Five embarrassing male health problems – and what to do about them
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Two in five of us with an embarrassing health problem would rather suffer in silence than ask for help, according to a recent report.
Meanwhile, other studies have shown that men are half as likely as women to head for the doctor when they sense something wrong.
All this is bad news, of course. Problems that are caught early are often easier to treat than those caught later. And even if your problem is embarrassing rather than sinister, living with it can be uncomfortable, occasionally painful and often life-limiting.
So here are the five embarrassing problems research says men are most likely to keep to themselves, and suggestions for tackling them if you really can't face heading straight to the GP.
According to research by the Co-operative Pharmacy, erectile dysfunction (ED) is the issue men are most unwilling to talk to a stranger about. That's hardly surprising. Erection problems strike right at the heart of our sense of manhood. Talking to a (possibly female) doctor about not being able to perform in the bedroom is often the last thing we want to do.
So what else can you do? As anyone with an email account can testify, male ED embarrassment has lead to a roaring trade in under-the-counter pills and potions, many of which are simply useless.
The first thing to remember is that erection problems happen to most men at one point or another, and if it's a one-off or an occasional failure due to booze or stress it's probably not a big deal. Also, if you get erections easily on your own but not with a partner, it's almost certainly a psychological problem rather than a physical one.
But if it happens more regularly you may need to seek help. ED can be an early warning sign of heart problems, high blood pressure or some other medical issue, though that's less likely in young men.
So get it checked out. If you don't want to go to your own doctor, a reputable online doctor can offer private consultations from the anonymity of your own computer. The Co-operative Pharmacy has its own online doctor service.
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Research suggests that men are also embarrassed by problems with their water works. Apparently, we are particularly worried about having to go too often - and what it might mean.
The first thing to say is all men are different. You know how much you need to pee and if it's been the same for as long as you can remember it's likely to be normal for you. Also, getting up once in the night - even if it's every night - is pretty standard. Getting up three or four times is more of a concern.
Even so, the simple fact is the more you drink the more you'll pee. Cut down on alcohol and tea and coffee - well-known diuretics - in the evenings. You could even keep a diary of what you drink, when, and see how this affects your need to pee.
If you can't pinpoint a cause and you're having to go more regularly than you used to you do need to take action, because occasionally frequent urination can be a symptom of diabetes. If you're worried, a DIY diabetes test can be useful, but go for the blood test rather than the less accurate urine test. If you still have concerns, it's time for a chat with the doctor, online or in person.
Piles might be embarrassing, especially if they itch or bleed, but they're also extremely common. Over half the population have had them by the age of 50, and young men are not immune.
The good news is that you can help yourself. Simply eating more fibre will soften stools and reduce the symptoms and severity of piles. Good sources of fibre are bran cereal, beans, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains (oats, wheat, barley and corn). Drink plenty of water, herbal drinks or fruit juices too.
But if you have bleeding when you go to the toilet, or symptoms don't clear up after a couple of weeks, you should consult a doctor, just to make sure there's nothing else going on. If you don't want to go straight to your own GP, an online doctor can be a good first port of call.
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Farting is entirely normal and, though many young men worry that they fart too much or that their farts are especially loud or smelly, they're almost certainly worrying over nothing.
According to the NHS, "a visit to your GP is usually only recommended if you have additional symptoms that may suggest that you have an underlying digestive condition."
Still, having the urge to fart in class or in a meeting can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, so if your flatulence is affecting your life there are a few self-help ways to reduce it.
Everyone's different, but techniques to try include eating six smaller meals a day rather then three larger ones, keeping a food diary to see which foods make your flatulence worse, chewing slowly to avoid swallowing too much air, exercising and quitting smoking (which can also make you swallow more air).
Over-the-counter medicines for flatulence can help, too. If nothing works and you're worried about your flatulence, see the GP.
There's no reason why sexually transmitted infections (STIs) should be embarrassing, but we get embarrassed about them anyway. You don't have to have slept with a hundred women, played away from home or even indulged in unsafe sex to get one. Sometimes being unlucky is enough.
Nevertheless, if you experience the discharge, inflammation, irritation or pain associated with an STD you do need to get it checked out. You don't want to pass it on to somebody else, plus most STIs are relatively easy to treat once they're diagnosed.
If you're worried you might have an STI, you don't have to see your local GP if you don't want to. There's a dedicated NHS sexual health helpline for information (0800 567123) and you can find your nearest GUM clinic, where they'll have seen your symptoms a thousand times before.
Whatever your problem, don't suffer in silence. Even if you don't want to face your GP, these days there are plenty of other ways to access the help and information you need.
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