Men’s Health Week: Getting to the heart of the matter

ERECTILE problems can be a sign of heart disease so don’t suffer in silence.

Happy Men's Health Week. Wait. I know what you're thinking. You're expecting to be nagged about going to the doctor more, aren’t you? Urged to grapple with your meat and two veg, checking for lumps and bumps, pain when you wee, anything else out of the ordinary down there. You don't need that sort of talk over your Lorne sausage on a Sunday morning. Moving on ...

But men's health is about more than prostate cancer and jock itch (yes, that is a genuine complaint, by the way – its proper name is tinea cruris, and it’s contagious so better get it seen to). Did you know, for instance, that men are twice as likely as women to suffer a heart attack? It's the single biggest killer of blokes under the age of 75 – 20,850 die prematurely from a dodgy ticker compared to a measly 7,408 women. Scottish men are even more at risk.

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The causes for this anomaly are many: men are more likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure or diabetes, all of which increase the risks. They are more likely to smoke, drink more booze than they should and have a poorer diet. They also tend to work longer hours, which doubles the chance of heart attack.

The main symptom to look out for is pain in the chest, described as like having a heavy weight or squeezing sensation, particularly during any kind of physical activity, after a heavy meal, or when angry or stressed. But that pain can also be felt in the neck, shoulders, arms or back and is often mistaken for indigestion. As the condition gets worse, the pain can begin more easily, and takes longer to go away.

But that’s not the only sign. And, yes, here we do start talking about your boy bits (no sniggering at the back). Erectile problems are one of the strongest early-warning alerts of future heart disease. Experts believe that’s because the arteries that supply the penis with blood at the most critical moment clog up sooner than the ones in the heart; two or three years before any other symptoms occur and up to five years before critical problems begin to emerge.

A survey of nearly 37,000 men found those with erectile problems had a 48 per cent greater chance of developing heart problems than those who didn’t have any issues in the bedroom department.

Have I got your attention now?

Short men, too, are more at risk – 50 per cent more risk, in fact. For short, read anything under five feet five inches. The reason for this is not known, but it could be that smaller people have smaller arteries, which become more easily blocked. It could even be that short people – particularly short men – are discriminated against and therefore suffer more stress (short men are also more likely to commit suicide).

But that’s enough of the downers. The good news is that, though you can’t do much about your height, there is time to make a difference to your heart health. But first you need to admit there’s a problem.

“We have the perfect storm of men’s embarrassment about erection problems, GPs under pressure and deadly disease,” says Men’s Health Forum president Dr Ian Banks. “Acting as soon as problems start could save lives.”

“The Brits may love sexual innuendo,” adds MHF chief executive Peter Baker, “but we find it difficult to talk about real sexual problems.

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“Now we know that erection problems are the best early-warning we have of future heart disease, we can’t afford to carry on dying of embarrassment like this.”

Simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference. None of this is rocket science, of course. Cut back on the alcohol, be more active, improve your diet – heard it all before? It might help to know that, in another study, a combination of exercise, a diet rich in things like wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, and cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins was enough to reduce erectile problems.

And since Men’s Health Week coincides with Father’s Day, children are being encouraged to get their dads healthy by dragging them out to the park for a game of rounders; sponsoring them to stop smoking; arranging a family Olympics; and asking them to help make fruit smoothies. Ride a bike. Fly a kite. Play football instead of just watching it, that sort of thing.

“I have three young children,” says Baker, “and I know how hard it can be to break the routine and all get out for a run around – and when I do they run rings around me. But we all feel better for the time spent together as well as the physical activity. It also means I’m more likely to be around for longer which is good for my family and good for me too. You only live once, after all.” n

Men’s Health Week, tomorrow until 17 June (,

Men’s Health Forum Scotland is organising a men’s 10k on Father’s Day, 17 June (