Men with diabetes can face some unique challenges, such as low testosterone and sexual issues. Here’s why, and how to take control of your health.
Men develop diabetes slightly more often than women do. In fact, 13.6 percent of adult men in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 11.2 percent of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, since men tend to avoid talking about their health, they also tend to be less healthy than women over the course of their lifetimes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Men with diabetes may also face specific issues related to sexual health.
Type 2 Diabetes
Here’s what you need to know about protecting your well-being when managing type 2 diabetes.
Men’s Sexual Health Concerns
Men can experience many of the same diabetes complications as women, such as neuropathy and eye problems, but there are a few issues that are unique to men — and you may not even realize they’re linked to high blood sugar. Here are some of the most common issues:
Low testosterone. Having type 2 diabetes doubles your risk for having low testosterone, according to the ADA. A drop in the hormone can cause symptoms such as low energy, muscle loss, depression, and sexual problems, including low libido and erectile dysfunction (ED). Your doctor can check your testosterone level and treat you if you have a problem.
Erectile dysfunction. Men with diabetes are three times more likely to experience ED than men who don’t have diabetes, according to a report published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy in 2014.
ED can happen when high blood sugar damages small blood vessels or nerves, which can affect a man’s ability to get an erection, says David Creel, PhD, CDE, RD, a behavioral health coordinator at the Ascension St. Vincent Bariatric Center of Excellence in Carmel, Indiana. Also, some diabetes medications can cause sexual side effects like ED.
ED can be treated, but can’t always be reversed with better diabetes control, says Lauren Golden, MD, an endocrinologist at ColumbiaDoctors and an assistant professor of medicine at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Addressing ED as soon as symptoms begin is the best way to increase the likelihood of improving the condition.
Urologic issues. High blood sugar can also cause damage to the nerves that control your bladder. As a result, you may be at risk for urological problems like an overactive bladder and urinary tract infections. Men with type 2 diabetes can also experience urine retention, in which nerve damage leads to incomplete or infrequent urination, says Edward Domurat, Jr., MD, an endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, California. It can affect your quality of life and may also cause kidney damage over time.
How to Improve Your Health
In many cases, these health issues can be treated. The first step is to discuss these concerns with your doctor. If you’re embarrassed or having a hard time talking about them, write down your symptoms and questions and bring the list with you to your next office visit. Start the appointment by saying that you have some issues you’d like to have addressed, Dr. Golden suggests.
Another option is to share them before you even arrive for your visit. “Some patients are not comfortable bringing up sensitive subjects, so I encourage them to call or send me a note prior to the visit so I know what they would like to discuss,” Golden says.
It’s also important to address any sexual concerns with your spouse or partner. Knowing that your symptoms are related to type 2 diabetes and being able to say that there’s a concrete physical reason for them might make it easier to strike up a conversation.
Talking openly will also ensure that you get proper support from your loved one, which is vital in managing life with diabetes. “In my experience, it’s very individualized and often based on how much support they have surrounding them,” says Lori Zanini, CDE, RD, a certified diabetes educator and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
The next step is taking action. Men are more likely to have urological and sexual problems if their blood sugar is not under control, if they have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or if they smoke, are overweight, are older than 40, or are physically inactive, Domurat says.
There are steps you can take to control diabetes and reduce your risk of complications, including:
- Eating a balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains
- Avoiding excess sugar and calories
- Quitting smoking
- Getting exercise. “Walking for just 30 minutes a day can make a tremendous impact on your ability to manage your blood sugar successfully,” Domurat says.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Losing just a few pounds can have a significant impact on blood sugar. A realistic goal with big health rewards: “Trying to lose two to three pounds per year instead of gaining two to three pounds per year,” Domurat says.
Once you better understanding the connection between type 2 diabetes and sexual and urological problems, you can start taking better care of yourself and improving your life with type 2 diabetes.