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Monday, 27 June 2011

Older men's health

Now men are living longer than ever before, it's even more vital to keep well and enjoy life. If you're a man over 50 health issues like prostate problems, heart disease and bladder cancer can be of particular concern.

Prostate problems

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It is near the bladder and penis and encircles the tube through which urine passes from the bladder.

Problems such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostate cancer are both rare in men under 50. Prostatitis is most common under 50 and treatable with medication or surgery.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Pain and difficulty in urinating can be caused by:

  • infection and inflammation 
  • the prostate growing slowly bigger (benign prostatic hyperplasia, BPH)
  • prostate cancer – a slow-growing tumour, which also causes pain in the lower back, hips or pelvis as well as erectile problems

Awareness – what to do

The PSA test (Prostate Specific Antigen) is a test that measures the level of PSA in your blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate gland, which naturally leaks out into the bloodstream. A raised PSA can be an early indication of prostate cancer. However, other conditions that are not cancer (like enlargement of the prostate, prostatitis and urinary infection) can also cause a rise in PSA.

The higher the level of PSA the more likely the diagnosis is cancer. However, the PSA test can also miss prostate cancer.

Diets high in dairy and animal fats may increase risk; those high in green vegetables may be protective.

The Prostate Cancer Charity runs a helpline on 0845 300 8383 and has information on its website.

Bladder cancer

Bladder cancer affects the inner lining of the bladder and is the fourth most common cancer in men, especially men over 50. Smokers are more at risk as are people who work with chemicals used in the dye, leather and rubber industries.

Symptoms

Symptoms include pain during urination, blood in the urine and a frequent desire to urinate.

Incontinence

The loss of ability to control urination is a common problem that affects as many as one in three people. It can be easily cured or at least made manageable.

As a man, you're more at risk of one of two types of incontinence as you get older:

  • urge – an overpowering urge to urinate followed by heavy leakage
  • overflow – small leaks from a full bladder

Awareness - what to do

Pelvic floor exercises can help. Ask your local doctor or  practice nurse for advice. The Continence Foundation publishes leaflets and runs a helpline on 0845 345 0165. It offers personal and confidential advice plus where to find your local NHS specialist continence service.

Testicular problems

It's best to examine your testicles regularly for lumps, whatever your age.

A common testicular problem for men of all ages is a swelling caused by build-up of fluid around the testicle (hydrocele). You'll need to visit your doctor to get it checked.

Impotence/erectile dysfunction

Impotence or erectile dysfunction is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse.

Who's vulnerable?

Around five per cent of 40-year-old men may have the condition, which increases with age, possibly affecting up 25 per cent of 65 year olds. Anything that interferes with the blood flow to the penis may be a cause. Diabetes, kidney disease, chronic alcoholism, multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular disease account for many cases.

Heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension)

One in five men dies from heart disease before the age of 75. It claims more men's lives than any other disease.

Heart disease runs in families, so you have a greater chance of developing it if your family has a history of the disease. Other risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • an unhealthy diet with too much fat, particularly saturated fat
  • lack of exercise
  • being overweight
  • excess stress

High blood pressure is a major risk factor. If your blood pressure has been high for a long time, you are more at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Male menopause or mid-life crisis

It's probably more accurate to describe the male menopause as a mid-life crisis or the andropause (male hormones are known as androgens). Certainly, male hormone levels do not drop as dramatically as they do for women in the menopause.

Symptoms

Symptoms include poor sex drive, changing body shape and muscle mass. They can also include weight gain, sweating, flushing, fatigue and general aches and pains accompanied by decreased stamina and mood swings. Reasons for these symptoms can include anaemia, thyroid-gland dysfunction, depression, marital problems, job dissatisfaction, financial problems and alcohol misuse.

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