White coats and stethoscopes can make grown men run the other way, especially when it comes to discussing their sexual health. Men in general are 23 percent less likely than women to have seen a doctor in the past year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
But avoiding the doctor will not make health problems go away, whereas opening up to a primary care physician might. Many conditions that commonly occur in men over 50, such as low testosterone or an enlarged prostate, may be awkward to talk about — but are easily treated. It’s also around age 50 that our lifestyle habits tend to catch up with us, in the form of chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease that may not have symptoms in their early stages.
“Men can feel fine even well past middle age, without realizing they have serious underlying health issues,” says Luigi Simone, MD, a family medicine doctor at Scripps Clinic Encinitas. “But an annual doctor’s visit, where we have the opportunity to find and treat problems early, can make a big difference in long term health or avoiding complications.”
If you need help convincing the man in your life to schedule a check-up, arm yourself with facts. Below you’ll find information about several common conditions that affect men — and the simple ways doctors find and treat them.
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
“Most men will not ask about symptoms that affect their libido,” says Dr. Simone. “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.”
A simple blood test can determine if low testosterone is the culprit, and a comprehensive evaluation with a physician helps 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.
Any man can develop a prostate problem. However, the most common prostate issue for men over 50 is an enlarged prostate, with around half of all men experiencing symptoms by age 60.
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 primary care physician 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.
“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.”
Treatment options include watchful waiting, medications and minimally invasive therapies.
And there’s more good news: Men no longer need to cringe when they hear the words “prostate exam.” According to Dr. Simone, current guidelines from the American Urological Association no longer recommend a rectal exam as part of a prostate exam. That’s one less reason for men to avoid check-ups.
Depression is a serious illness that severely impacts quality of life. Nearly 9 percent of men have daily feelings of anxiety or depression, according to a survey by the NCHS. Less than half of them took medication for these feelings or had recently talked to a mental health professional, according to the survey.
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
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.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or keep an erection, affects about 30 million men in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Even though it may seem embarrassing 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.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.