Remember that it’s not just your car that needs a yearly men’s health check.
Men’s health… as men, we know health is important, but we don’t always act when something isn’t quite right. Being proactive and getting an MOT is key to taking the right steps to improving lifestyle, accessing screening programmes and enhancing knowledge.
This year, Men’s health week is focusing on men getting their MOT’s. A lot of men are quite good at staying on top of the health of their car. This year, we’re encouraging men to think of their body like their car. In other words, get a service and see if you will pass your MOT. Not only that, but consider what will need doing to pass the next MOT.
COVID-19 has had a big impact on health in general. The national health service is still struggling to keep up with public demand. They are also facing ever-increasing pressures relating to the direct and indirect affects of diseases that have accelerated over the past 20 years. This challenging time with the NHS has discouraged people from attending regular appointments. It has also made it difficult to schedule appointments for various health reasons or check-ups. Unfortunately, whilst we have all been focused on the pandemic, we have shifted awareness away from serious conditions that can be impacted by simple lifestyle factors.
Macmillan believe that around 50,000 of us have missed a cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. Prostate cancer diagnoses, for example, were down 29% between 2019 and 2020. That’s not because prostate cancer is getting rarer. rather, it is because men weren’t seeing their GPs to test and get diagnosed.
Interestingly, male GP visits fell more than female visits.
There were reasons for this fall during lockdown but this should not be the case now. Additionally, NHS Health Checks, which were offered to most people over the age of 40, were on hold during the height of restrictions.
All of this provides sufficient reason to keep an eye on our own bodies and minds and give ourselves an MOT this Men’s Health week. Take a look at some important information below of what to look out for with your health and remember… go and see your GP if you’re concerned about any symptoms.
Blood pressure – Why is it so important?
Think of your heart as a pump which is connected to your garden hose. The pressure within this garden hose (your blood vessels) changes throughout the course of the day as your pump regulates pressure (there are also other ways our body regulates pressure). With this example we do not want our pressure too high as it will ultimately damage the flowers and plants we are aiming to supply nutrients to. Over time, this high pressure can lead to damage of our brain, kidneys, heart and other vital organs. The good news though, is there are lots of things we can do to lower it.
Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure. In England, 31% of men and 26% of women have high blood pressure. It is thought that half of people with high blood pressure are not diagnosed or receiving treatment. In England alone, it is thought that there are more than five million people that are undiagnosed.
When you have blood pressure measured it will be displayed as two numbers: a ‘higher’ number (systolic, when your heart contracts) and a ‘lower’ number (diastolic, when your heart relaxes between beats). For example, if your reading is 120/80mmHg, your blood pressure is 120 over 80 (remember the pump and garden hose example). Ideally, we should all have a blood pressure reading between 90/60mmHg and 130/85mmHg.
Most people in the UK have blood pressures higher than the ideal, but below the usual cut-off for diagnosing high blood pressure – somewhere between 130/85mmHg and 140/90mmHg. If you’re in this range, you could develop high blood pressure in the future. Taking positive steps this men’s health week (or any other week) to lower your blood pressure will help to keep your risk of health problems down.
Cholesterol – what is it?
Cholesterol is a fatty waxy substance which is made in the liver, it is also found in certain foods. We all need some cholesterol in our bodies to keep us ticking over, but having too much can clog up our arteries – a process called atherosclerosis.
High cholesterol could be a factor contributing to high blood pressure for some – again, remember the garden hose example. If we hold our thumb over the end of a hose, we see an increase in pressure. The thumb, in this case, would be a build up of unwanted cholesterol within our blood vessels. Additionally, if this occlusion or plaque within our blood vessel were to break off and be transported to our brain or our heart, the result could be a stoke, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or heart attack. High cholesterol also increases the risk of other forms of disease, specifically forms of cardiovascular disease – 3 of which have been mentioned previously.
High cholesterol tends to run in families, so genes play a role, as well as age. A variety of lifestyle choices including nutrition, activity levels and weight can also affect cholesterol levels. The only way to know how high your cholesterol levels are is to get a blood test. Again, similar to blood pressure, cholesterol is ‘silent’. Men’s health (as does everyone else’s) needs to be a priority and those at risk or over the age of 40 should get a cholesterol test at least once every 5 years. If your numbers are high, your doctor may recommend the test more often.
Blood sugar – be aware of what to eat and what to reduce.
Regular glucose monitoring is important for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It is also a good idea to check your glucose levels if you are at a higher risk due to family history, age, weight or underlying diseases. Again, diabetes is silent (unless blood glucose levels remain persistently high, whereby symptoms can arise). The disease also places you at a significantly higher risk of a variety of other different diseases.
Many lifestyle factors can support men’s health and help you manage your blood sugar. This includes things like eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting plenty of exercise.
Waist circumference – waist to height ratio
It may seem harder to keep the pounds off and lose that extra tyre as you get older, but it is important. An elevated waist circumference places excess pressure on your organs and will increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, various forms of cancer, as well as is accelerating the progression of dementia. Men are more likely to store weight around the waist. This is why they are referred to as ‘apple-shaped’. Excess central weight is referred to as visceral fat and although too much of any body fat is bad for your health, visceral fat is much more detrimental when compared to the fat that lies just underneath your skin (subcutaneous fat).
The measurement of a man’s waist circumference is a good indictor of visceral fat and also risk of the prior mentioned disease states. Unfortunately, we do not all have access to scans which measure this visceral fat. What we can do is measure our height with a piece of string. Half of the piece of string should fit around your waist (approx. inline with your belly button). If the two ends touch, you could have a good waist measurement. If they overlap, you may be a healthy weight. An overlap that is too big may be an indication of being underweight. If they don’t meet, then there is a good chance that you need to lose excess weight.
Prostate cancer – what you should know.
The prostate is a gland. It is usually the size and shape of a walnut and grows bigger as you get older. It sits underneath the bladder and surrounds the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the body. The prostate’s main function is to help produce semen.
Prostate cancer can develop when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way. Some prostate cancer grows too slowly to cause any problems or affect how long you live. Because of this, many men with prostate cancer will never need any treatment. However, prostate cancer can grow quickly and be more likely to spread. This is why it is important in men’s health that men are informed about the health of their prostate and make a decisions based on risks and symptoms.
Most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms. But there are certain risks that can increase the chances of developing prostate cancer.
Even if you don’t have any of the symptoms below, speak to your GP about prostate cancer if:
- You are aged 50 or over
- Your father or brother has had prostate cancer
- You are a black male.
Along with the above any symptoms, the below occur typically also occur more frequently:
- Difficulty starting to urinate or emptying your bladder
- A weak flow when you urinate
- A feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
- Dribbling urine after you finish urinating
- Needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
- A sudden need to urinate – you may sometimes leak urine before you get to the toilet.
There are no specific tests for prostate cancer, it is more about ruling things out. There are a few tests that your GP can do to find out if you have a prostate problem.
The main tests include:
- A urine test to rule out a urine infection
- A prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test
- A digital rectal examination (DRE) to look at the prostate itself
Importantly a prostate problem does not mean prostate cancer, there are other explanations too.
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer when compared to others. It accounts for 1% of all cancers that occur in men. Around 2,200 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year in the UK. For reasons that remain unclear, white men have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer compared with men from other ethnic groups (4 to 5 times higher risk).
This type of cancer is unusual compared to other cancers because it tends to affect younger men. It is, in fact, the most common type of cancer to affect men between the ages of 15 and 49. Nearly all other cancer risks increases with age. With testicular cancer, risk goes down.
Treatment almost always includes the surgical removal of the affected testicle. Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer, and the outlook is one of the best for cancers; however, early intervention is important. So get to know your body, be aware of your normal lumps and bumps and what isn’t so normal for you. If you are unsure, get a medical opinion.
The most common symptom is a painless lump or swelling in one of the testicles. It can be the size of a pea or it may be much larger.
Other symptoms can include:
- A dull ache in the scrotum
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
Remember that there are also other explanations for these symptoms, so talk to your GP.
Health tips for men…
Moving forward, let’s not wait for next year’s Men’s Health Awareness Week before taking the right steps to put our health first and getting an MOT.
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