This article is published as a series marking Movember, a month highlighting men’s mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
If you’re a man in your 30s or older, seeing a doctor or getting a checkup is most likely the last thing on your mind when you have a million other things to worry about. But, if recent data is anything to go by, it is the most critical thing you can do.
According to the latest figures from Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), men in the UAE are not doing enough to take charge of their health. 70 percent of Emirati men under the age of 30 years are known to suffer from obesity and diabetes1. Not enough men between 20 to 30 years of age are undergoing regular full physical work-ups, and screening for prevalent health issues.
This November, the message is clear: men (young and old) need to take charge of their own health by proactively learning where their health is at and preemptively seeking treatment and guidance.
Why you need a urologist – and when
As men enter their 30s and later, quality-of-life issues become more pertinent, requiring early action to monitor and detect any urology issues. They may resist at first, especially if they need to be dragged to their primary care physician for annual checkups but seeing a urologist can make everyday life better.
Dr. Francesco Cappellano, consultant urologist, Fakeeh University Hospital believes that starting an open dialogue with a urologist is key to addressing the problems men often do not feel comfortable discussing.
“I recommend every man over the age of 40 to start seeing a urologist regularly,” he says. “This isn’t just something you do to protect yourself from prostate cancer. This is about taking charge of your prostate, urinary, and sexual health — to talk about the issues that you may find uncomfortable to address. This is also where I see our role as urologists — to normalize these as regular health conversations”.
In their late 40s, men may begin to face difficulty urinating due to an enlarged prostate, which is part of getting older. But too many trips to the bathroom — day and night — can make daily life more of a pain than it needs to be. To start, a urologist may recommend some lifestyle changes. This can include avoiding caffeine and alcohol. An enlarged prostate can also be treated with medications to relieve symptoms or even partially shrink the prostate.
The greatest concern here is the lifetime risk of prostate cancer, which can be predicted by a single prostate-specific antigen (PSA) determination that men are recommended to take during their 40s.
“All men should take a baseline PSA test when they hit their mid-40s,” says Dr Cappellano. “It’s a simple blood test can help determine your risk of developing prostate cancer and show us specifically what we need to do to screen you in the future.”
If your PSA is .7 or below, you may only need to be screened every five years or so and your lifetime risk of prostate cancer is around 10 percent or less. If you’re at higher risk with a score of 1 or above, you may benefit from more frequent screening. If you reach 60 and your score is below a 1 or 2, it is safe to spread out the screening interval again.
“Cancer screenings can be lifesavers,” continued Dr Cappellano, “but even a semi-regular visit to your urologist can keep you feeling good and make the aging problems all of us men face a little easier to cope with.”
Erectile dysfunction and declining libido are other issues that are not uncommon for men starting in their late 40s and early 50s, with about 1 in 10 adult males suffering from it. The cause isn’t always physical, but a urologist can help if it is.
“Your urologist can check your hormones with a simple blood test and prescribe testosterone replacements if you have low testosterone,” said Dr Cappellano.
There is no specific age for men to start visiting a pulmonologist, but it is important to start the conversation around lung health early on, preferably as part of the annual wellness exam. Dr Julio Gomez Seco, lead consultant — pulmonology and sleep respiratory medicine at Fakeeh University Hospital, shares some advice on how best to manage respiratory health:
Commit to quitting smoking: Smoking in any form (cigarettes, cigars, shisha, vapes and more) is a bad idea, given that it is a leading cause of lung cancer as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is an inflammatory lung disease, affecting close to 10 percent of all men, which causes obstructed airflow from lungs. Other symptoms of COPD include difficulty breathing, coughing, excessive mucus production and wheezing.
Check air quality: When it comes to time outdoors, make a daily habit of checking the air quality using apps such AirVisual or Plume Labs. During this summer, it is especially important to improving indoor air quality so make sure to replace air filters every two to three months, but more often if you have indoor pets or any allergies to dust and molds.
Understand patterns: Breathing exercises can help you become aware of potential symptoms, such as recurrent wheezing sounds or chronic cough. Both mean need to make sure you are being tended to by a pulmonologist. Sleep apnea is another potentially serious disorder, which men are two to three times more likely to have, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, you might be suffering from sleep apnea.
Get yourself checked: An annual wellness exam is the best time to bring up any breathing problems and let your doctor know if you smoke or vape, or that you used to. Based on your condition, you may be recommended for tests such as spirometry to see how well your lungs are working, how fast you move the air, how well you transfer the oxygen to the blood, and much more. The key here is to get the conversation started early on.
Pay attention to your heart
In the UAE, recent data for incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has shown that residents face an earlier onset of CVD by at least 10 years compared to the world average.
“We are seeing a worrying trend of cardiovascular disease here in the UAE, due to multiple causes”, said Dr Syed Sakib, specialist interventional cardiologist at Fakeeh University Hospital. “But while heart disease can be complicated to treat, prevention is relatively simple, so long as we focus on four main areas: stop smoking, exercise regularly, manage your stress, and maintain a healthy diet.”
Smoking is proven to be one of the main causes of heart disease due to the negative effect on blood vessels connected to the heart. This can cause blood flow complexities in the short-term and high blood pressure and potential strokes in the long-term. On the other hand, healthier activities like exercise increase the heart rate and blood flow, thus helping provide more oxygen and nutrients to the heart, as it becomes more active. According to SEHA, there can be a 25 percent reduction in heart attack risk among men who climb 50 stairs a day or walk five city blocks.
During the pandemic, 36 percent of UAE residents reported increased stress brought on by work, family, or financial matters. It has also been observed that, before the age of 50, men are more prone to hypertension than women. As much as we can try, stress is a natural mental state that we cannot avoid. It reduces our happiness and peace of mind, which causes anxiety and increases blood pressure by increasing the heart rate. There are multiple ways of dealing with stress, whether it’s through the adoption of a pet or picking up a new hobby.
Mind the diet
The final key area of heart health is maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.
“A healthy diet should consist of healthy fats derived from plants including avocado, nuts & seeds and beans on a weekly basis,” says Dr Sakib. “Fats derived from animal products, such as meat cuts or cheese, contain fat and should be monitored when consumed. Fruits and vegetables that are high in sugar, like grapes and mangoes, should also be consumed in moderation.”
Remember the basics
Simple everyday actions like drinking more water can help thin the mucus produced by lungs, which is especially important for those suffering from COPD and similar lung diseases. Exercise and a generally active lifestyle can also help to stimulate your lungs, strengthen them, and improve capacity and function in every other part of your body too.
• This article was provided by the staff at Fakeeh University Hospital