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Frequently Asked Questions About Men's Health

  • Do treatments for thinning hair and baldness really work?
  • Answer:

    If you’re seeing more of your balding scalp every morning in the bathroom mirror -- and more of your hair on your hairbrush -- treatments can help. But they may not be as simple or foolproof as you want.

    If your hair loss doesn’t have a specific cause -- like illness -- you could try medicine. Over-the-counter Rogaine is applied to the scalp. Prescription Propecia is taken as a pill. In some men, they can thicken hair, prevent future hair loss, and cause new hair growth. But don’t expect a miracle. They work slowly. In some men, they don’t work at all. You also have to take them for the long haul. If you ever stop, your hairline will retreat to where it was.

    While other supplements or herbal remedies may be advertised as baldness cures, there's no proof that any of them work.

    The alternative is surgery, ranging from transplants to more aggressive procedures. But these methods can be expensive and, like any operation, they do pose some risks.

  • I wake up in the night having to urinate -- is that a problem?
  • Answer:

    Having to urinate in the middle of the night is a common consequence of getting older -- you can’t make it through the night anymore without a trip (or two or three) to the bathroom.

    One likely culprit is something called BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia). This condition is very common, affecting half of all men between ages 50 and 60. As you get older, the prostate -- a walnut-sized gland around your urethra -- can grow larger. Eventually, it can squeeze down on the urethra, giving you an intense urge to urinate.

    BPH usually only needs treatment -- with medicine or surgery -- if the symptoms are really bothering you. Many men just live with it.

    However, you still must get changes to your urinary habits checked out. Increased frequency of urination can also be a sign of prostate infection or even prostate cancer.

  • My father had a heart attack when he was pretty young. Should I be worried about having one?
  • Answer:

    Heart disease can run in families. But the fact your father had a heart attack doesn’t mean that you will. Genes play a role, but so do a lot of other things: diet, fitness level, stress level, and general health, to name a few.

    That said, you should take a genetic risk of heart disease seriously. The good news is that there’s a lot that you can do to reduce your risk. Some tips are obvious -- don’t smoke, exercise regularly, eat a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats and sweets, keep a healthy weight, and maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other tips are not so obvious; for instance, do you know that heart disease is associated with poor dental health? Check in with your doctor to see what precautions you should take. And never ignore any warning signs, like chest pain during exercise.

  • My wife is having trouble getting pregnant. Could my sperm be the problem?
  • Answer:

    Although infertility is often seen as a woman’s problem, male fertility problems contribute to about 40% of infertility cases. Causes range from low sperm count to sperm that are deformed or just don’t swim well.

    So if you and your partner aren’t having luck getting pregnant, ask your doctor for a sperm test. You may feel sheepish about taking that cup into the doctor’s bathroom, but knowing one way or another will save you a lot of worry. (It could also spare your partner some much more uncomfortable tests.) If you do have sperm troubles, there’s a lot that can be done. Some underlying causes can be treated with medicine or surgery. If that won’t help, fertility procedures -- like IVF (in vitro fertilization) and others -- can make it a lot easier for your sperm to do its work and fertilize an egg.

  • Once and for all, what’s a normal penis size?
  • Answer:

    It’s the question that just about every teenage boy asks himself -- and may keep asking himself throughout his life: How does my penis measure up?

    Several recent studies say that the average size is about 5 inches when the penis is “stretched.” (Sounds painful, but it just means extending a flaccid penis out fully -- the size of a stretched penis is about the same as it is when erect.) Other surveys found an average closer to 6 inches. While it’s possible that there are racial differences in penis size, there’s little evidence. Regardless, there’s still a great deal of variation within racial groups, anyway.

    Still, a lot of guys are convinced that they’re smaller than everyone else. In one study, researchers interviewed 92 men who considered themselves poorly endowed. Not a single one actually had a small penis. While there are surgeries to enlarge the penis, they are not well studied -- and many men are unhappy with the results.

  • How often do married people have sex?
  • Answer:

    Well, the frequency of sex among married couples depends on how old they are. One survey looked at the sex lives of married people by age. They found that:

    • Between 18-29, married people had sex 112 times a year, or a little over twice a week.
    • Between 30-39, they had sex 86 times a year, or about seven times a month.
    • Between 50-59, they had sex 69 times a year, or a little under six times a month.

    Sex appears to decline further as couples get older.

    Although frustrated married people can romanticize the sex lives of swinging singles, studies show that married people have more sex than single people. While married people ages 18 to 29 have sex more than nine times a month, single people average a little under six a month. It makes sense -- married people have a potential sexual partner in bed with them every night. Singles often sleep alone.

  • My wife just found out that she has HPV. Does this mean I'll get genital warts?
  • Answer:

    Although it may not have the fame of herpes or the clap, HPV is actually the most common sexually transmitted disease. Fifty percent of all men will have it at some point in their lives.

    In most cases, HPV causes no symptoms and doesn’t lead to any health problems. But some strains do cause genital warts. The only way to prevent transmission of the virus is to avoid skin contact -- not easy in a marriage. Condoms may help reduce transmission, but that’s not really clear. The virus has no cure.

    It is important to note that there are many different strains of HPV. Women are typically tested for the ones considered to be “high risk HPV”, meaning high risk for cervical cancer. These are not the same strains that cause genital warts. So her positive test was not testing for the strains that cause warts. However, a person exposed to one strain may be more likely to also have some of the others.

    If you do get genital warts, they’re most likely to appear on your penis. They can also show up elsewhere, including your anus. While they may fade on their own, they can also be treated with creams or surgery. HPV does raise the risk of getting cancers of the anus and penis; however, those risks are still extremely low.

  • I haven't exercised in years, but I need to get in better shape. Where do I start?
  • Answer:

    Most importantly, start slowly. It’s easy to be too enthusiastic on the first day and push yourself too hard. The next day, you can barely walk, and your brave new exercise scheme is postponed for another year. Step up gradually to exercising on most days of the week for 30-60 minutes.

    The choice of exercise doesn’t matter. Start walking. Pick up a new sport or an old one that you liked back in high school. It might take a little experimentation before you find something that you really enjoy.

    If willpower is a problem, get other people involved. Hire a trainer at the gym. Start golfing with a friend. Join a group of guys who meet for pick-up games in the park. Having an obligation to someone else might be just what you need to push yourself out of your easy chair and away from the soothing glow of your television.

  • What's the deal with alcohol -- is it good for me or bad for me?
  • Answer:

    Good news: Studies have shown that alcohol can lower the risk of heart disease. While for a time it seemed that only red wine had this power, experts now say that any alcohol -- wine, beer, or spirits -- has the same effect. Moderate drinking lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems by 25% to 40%.

    But here’s the bummer: more isn’t better. Experts say that men should limit themselves to two drinks a day. Any more than that and your risks go up again, since excessive alcohol intake can lead to liver damage, high blood pressure, and many kinds of cancer -- not to mention the risks of alcohol abuse.

    If you’ve been a teetotaler all your life, don’t start drinking for health reasons. The benefits are modest, and drinking increases other risks. If you don’t drink and want to improve your health, just do an extra 15 minutes on the treadmill.

  • I hate going to the doctor's, but my wife is always pushing me to go. Any advice?
  • Answer:

    Be honest: Do you take better care of your car and your lawn than your own health? You might think there’s no need if you feel OK. But unfortunately, many health conditions don’t have any symptoms -- like high blood pressure -- and they can do serious damage if untreated.

    Every healthy guy between the ages of 20 and 39 needs a physical every three years. Between 40 and 49, it’s two years. And after 50, it’s every year. In addition to that, every man should get his blood pressure checked annually; other tests are necessary as you get older. At most, that’s one visit a year, and surely you can find the time for that. Of course, any sudden change in your health or worrying symptom -- like chest pain, for instance -- needs to be checked out immediately.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on October 04, 2014

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