Never mind the annual checkup—many men don’t make a doctor’s appointment until they’re wincing in pain.
In fact, men are 25% less likely than women to have seen a healthcare provider in the past year, according to the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
We asked Cedars-Sinai doctors which symptoms men most commonly ignore—and shouldn’t. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these, a trip to your primary care physician could be in order.
10 Symptoms Men Often Ignore
- Odd-looking moles and other skin irregularities. Did that mole change color, shape, or size? Maybe there’s an irregular border. “I love when patients come in and note that a particular growth has changed or is new,” says Cedars-Sinai dermatologist Dr. Joyce N. Fox. “Their monitoring of their own and their partner’s skin is part of their proactive care that gives me hope.” Timely intervention is critical. Men should take action when they see those telltale cancer signs, along with rough patches of skin or sores that won’t heal.
- Excessive snoring. Is your own snoring waking you—or your partner—up at night? That could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Sleep apnea can wake the snorer and interrupt breathing, leading to daytime fatigue and greater risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and stroke. If sleeping on your side or stomach doesn’t help, then it’s time for an appointment with a sleep specialist who can make the appropriate diagnosis. Recommended treatments include a CPAP breathing device for continuous airway pressure, a dental appliance to change jaw and tongue position at night, and similar devices.
- Change in bowel habits. “Problems with bowel movements are usually a sign of dietary indiscretion,” says Dr. Robert Uyeda, a general surgeon at Cedars-Sinai. “But it can be something as serious as colorectal cancer.” If you’re experiencing chronic constipation or have symptoms like bloody or narrow stools, mysterious weight loss, cramping, and bloating, there could be an obstruction in the lower bowel. The goal is to prevent colorectal cancer from developing, but getting people to schedule colonoscopies can be challenging. Cedars-Sinai’s Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon, asks people to set aside their concerns about bowel-related cancer screening by offering a health affirmation: “I tell them to say to themselves, ‘I will not die of fear. I will not die of embarrassment.'” Meanwhile, if there are already symptoms, it’s vital that patients see a specialist in time to benefit from treatment.
- Frequent heartburn. Occasional heartburn isn’t a 5-alarm crisis, but anyone having problems at least twice a week may have gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause inflammation, bleeding, ulcers of the esophagus, and may lead to cancer and precancerous conditions. Lifestyle changes should reduce the incidents of heartburn. Taking trans fats and oily foods out of the diet can help, as can avoiding alcohol, processed meats, caffeinated beverages, and certain other foods. More severe cases may need to be treated with medications.
- Excessive thirst. Staying hydrated is good for us, but constant thirst may indicate a health problem. It’s one symptom of diabetes, the metabolic disease in which raised blood sugar induces thirst so that we drink enough water to eliminate excessive glucose. Keep up with annual blood tests to assess glucose levels and monitor the potential insulin deficits of diabetes. “If you have a family history of diabetes, you should have your blood sugar checked,” says Dr. Uyeda. Excessive thirst may also be a symptom of internal bleeding, infection, or organ failure.
- Chest pain. “Chest pain could mean heart disease, lung disease, and gastrointestinal disorders,” says Dr. Uyeda. “It can also point to shingles or an injury of some kind.” A Cedars-Sinai study by Dr. Sumeet S. Chugh found that more than half of patients who have cardiac arrest—an “electrical” problem that stops the heart—experience warning signs days or weeks before the condition strikes. In the days, and sometimes weeks, before cardiac arrest, many patients have intermittent chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations, or ongoing flu-like symptoms like nausea, as well as abdominal and back pain. However, 80% ignore these symptoms.
- Shortness of breath. A heavy workout can cause anyone to have labored breathing for a time. But persistent shortness of breath can also be evidence of a heart attack or congestive heart failure. Breathing difficulties are sometimes caused by smoking or secondhand smoke, airborne chemicals, and pollution—all of which can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. With shortness of breath, make sure to be screened for lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema too.
- Trouble with vision. Eyesight is often a casualty of advancing age. Regular eye checkups can catch more serious issues that might otherwise be hard to notice. Blind spots, blurry and tunnel vision, and halos on lights can be symptoms of worrisome eye conditions. An exam to check eye pressure can help detect glaucoma or diagnose diseases like cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration. Vision problems are also sometimes related to stroke or the growth of a brain tumor. “And if the volume is way up on that TV,” adds Dr. Uyeda, “it could be a problem with hearing loss. That’s something else you might want to have examined.”
- Frequent fatigue. A bad night’s sleep or physical exertion can leave anyone exhausted. But fatigue for an extended period of time is a red flag worth a trip to the doctor. Prolonged tiredness can be a symptom of certain cancers and infections, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, and congestive heart failure. A sleep disorder is another possible trigger, as are a problem thyroid gland, anemia, and psychological conditions such as depression. When it seems no amount of coffee is enough to get ready for the day, it’s likely time to see a physician.
- Memory loss. Forgetting where you parked, missing a bill payment, or misplacing your phone may not be an emergency. However, if you’re beginning to forget things more often—or more dramatically—there could be an underlying medical issue. Memory loss is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, and some infections. It might also be depression, addiction, or a vitamin deficiency. Your physician can help.
Not surprisingly, men have worse health statistics than women. They die, on average, 5 years earlier than women. They’re 1.5 times more likely than women to die from heart disease, cancer, and lung diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screening and preventative care can help change those stats—make that appointment today!Men are 25% less likely than women to have seen a healthcare provider in the past year. Click To Tweet