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Heart disease is Australia’s single leading cause of death. In 2017, heart disease claimed the lives of 51 Australians each day – that’s one person every 28 minutes. While both men and women are affected, men are more likely to develop heart disease than women.
There’s no single cause for heart disease but there are many risk factors which increase your chances of developing it.
These risk factors include:
Being physically inactive
Eating an unhealthy diet
Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
Social isolation and depression
Fortunately, many of the risk factors for heart disease are modifiable by introducing a few simple lifestyle changes.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition where a person’s breathing repeatedly stops during sleep. It occurs due to partial or complete blockage of their airway while sleeping.
Someone with OSA may stop breathing for anywhere between a few seconds and 90 seconds at a time. These episodes (known as apnoeas) can occur up to hundreds of times each night, depending on the severity of the problem.
While it can affect anyone, twice as many men than women have OSA and it is more common in those who are middle-aged or older. It is also more likely to occur in those who are overweight, in people who snore and in those with naturally narrow throats or nasal passages, as well as in children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids.
Symptoms of OSA include:
Pauses in breathing while asleep – this is often noticed by others
Waking up gasping or choking
Waking with a dry mouth
Excessive daytime sleepiness
OSA affects more than just sleep. If untreated, it can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Due to daytime sleepiness, people with OSA may also have a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents and workplace accidents.
OSA is usually diagnosed by a having a sleep study. This involves an overnight stay in a hospital or a sleep clinic, where measurements are taken of your breathing and sleep patterns and your blood oxygen levels.
There are a number of treatments available for OSA, depending on the severity. However, the most common treatment is using a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, which helps to keep the airway open at night. In milder cases, special mouthguards or dental splints may help. Lifestyle changes are also an important part of managing OSA – this includes losing weight if overweight, limiting or avoiding alcohol in the evening and not smoking. Sleeping on your side rather than your back and avoiding sleeping tablets can also help.
If you think you might have sleep apnoea it is important to see your doctor, who can refer you for further investigations.
Gout is a painful inflammation of the joints. An attack of gout usually comes on very quickly and the joint becomes red, swollen and very painful. Gout most commonly affects the big toe but can occur in other joints including the hands, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles.
Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood, which forms tiny crystals in some joints in the body. Everyone has some uric acid in the blood but levels don’t usually become too high because uric acid is continuously removed from the body by the kidneys. In some people, however, uric acid isn’t excreted quickly enough or too much is being produced. The excess uric acid forms crystals in the joints, causing inflammation and pain.
While gout can affect anyone, it is more common in men than women and in older people than younger people. In women, it doesn’t usually occur before menopause.
Gout is also more likely to occur if you:
are carrying excess weight
have high blood pressure, high blood fat levels or diabetes
have kidney disease
are taking diuretics (medications that remove water from the body)
drink alcohol, particularly beer and spirits
If you have an attack of gout it is important to see your doctor, who can recommend certain medications to help with reducing the pain and inflammation. They can also provide you with advice on reducing the risk of further episodes of gout, as frequent attacks can cause irreversible damage to the joint and the nearby bone.
Reduce the Risk of Gout
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of gout. These include:
taking medication to lower uric acid levels,
avoiding or limiting alcohol intake, and if you do drink, choosing wine over beer and spirits
losing weight gradually if you are overweight (rapid weight loss can increase uric acid levels)
avoiding foods high in purines (which can increase uric acid levels) including meat (particularly red meat and organ meats), seafood (particularly shellfish, scallops, mussels, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies) and foods and drinks containing yeast, such as vegemite and beer.
Men have a reputation for avoiding the doctor and not always prioritising their health. But regular health checks can pick up problems early, well before you develop any symptoms of disease. This can help to prevent future health problems, or pick them up early, when they are easier to treat.
Your doctor can explain the specific screening tests you should have and how often you should have them, taking into account factors such as your personal medical history and family history.
Here are some of the tests they might recommend you have:
Heart health – a blood test to check your cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels, measurement of your blood pressure. If you are over 50, your doctor may also recommend an Electrocardiogram (ECG) to check your heart’s electrical activity.
Diabetes check – a fasting blood test to check glucose levels in the blood. This is recommended every three years in those at risk of diabetes and yearly in those who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. If you are over 40, you should check your risk with the AUSDRISK tool.
Bowel cancer – a stool test to check for blood in your stools (called a faecal occult blood test) is recommended every two years if you are aged 50 years or above. If you are at high risk, for example due to a family history of bowel cancer, a colonoscopy might be recommended.
Skin cancer – check your skin at home regularly for unusual moles and freckles. If you are at high risk (due to working outdoors or having had previous skin cancers) see your doctor at least yearly for a full body skin check.
Prostate cancer – screening isn’t recommended for all men but if you have a family history of cancer, including prostate cancer, you may need a blood test to check prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels and a digital prostate examination.
When you see your doctor for a health check they will also ask about your family history of disease and your lifestyle including diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol, and may check your weight and waist measurement, as these factors can all affect your risk of disease and how often you need to have screening checks.
The statistics don’t paint a pretty picture. Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia. In 2015 it accounted for 14% of deaths in males (and 11% in females). At the age of 40, one in two men is at risk of developing coronary heart disease in their lifetime.
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to reduce this risk and avoid being a statistic.
The first step to reducing your risk is to know your risk factors. While there are a few you can’t change, such as age, being male, your ethnic background and family history, there are also plenty that you can change. These include smoking, being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, having high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure, suffering from depression and being socially isolated.
So what can you do to reduce your risk?
If you smoke, quit. If you need help to do this, speak with your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 7848.
Eat a healthy diet, based mainly on plant foods including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and nuts, and avoid processed foods high in saturated fat and added sugars.
Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes each day and reduce your sedentary time by looking for opportunities to move more throughout your day and breaking up your sitting time regularly.
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by balancing healthy eating and regular exercise.
Manage your cholesterol levels and blood pressure – this can be through lifestyle changes, with the addition of medication where needed.
If you have diabetes, keep it well managed. High blood glucose levels can contribute to heart disease risk.
Be socially active and if you are suffering from depression, speak with your doctor about treatment options.
If you are over 45 years (or over 35 years if you are from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background), the Heart Foundation recommend seeing your doctor for a heart health check.
For more information:
Visit the Heart Foundation to find out more about heart disease and reducing your risk.
While often thought of as a problem affecting women, it is estimated that around one-quarter of people suffering from anorexia and bulimia are males, and almost equal numbers of males and females suffer from binge eating disorder. Body dissatisfaction in men is also increasing and now close to that of females, although men tend to aspire to a lean, muscular physique rather than a low body weight.
Risk factors for an eating disorder include perfectionism, bullying, dieting, trauma and childhood obesity. Male athletes are more at risk, particularly those in sports and activities that focus on weight and aesthetics, such as weight lifters, wrestlers, body builders, gymnasts, dancers and jockeys.
There are many warning signs of an eating disorder, which are similar in men and women, but those which are more common in males are listed in the box on the right.
The good news is that recovery from an eating disorder is possible, but the sooner someone gets help, the shorter the recovery period. Unfortunately, men often take longer to be diagnosed and seek help due to the stigma around eating disorders being a ‘female problem’ and a lack of services designed to specifically meet their needs.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR…
A preoccupation with body building
Continuing to do weight training when injured
Feeling anxious or stressed about missing workouts
Using anabolic steroids
A reduced interest in, or fears around sex
So if you have an eating disorder (or suspect that someone you know does), it’s important to seek help immediately. Start with seeing your GP, who can help you to determine the support you need and refer you to practitioners with specialised skills in managing eating disorders.
For more information call the National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC) helpline on 1800 334 673 for free, confidential support or visit their website.
Heartburn (also called indigestion) is a burning pain or discomfort in the chest, usually felt after eating.
It occurs when stomach acids rise up into the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach) due to the valve between the lower end of the oesophagus and the stomach not closing tightly. This valve normally opens to let food down into the stomach but then closes again to stop acid moving from the stomach up into the oesophagus.
While anyone can experience heartburn, it is more common in people who are overweight and pregnant women.
If symptoms are mild and occasional, heartburn can usually be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But if symptoms are frequent and persistent, it’s important to see your doctor, as other treatment may be needed, including prescription medications and rarely surgery.
Common triggers for heartburn include eating large meals, fatty and spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, carbonated drinks, peppermints and smoking.
If you have heartburn, there are some lifestyle changes that can help to prevent and/or manage the symptoms:
Eat small more frequent meals and avoid large meals or overeating
Relax at mealtimes and eat slowly
Avoid or limit alcohol, especially on an empty stomach
Avoid carbonated drinks
If you smoke, get help to quit
Avoid foods that you find trigger your symptoms –this can vary from one person to another but high fat foods, spicy foods and chocolate are common culprits
Avoid lying down, lifting, bending or strenuous physical activity for a few hours after meals
Avoid clothes that are tight around the middle
Elevate the head of your bed or sleep on extra pillows if you experience heartburn at night
Preparing for pregnancy is important for both men and women. In fact the best chance of falling pregnant and having a healthy baby comes when both partners take steps to optimise their health before conception.
Here’s a few things you can do to improve fertility and increase your chances of having a healthy baby:
If you smoke, quit. Smoking affects your fertility, and can affect the fertility of your partner if you smoke around her. Smoking in the three months before conception can also damage the DNA of your sperm which can affect your child’s health, including increasing their risk of childhood leukaemia.
Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking reduces male fertility and can affect sperm quality. So if you’re trying to conceive stick to the safe drinking guidelines, which means no more than 2 standard drinks per day.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight can affect fertility and sperm quality. If you’re carrying extra weight, losing weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise may help to improve fertility.
Keep them cool! If your testes get hot this can reduce sperm production so when you’re trying to conceive avoid hot baths, spas, saunas and sitting with your computer on your lap. And while there’s no strong evidence to suggest tight underwear is a problem, wearing boxer shorts can help to keep things cool down there.
Avoid drug taking. Anabolic steroids used in body building can cause your testicles to shrink and can reduce sperm production. And many recreational drugs have been shown to affect fertility.
Get checked for STIs. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can affect your fertility and that of your partner and they don’t always have obvious symptoms. If you’ve had an STI in the past, or you think you might be at risk of having an STI, tell your doctor so that you can decide together whether to be tested. STIs can be treated before you and your partner try to conceive.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men, with more than 19,000 men diagnosed each year. The risk increases with age and is higher in men with a first degree relative with prostate cancer, particularly if the relative was diagnosed before the age of 60 years.
Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells within the prostate grow in an uncontrolled way, forming a tumour. This can then press on or block the bladder or urethra, causing problems with urination and sexual function. In some cases, the cancer can spread quickly and to other parts of the body. However prostate cancer is usually slow growing and most men live for many years without symptoms and without it spreading and becoming life-threatening.
Symptoms of prostate cancer include:
Frequent urination, including overnight
Difficulties urinating, including a weak or interrupted flow
Pain or discomfort when urinating
Blood in the urine or semen
Pain in the lower back or pelvic area
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important to see your doctor, who will usually do a blood test (called the prostate specific antigen, or PSA test) and/or a digital rectal examination to check the size of the prostate and if there are any abnormalities. If either of these indicate that you may be at risk, you’ll be referred for a biopsy which is the only way that a definite diagnosis of prostate cancer can be made. However these symptoms don’t mean you have cancer and for many men they are instead caused by a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) which is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate.
If you’re a man over 50 years, or over 40 years with a family history of prostate cancer, speak to your GP about whether you should be tested for prostate cancer as part of your annual health checkup.
Male-pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) is the most common type of hair loss and affects all men to some extent as they age. But for some men, this starts earlier and can result in considerable hair loss. According to Andrology Australia, significant balding affects about one in five men in their 20s, about one in three men in their 30s and 40% of men by their 40s.
Male-pattern baldness is usually inherited and can also affect women. It usually starts with a receding hairline, followed by thinning of the hair on the crown and temples. The process is gradual and only affects hair on the scalp, not elsewhere on the body.
Men with androgenetic alopecia have hair follicles which are more sensitive to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), produced in the body from the male hormone testosterone. This causes the hairs growing from the follicles to become thinner and shorter with each cycle of growth.
Male-pattern baldness isn’t a disease and doesn’t cause any other health problems. However some men find their hair loss emotionally distressing and it can be associated with a lack of self-esteem and in some cases, depression. If this is the case, asking your doctor for a referral to a psychologist to discuss your feelings may help.
While there is currently no cure for male-pattern baldness, there are a number of treatments that can slow down hair loss in some men. These include medications, hair transplants and plastic surgery. Earlier treatment is best as it is usually easier to maintain existing hair than to regrow it, so if you’re concerned about hair loss, speak to your GP about your options.