14 Men’s Health Symptoms to Never Ignore
Unfortunately, many men ignore symptoms that they should take more seriously. Here are the ones that can be really dangerous.
I’ll be fine
That may be the response you get from some men when they experience unusual health symptoms, but “rub some dirt on it” isn’t really a medical remedy you can rely on. There are several reasons why men don’t live as long as women on average (76 for men, 81 for women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but a common one is that men may be more likely than women to avoid doctors and ignore serious symptoms. So pay attention to these alarms, men—they could save your life.
Most men don’t want to talk or even think about erectile dysfunction (ED), but it could be a red flag for a much more serious disease (like this).”If you are 45 to 50 and your only health issue is that ‘it doesn’t work in the bedroom the way that it used to,’ that’s a huge red flag,” says Joseph Alukal, MD, a urologist at the NYU Langone Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health in New York City. ED may signal a lack of blood flow, which indicates trouble in other parts of the body too, such as the heart and the brain.”If you develop ED, it is as likely to predict a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years as a smoking or family history of heart disease.”
Evan Appelbaum, MD, a cardiologist at Men’s Health Boston, a Harvard-affiliated multi-specialty practice and the first Men’s Health Center in the United States, agrees. “ED is another major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and should prompt further evaluation even without other risk factors.”
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is a symptom that men should never ignore, says David Poppers, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Tisch Center for Men’s Health in New York City. It is one of the signs of acid reflux (here are five more), and it can also be a harbinger of an allergic condition or possibly esophageal cancer and needs evaluation, he says. “Chronic acid reflux can cause precancerous changes in the esophagus, known as Barrett’s esophagus,” he says. “Treating people may help prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.” Be sure you never ignore these early throat cancer symptoms either.
Unintended weight loss
If you are overweight and lose weight because you started eating less and exercising more, that’s great; however, sudden, dramatic, and unintentional weight loss tells your doctor that something is not right, Dr. Popper says. In fact, there are at least 10 reasons why unexpected weight loss can be a serious problem. Your doctor will likely order a series of tests to determine the cause of the weight loss. “This is not something to ignore.”
Check before you flush, Dr. Popper says. Changes in bowel movements can be a sign of colon cancer. “Narrowing of the stool and rectal bleeding warrant a visit to your doctor,” he says. Don’t panic. “Bleeding can certainly be caused by hemorrhoids or an anal fissure, but it’s important to get it checked out.” Diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a few days and the feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one are also potential warning signs of colon cancer. Youth is no protection, by the way: Colon cancer is on the rise in younger people. This is why new colon cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society advise that adults at average risk get screened starting at age 45 instead of 50.
Men are more likely to get skin cancer—including potentially fatal melanoma—because they are less likely to use sunscreen and they may be more likely to ignore (or not notice) a changing mole, says John G. Zampella, MD, a dermatologist at the Tisch Center for Men’s Health. Fair-skinned men are at particularly high risk, he notes, saying that “men are twice as likely to die from melanoma as women.” His advice? Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF, check your skin regularly, and make sure to see your dermatologist once a year for a clinical skin exam. Know your ABCDEs, he says:
• A is for Asymmetry—melanomas will be irregularly shaped, not round
• B is for Border—melanomas tend to have ragged edges
• C is for Color—melanomas are multicolored
• D is for Diameter—a melanoma is typically a ¼ inch or larger
• E is for Evolving—melanomas change their look over time.
Any of these signs warrants a visit with your dermatologist.
If you are sleeping too much, too little, or having trouble falling or staying asleep, tell your doctor. “Sleep problems and disorders are a really important signal that something is wrong,” says Steven Lamm, MD, an internist and medical director of the Tisch Center for Men’s Health. This could be a sign of depression or obstructive sleep apnea—a condition marked by loud snoring, gasping, and choking during sleep; it can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can effectively treat both depression and sleep apnea. Check out these other sleep disorders everyone should know about.
Unintentional weight loss is a red flag of an underlying health issue, but on the flip side, excessive weight gain can also signal problems. For some men, belly fat or that “beer gut” may be a marker for heart problems. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the more abdominal weight a man carries, the greater his risk of heart disease. “What’s really interesting is that we show that an increase in the amount of stomach fat and a lower density fat is associated with worse heart disease risk factors—even after accounting for how much weight was gained,” says Caroline Fox, MD, MPH, former senior investigator for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the study’s senior researcher, in a news release. Weight gain can also be a sign of depression or stress, Dr. Lamm adds. There are other signs that your weight gain means trouble. Your doctor can help you sort out what’s going on.
If you are super itchy, it can be something as innocuous and easy to treat as dry skin or contact dermatitis. Or it can also be something more nefarious, says Dr. Zampella. “Chronic itch may be a sign of lymphoma, multiple myeloma, or even diabetes and is worth getting checked out,” he says.
If you consistently have trouble urinating, there’s blood in your urine or semen, or if you experience unexplained erectile dysfunction, these could be symptoms of prostate cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Check with your doctor to find out what’s going on. And don’t miss these other 5 prostate symptoms men should never ignore.
Lump in your testicles
For many men, a painless lump in the testicle is the most common sign of testicular cancer, according to the Urology Care Foundation. Other symptoms may include the feeling of extra weight in the scrotum, a swelling of the testicle (with or without pain), and/or pain or a dull ache in the testicle, scrotum, or groin. Don’t wait: With a timely diagnosis, testicular cancer is most likely treatable and most often curable, the group states. Here are 8 silent signs of testicular cancer you should never ignore.
If you start to notice bruises popping up all the time, especially in places you wouldn’t normally get them, like your hands or fingers, see a doctor. While people tend to bruise more easily as they get older, unusual bruising can be the sign of something more serious, according to the Mayo Clinic: Especially watch for frequent large bruises on your trunk or face, or if you began bruising all of a sudden—this could be a sign of a blood disorder or leukemia. This is one of the potential signs of cancer that men should not ignore.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause penile cancer and genital warts, says Dr. Zampella. Symptoms may include warts on the genitals or surrounding skin; 50 percent of men that have HPV don’t even know it, which can put their sexual partners at risk. “We have a vaccine that can prevent this.”
Jaundice, marked by a yellowing of the skin, the whites of the eyes, and the mucous membranes, is due to a high level of bilirubin in your blood, explain the experts at the Cleveland Clinic. A healthy liver metabolizes bilirubin to keep blood levels low. There are many potential causes of jaundice, but one of the most worrisome is that it’s one of the signs of pancreatic cancer that you shouldn’t ignore.
Chest pain and pressure may be typical for heart disease, but jaw and neck pain, arm numbness, feeling faint, and/or shortness of breath—especially if the symptoms occur during activity and resolve with rest—could also be a sign of heart disease or heart attack in men, says Dr. Applebaum. Make sure you know these common heart attack signs and symptoms so you’ll be able to recognize heart attack symptoms if they should occur.
- Joseph Alukal, MD, a urologist at the NYU Langone Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health in New York City
- Evan Appelbaum, MD, a cardiologist at Men’s Health Boston, a Harvard-affiliated multi-specialty practice and the first Men’s Health Center in the United States
- David Poppers, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Tisch Center for Men’s Health in New York City
- American Cancer Society: “Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening”
- John G. Zampella, MD, a dermatologist at the Tisch Center for Men’s Health
- Steven Lamm, MD, an internist and medical director of the Tisch Center for Men’s Health
- Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Association of Changes in Abdominal Fat Quantity and Quality With Incident Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors”
- Mayo Clinic: “Prostate Cancer: Symptoms and Causes”
- Urology Care Foundation: “What Is Testicular Cancer?”
- Mayo Clinic: “Easy bruising: Why does it happen?”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Adult Jaundice”