Men’s Most Embarrassing Health Problems

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Power to the Patient
on August 1, 2011

It might be awkward to talk about certain symptoms with your doctor (think bad breath and problems peeing) but bringing these issues up at your next physical could save your life.

Symptoms: If you have a bowel movement less than three times per week or find yourself straining, you’re most likely suffering from constipation.

Why you shouldn’t be embarrassed: Women seem to become constipated more often than men, but being backed up from time to time is still one of the most commonly reported gastrointestinal disorders in the United States.

Why you shouldn’t ignore it: “Most people with constipation do not have a serious problem, but if it represents a significant change in bowel habit, cancer can be a cause,” says Dr. J. Taylor Hays, in the department of general internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

How to deal: Hays suggests getting a colonoscopy to look for problems such as cancer if constipation occurs in association with symptoms such as rectal bleeding or weight loss, if your constipation does not respond to standard therapy, or if you’re over age 50 and haven’t had a colon cancer screening. Once you’ve checked out OK, try adding fiber to your diet (men need about 38 grams per day) or taking a supplement to prevent constipation from reoccurring. Once you’re constipated, start by trying an osmotic laxative like Milk of Magnesia or MiraLAX, then move on to laxatives like Ex-Lax, which contain senna and work by irritating your colon to produce a bowel movement.

Bad Breath
Symptoms: You know it when you smell it—or someone else does. Halitosis isn’t your run of the mill morning or coffee breath, though, and it’s typically so foul smelling that remedies like gum and mouthwash aren’t enough to beat it back.

Why you shouldn’t be embarrassed: Chronic bad breath affects millions of people around the world.

Why you shouldn’t ignore it: Halitosis is occasionally a sign of sinus infections, acid reflux, and even problems with the liver, kidneys and pancreas.

How to deal: Try scraping your tongue to remove excess bad breath bacteria that could be causing the problem. If that fails, see your doctor or dentist to discuss other underlying health problems.

Frequent Urination
Symptoms: When you’re constantly going—and going and going and going.

Why you shouldn’t be embarrassed: While more women than men deal with incontinence, men need not suffer in silence, especially as these symptoms are much more common as men get older.

Why you shouldn’t ignore it: Frequent urination can be a symptom of several health problems, including diabetes, bladder stones, cancer of the bladder or prostate, overactive bladder and urinary tract infections. In men over 50, problems with urination are typically due to prostate issues like benign prostatic hyperplasia, according to Hays.

How to deal: If frequent urination at night is your primary problem, try limiting how much liquid you drink before bed. If you’re still getting up to go more than once each night, it’s time to talk to your doctor about possible prostate, bladder or other underlying problems.

Erectile Dysfunction
Symptoms: When you’re unable to achieve and maintain an erection, ED may be an issue.

Why you shouldn’t be embarrassed: The prevalence of erectile dysfunction increases with age and as many as 18 million Americans suffer from the disorder.

Why you shouldn’t ignore it: Impotence on its own isn’t a life threatening condition (we’re pretty sure no man has ever died from not having sex!), yet it can be a sign of other more serious health issues. According to Hays, erectile dysfunction can be a sign of heart disease, especially in younger men. It may also be associated with other treatable conditions such as depression and diabetes or a side effect of various medications.

How to deal: “It has been shown that men who maintain good levels of physical fitness lower their risk of erectile dysfunction,” Hays says. If your ED can’t be reversed, it can be treated with drugs such as Viagra.

Symptoms: Persistently low mood, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable (including loss of sexual interest), excessive worry, social withdrawal, sleep problems, appetite and weight changes, excessive irritability or aggression.

Why you shouldn’t be embarrassed: While many men still consider depression to be a “woman’s disease”—which explains their inability to recognize the disease’s symptoms or their reluctance to seek help for them—more than 6 million men in the U.S. suffer from depression each year.

Why you shouldn’t ignore it: Depression kills more men than women each year. In the U.S., at least 75 percent of all people who commit suicide are men. “The risk of not treating depression is that the depression may become prolonged and more difficult to treat and could eventually be associated with suicidal thoughts or actions,” says Hays.

How to deal: Depression is often successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Ask your family physician for advice on finding a therapist or visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s web site (, which has a helpful “How to Find Help” link.