Feel like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest? It could be heartburn…or heart disease. (Photo by Science Photo Library/Corbis)
Men are infamous for avoiding the doctor.
More often than not, we’re too macho, too busy, or (shhh!) too scared to man up and face the person who can help us live a longer, more fulfilling life. But when it comes to seemingly minor symptoms, trying to tough it out could set you up for major trouble down the road.
Guys are nearly 25 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor in the past year. So it’s no surprise they’re at a much greater risk of being hospitalized for serious health threats such as congestive heart failure and the long-term complications of diabetes.
We prefer the “ignorance is bliss” approach to our health.
"Men like to be in control, and if they go to a physician, there’s a chance they may receive information or feedback that is outside of their control," Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Yahoo Health. “So they ignore symptoms hoping they will go away.”
But in this case, what you don’t know can actually kill you.
Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease don’t strike like a heart attack or stroke. They usually begin with a whimper—seemingly ordinary symptoms that can be mistaken for less threatening culprits.
Treat your body with the same reverence you show your car.
"[Good health] requires routine maintenance no different than what you’d have done on your car," said Neides. "If you treat your health with that same level of care, your chances of an optimal quality of life increase dramatically."
Men over 40 should meet with their physician at least once per year, and more frequently if they have a chronic disease, said Neides. But getting to the doctor is just the first step. “Doctors aren’t mind readers,” said Neides. “The more information that a patient can provide, the better opportunity the doctor has of uncovering a health issue that might be life altering.”
Here, six symptoms to pipe up about, stat:
Excessive or Loud Snoring
Easily attributed to: Being a dude, being overly tired, being drunk
Could be a sign of: Sleep apnea
If you wake up tired after a full night’s rest or your partner complains about you “sawing logs” at night, you could have sleep apnea. It involves either snoring all night long at a low volume level or intermittent snoring that’s very loud. “When you have sleep apnea, you are decreasing the amount of oxygen in the body,” said Neides. “That can put a lot of stress on vital organs but specifically the heart, which increases the risk of congestive heart failure.”
Easily attributed to: A normal part of aging, too many whiskeys, fatigue
Could be a sign of: Heart disease
Being unable to achieve or maintain an erection has obvious sexual health implications, but erectile dysfunction (ED) could also be an early indicator for serious heart problems. “It’s important not to automatically throw a Viagra or Cialis at a guy who is experiencing erectile dysfunction, because it could be a warning sign of heart disease,” said Neides. Being unable to get an erection is a matter of disruption of blood flow to the arteries of the penis, which are often the first to become clogged with plaque in the early stages of heart disease. ED could also be a side effect of certain medications, so it’s very important that men talk to their doctors about potential underlying causes.
Chest Pain, Shortness of Breath
Easily attributed to: Heartburn, being out of shape
Could be a sign of: Heart disease
As plaque builds up in the arteries of the heart, the body’s most important muscle can’t get the oxygen-rich blood it needs to function properly. The result is chest pain (called angina) and breathing difficulty, which are warning signs of heart disease. “Oftentimes people mistake chest pain for heartburn, blaming it on spicy food,” said Neides. “So they take a couple of Tums, thinking everything will be fine.”
To tell the difference, pay attention to the pain itself. Heartburn causes a sharp pain with a burning sensation, said Neides; Angina involves more of a pressure sensation, like an elephant is sitting on your chest.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Easily attributed to: Normal weight fluctuation, stress
Could be a sign of: Cancer, thyroid disease, or a nutrient deficiency
Many men would rejoice after losing several pounds off the ol’ beer gut. But if you haven’t made any lifestyle changes and experience 10 to 15 pounds of weight loss in a fairly short period of time, something more serious could be at play. “Unintended weight loss is the key element here,” said Neides. “If you haven’t changed anything and suddenly your pants don’t fit, then you should see a doctor.”
Easily attributed to: A serious coffee habit
Could be a sign of: Diabetes or enlarged prostate
When sugar builds up in the blood as a result of diabetes, your body flushes out the excess through the urine, causing more frequent trips to the bathroom. An enlarged prostate blocks the flow of urine and makes it more difficult to empty the bladder, which also causes more frequent bathroom trips. “There will always be some residual urine in the bladder,” said Neides. “But it should be a nominal amount, not enough to trigger him to return 20 minutes later to use the bathroom.”
Easily attributed to: Eating dark-colored foods
Could be a sign of: Ulcer, colon cancer
When blood mixes with feces, it turns black, signaling there’s bleeding happening in the gastrointestinal tract somewhere between the mouth and the large intestine. “You don’t want to ignore that, ever,” said Neides. “It could be a blood vessel that has ruptured. It could be an ulcer that’s bleeding in the stomach or the small intestine. Or it could be a sign of colon cancer.” All of these should be addressed by a doctor.
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