and implanted pellets that slowly release the hormone into the body.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the most common prostate issue for men over 50 is an enlarged prostate.
By age 60, over one-half of men experience it, and by age 81, the number climbs to 90 percent, according to the American Urological Association.
The first sign of an enlarged prostate for most men is nightly trips to the bathroom. Other symptoms include a weak urine stream, leaking or dribbling. See your doctor immediately if there is blood in your urine, pain or burning with urination or you are not able to urinate. Your physician will want to rule out other conditions that can cause urination problems, such as bladder cancer or prostate cancer.
Several treatment options are available, including watchful waiting, medications and minimally invasive therapies.
“Most men put up with an enlarged prostate for months before seeing a doctor,” says Dr. Simone. “But an enlarged prostate can be treated if urination problems become bothersome and impact quality of life.”
Depression is a serious illness that severely impacts quality of life. In the United States, more than 6 million men suffer from depression every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms of depression vary, and many men chalk them up to getting older.
“There is the prevailing myth of the grumpy old man,” says Dr. Simone. “But aging in men does not automatically mean that you become irritable and can’t sleep. Depression is a treatable health condition.”
Talk with your physician if you are experiencing symptoms that may indicate depression, including:
- Loss of interest in sex
- Reckless behavior
- Physical pain, such as backache, headaches and digestive disorders
- Decreased energy
- Poor sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Aches or pains
Mild to moderate depression is easily evaluated by your primary care physician, and there are several options to get your mojo flowing again, including medications, lifestyle changes and therapy.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or keep an erection, affects up to 30 million men in the United States. About 12 percent of men in their 50s and 22 percent in their 60s are unable to achieve an erection at all.
Even though it may seem awkward to discuss this with your doctor, get an evaluation. Problems getting an erection can also be a sign of a chronic health condition that needs treatment, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Dr. Simone stresses that ED is not inevitable as men age and that in most cases it is highly treatable. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and losing weight are a good place to start.