Andrew Siegel MD 11/28/15
(Attribution: Pier-Luc Bergeron, A happy couple and a happy photographer; no changes made, https://www.flickr.com/photos/burgtender/4910841630)
Since this is Thanksgiving weekend and a broadly celebrated family holiday, I cannot think of a better time to blog about how wives/girlfriends/partners can help empower their men’s pelvic health.
- His Erections
- Prostate Cancer
- Testes Lumps/Bumps
- Urinary Woes
Erectile Dysfunction: A “Canary in the Trousers”
If his erections are absent or lacking in rigidity or sustainability, it may just be the “tip of the iceberg,” indicative of more serious underlying medical problems. The quality of his erections can be a barometer of his cardiovascular health. Since penile arteries are tiny (diameter of 1-2 millimeters) and heart arteries larger (4 millimeters), it stands to reason that if vascular disease is affecting the penile arteries, it may affect the coronary arteries as well—if not now, then perhaps soon in the future. Since fatty plaque deposits in arteries compromise blood flow to smaller blood vessels before they do so to larger arteries, erectile dysfunction may be considered a genital “stress test.”
Bottom Line: If your man is not functioning well in the bedroom, think strongly about getting him checked for cardiovascular disease. His limp penis just may be the clue to an underlying more pervasive and serious problem.
One in seven American men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetimes and most have no symptoms whatsoever, the diagnosis made via a biopsy because of an elevated or accelerated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test and/or an abnormal rectal exam that reveals an asymmetry or lump. Similar to high blood pressure and glaucoma, prostate cancer causes no symptoms in its earliest phases and needs to be actively sought after.
With annual PSA testing, he can expect a small increase each year correlating with prostate growth. A PSA acceleration by more than a small increment is a “red flag.” The digital exam is simply the placement of a gloved, lubricated finger in the rectum to feel the size, contour and consistency of the prostate gland, seeking hardness, lumps or asymmetry that can be a clue to prostate cancer. It is not unlike the female pelvic exam.
Bottom Line: As breast cancer is actively screened for with physical examination and mammography, so prostate cancer should be screened for with PSA and digital rectal exam. In the event that prostate cancer is diagnosed, it is a treatable and curable cancer. Not all prostate cancers demand treatment as those with favorable features can be followed carefully, but for other men, treatment can be lifesaving.
Blood in the urine can be visible or only show up on dipstick or microscopic exam of the urine. Blood in the urine should also be thought of as a “red flag” that mandates an evaluation to rule out serious causes including cancers of the kidney and bladder. However, there are many causes of blood in the urine not indicative of a serious problem, including stones, urinary infections and prostate enlargement.
Blood in the semen is not uncommonly encountered in men and usually results from a benign inflammatory process that is usually self-limited, resolving within several weeks. It is rarely indicative of a serious underlying disorder, as frightening as it is to see blood in the ejaculate. Nonetheless, it should be checked out, particularly if it does not resolve.
Bottom Line: If blood is present when there should be none—including visible blood in the urine, blood stains on his undershorts or blood apparent under the microscope—it should not be ignored, but should be evaluated. If after having sex with your partner you notice a bloody vaginal discharge and you are not menstruating, consider that it might be his issue and make sure that he gets followed up.
Testes Lumps and Bumps
Most lumps and bumps of the testes are benign and not problematic. Although rare, testicular cancer is the most common solid malignancy in young men, with the greatest incidence being in the late 20s, striking men at the peak of life. The excellent news is that it is very treatable, especially so when picked up in its earliest stages, when it is commonly curable.
A testicular exam is a simple task that can be lifesaving. One of the great advantages of having his gonads located in such an accessible locale—conveniently “gift wrapped” in the scrotal satchel—is that it makes them so easy to examine. This is as opposed to your ovaries, which are internal and not amenable to ready inspection. This explains why early testes cancer diagnosis is a cinch as opposed to ovarian cancer, which most often presents at an advanced stage. In its earliest phases, testes cancer will cause a lump, irregularity, asymmetry, enlargement or heaviness of the testicle. It most often does not cause pain, so his absence of pain should not dissuade him from getting an abnormality looked into.
Your guy should be doing a careful exam of his testes every few weeks or so in the shower, with the warm and soapy conditions beneficial to an exam. If your man is a stoic kind of guy who is not likely to examine himself, consider taking matters into your own hands—literally: At a passionate moment, pursue a subtle, not-too-clinical exam under the guise of intimacy—it may just end up saving his life.
Bottom Line: Have the “cajones” to check his cajones. Because sperm production requires that his testes are kept cooler than core temperature, nature has conveniently designed mankind with his testicles dangling from his mid-section. There are no organs in the body—save your breasts—that are more external and easily accessible. If your man is not willing to do self-exams, at a moment of intimacy do a “stealth” exam under the guise of affection—it just might be lifesaving.
Most organs shrink with the aging process. However, his nose, ears, scrotum and prostate are the exceptions, enlarging as he ages. Unfortunately, the prostate is wrapped precariously around the urinary channel and as it enlarges it can constrict the flow of urine and can cause a host of symptoms. These include a weaker stream that hesitates to start, takes longer to empty, starts and stops and gives him the feeling that he has not emptied completely. He might notice that he urinates more often, gets up several times at night to empty his bladder and when he has to urinate it comes on with much greater urgency than it used to. He might be waking you up at night because of his frequent trips to the bathroom. Almost universal with aging is post-void dribbling, an annoying after-dribble.
Bottom Line: It is normal for him to experience some of these urinary symptoms as he ages. However, if he is getting up frequently at night, dribbling on the floor by the toilet, or has symptoms that annoy him and interfere with his quality of life, it is time to consider having him looked at by your friendly urologist to ensure that the symptoms are due to benign prostate enlargement and not other causes, to make sure that no harm has been done to the urinary tract and to offer treatment options.
Wishing you the best of health and a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend,
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Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: www.MalePelvicFitness.com. In the works is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health.
Co-creator of Private Gym, a comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training program. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, Private Gym empowers men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon.