Men’s biggest health concerns
Dr Christian gives practical, reassuring answers to the questions you were too scared to ask anyone else.
Q. What’s the best way to examine my testicles? Paulo, 24, Glasgow
A. To learn how to check for early signs of cancer, I’d recommend watching a short video. I’m probably biased, but I think the Embarrassing Bodies website (www.channel4embarrassingillnesses.com) has helpful self-examination videos.
Got the blues
Q. I think I may be depressed – what should I do? Rick, 47, Cardff
A. Depression can strike at any time and doesn’t have to be related to adverse life events. Some people suffer from depression with no obvious cause. Symptoms don’t have to relate only to mood – sleep disturbance, including waking up early, lack of interest in food and even skipping your usual gym routine, may all be clues. Excessive alcohol intake is another common symptom, despite drinkers denying it. I advise that you talk to close friends and family about this first and don’t bottle things up. Men are very good at ignoring problems and many wait ages before seeking help for issues like depression. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can get your life back on track.
A bend too far
Q. Why is my penis bent? Should I be worried? Jason, 19, London
A. This may simply be how you were born and the way it has always been. Don’t worry about it – it’s not abnormal. Moreover, sex experts claim that curved penises are far more comfortable for partners during penetration than very straight ones. If your penis has developed a bend more recently, then this is worth getting checked out by your doctor. There are several conditions that cause penile curvature which can be treated. If left unchecked, the curve could get worse and make sex difficult.
Off my chest
Q. I’ve just turned 60 and am getting pains in my chest. Michael, 60, Hertfordshire
A. Chest pain should always be taken seriously and not ignored. The biggest worry is that it is related to heart problems. If your pain is triggered by physical activity and relieved by rest, feels tight, is associated with breathlessness, nausea and you have known risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, high cholesterol or family members with heart problems, then you should seek medical help immediately. However, most chest pains have less serious causes, such as heartburn, stress, muscle injuries and lung infections.
The £10 note test
Q. I’ve had bad flu for ages – why can’t I shake it off? Abraham, 32, Birmingham
A. Many different viruses have been circulating this year, some of which do seem to linger for an awful long time, causing chronic coughs, tiredness and general malaise. Real flu is a very different kettle of fish, however. You wouldn’t have the energy to email me this query if you had true flu. It’s a potential killer and, in fact, millions died of it in the epidemic following the WWI. A few decades ago, doctors were said to do the £10 note test: if you can get out of bed to get a £10 note placed at the end of your bed, then you haven’t got flu! More seriously, if you do have an illness that you can’t seem to shake, particularly if it is causing a chronic cough or chest problems, then please get it seen by your GP. You may need antibiotics or even an X-ray.
Weeing in the wee hours
Q. Why am I going for a pee so often during the night? Norman, 58, Liverpool
A. There are a number of reasons for this. Simply drinking too much fluid before bed is a common cause. Alcohol, a known diuretic, is often responsible. Diabetes is another common cause of increased frequency of urination and, in slightly older men, an enlarged prostate can be a culprit. Any man who finds he is having to get up in the night to go for a pee should go to his GP for a full health check.
Q. Please help – I’m embarrassed about not being able to get an erection. Simon, 36, Gloucester
A. You won’t be the only one. It may be some consolation to know that all men will experience this at some point in their lives. Lifestyle plays a big role in erectile function (ED) and tiredness, stress and alcohol intake can all play their part. More importantly, ED can be an early warning sign of more general health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes – so always go for a full health check if you are suffering from ED. In fact, the consultation with your doctor may reveal an underlying and far more threatening problem, but one that can be put right, and, in so doing, will help your ED, too.
I’ve caught something!
Q. What should I do if I think I’ve got a sexually transmitted infection (STI)? Harry, 23, London
A. Get tested. It’s really simple, doesn’t involve things being shoved up your penis and can provide rapid peace of mind in the face of extreme worry. STIs won’t necessarily give you any symptoms, so the only way you can be sure is to get tested. The best place to go for testing is a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic at your local hospital, where they deal with this every day.
Q. Every day, after work, I go to the pub for four pints and feel fine. But is that too much? Brian, 55, Surrey
A. The government has come up with guidelines to advise people on alcohol consumption. Men are advised not to drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) – which is a great deal less than you’re consuming, Brian! So yes, you are drinking a dangerous amount. That said, we all try to find ways of beating the system and some think that storing all your weekly units up and having them in one go on a Friday night is fine. Unfortunately, this is not so. Binge drinking is in fact more harmful. Small amounts consumed regularly seem to be much better than large amounts now and again.
Photograph: Getty Images
This article was first published in at home’s ’Ask the Doctor’ with Dr Christian Jessen in March 2012. [Read the digital edition here]