Six common men’s-health issues in the UAE: symptoms, risks and solutions
Many health conditions, in both men and women, could be prevented simply by making lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet, but men are more apt to ignore the signs, and also more reluctant to seek treatment.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Dr Stefan Schumacher, consultant urologist at Healthpoint hospital in Abu Dhabi, says: “One of the common cases we encounter at Healthpoint is benign prostatic hyperplasia [BPH] or an enlarged prostate gland. BPH is a common condition in men as they age, and can cause inconvenient urinary symptoms. Being overweight is one of the key risk factors, as the accumulation of excess body fat affects hormone levels.
“Symptoms include slowing of the urine stream, post-void dribbling, increased urinary frequency and the feeling of incomplete bladder emptying. However, men should note that BPH is not related to prostate cancer and is usually not a serious problem.”
Sometimes, the prostate gland becomes swollen and enlarged. This acute or chronic inflammation is called prostatitis, and it can be very painful for those suffering from it. Symptoms include a frequent urge to urinate, difficulty in urinating, pain in the perineal area, lower abdominal discomfort and, in acute cases, fever.
“Prostatitis prevention involves a number of lifestyle, diet and other remedies,” says Schumacher. “Frequent exercise, a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, and low in processed foods can help to prevent illness and ailments at all life stages.”
Colorectal cancer is the one of the most common types of cancer among men in Abu Dhabi, according to Dr Shafik Sidani, staff physician, Digestive Disease Institute, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
He says: “10.9 per cent of all cancer cases in Abu Dhabi have been diagnosed as colorectal, with 62 per cent in males. It can also present itself as early as age 40 here in the UAE, compared to the global average age between 60 and 70.”
One important risk factor is having a direct family history of colon cancer or rectal cancer.
Other risk factors include old age, a high-fat, low-fibre diet, a sedentary lifestyle and smoking.
“It is important to emphasise that colorectal cancer is a preventable disease – the key is screening,” says Sidani. “Commonly there are no symptoms at all, so it is important to have a colonoscopy starting at age 40, or earlier if there is a family history. If you’ve noticed a change in bowel habits, blood in your stool, abdominal pain or bloating, unexplained weight loss, fatigue or vomiting, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible.”
As with all cancers, the treatment of colorectal cancer depends on a variety of factors, including how advanced it is, its location and the patient’s general health. There are several types of treatments used, and often different treatments are combined, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Type 2 diabetes
Accurate local statistics are not readily available, but type 2 diabetes is extremely prevalent among men, says Dr Hawaa Al Mansouri, deputy medical director, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, Abu Dhabi. Worldwide, one in 10 men suffer from the condition.
“In the early stages, the body cells do not respond well to insulin,” she says. “As the condition progresses, the pancreas might not produce insulin at all. While there might be a genetic component to contracting type 2 diabetes, it is small. The main reasons are excessive body weight, a poor diet and lack of exercise.”
She advises people who have a family history of the condition to seek medical attention.
Symptoms include increased urination, sudden weight loss, blurry vision and sometimes a numbness or tingling in the extremities. Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, visual problems and kidney failure.
There is another, sometimes unspoken side effect. “Half of men with type 2 diabetes have erectile dysfunction,” says Al Mansouri. “Patients are not always willing to bring it up. Equally, doctors do not always ask the question.”
One reason why the condition is so prevalent in men, she says, is that men are more likely to ignore the symptoms or to seek treatment late. “Seek medical attention if you suspect any condition, and have a health check at least once a year.”
Schumacher from Healthpoint says: “Infertility affects a significant number of couples in the UAE. For couples who are having difficulty trying to conceive, male infertility is the cause in around 20 per cent of the cases I see, with another 30 to 40 per cent due to both male and female infertility.
“Male infertility can be caused by family history, but it is also a lifestyle problem. It is recommended that for anyone trying to conceive – both male and female – they should stop smoking, avoid drugs and alcohol, avoid exposure to certain environmental toxins, maintain a healthy weight and get ample sleep.”
The leading cause of death in Abu Dhabi is cardiovascular (or heart) disease, and 2014 statistics from the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi show that it caused 35 per cent of all non-injury-related deaths.
“Equally concerning is the fact that the overwhelming majority of these deaths – more than 75 per cent – was among men,” says Dr Wael Al Mahmeed, staff physician, cardiology, at the Heart & Vascular Institute, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
“Several risk factors play an important role in determining whether men have a chance of developing heart disease,” he says. “It is critical for men to be aware of these risk factors, many of which are lifestyle related and controllable: smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, stress, lack of exercise or an unhealthy diet. Others, such as age and family history, are out of a patient’s control, but can be managed with regular health check-ups.”
He also emphasises that understanding the symptoms can help prevent progression of the disease. “Common symptoms of a heart attack in men include chest pain and cold sweat. These are early indications of heart problems and occur when the heart is overworked, trying to pump blood through clogged arteries. Other symptoms include pain or discomfort in the left arm, unusual fatigue and shortness of breath.”
Small changes, such as quitting smoking and exercising for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can reduce one’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 80 per cent, he says.
Schumacher identifies stone disease as another common male condition. “Also known as kidney stones, these are hard, stone-like deposits that form in the urinary tract,” he says. “Smaller stones can be passed from the body without treatment, but if the stones are large, it can cause a blockage and severe pain.
“There is a variety of treatments for patients whose stones cause severe symptoms, many of which don’t involve major surgery.”
There are a few genetic and environmental factors that increase the chances of forming kidney stones, he says. These include dehydration, high-protein diets, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Generally, kidney stones form when there is a reduction in urine volume, as well as stone-forming substances in the urine.
“Treatment depends on the size and the location of the stone, as well as the complications they are causing,” says Schumacher. “Most stones don’t require any surgical intervention. Drinking around three litres of water each day can help flush them out. Medical treatment is recommended in some cases to make the spontaneous stone passage easier and relieve the pain.”