Does your body talk to you? The simple answer is yes, it sure does, and in a language we can understand, if we know what to listen for, writes Dr Abhi Charukonda.

June is Men's Health Month in New Zealand. As I see an increasing number of young men coming through the emergency department with issues from heart attacks to mental health, I've compiled some key telltale signs that will help you understand and treat your body better.

1. Heart health:

The heart is a silent workhorse, in one hour it diligently pumps more than 4000 times, turning over 300 litres of nutrient-rich blood to every nook and cranny in the body.

Early signs of trouble:
• Weight: The dough around our middle is an outward sign we're not eating well or getting enough exercise. Cholesterol levels will likely be high, clogging arteries that nourish and keep our heart and body alive. Smoking exponentially compounds these effects.

• Fitness: Short of breath walking up a couple of flights of stairs? Feeling tightness or pain in your chest? Getting the sweats? Plaque build-up in the vessels to your heart could be narrowing them so much that your heart can't keep up with even the mildest increase in demand. These signs usually preclude a heart attack and should not be ignored.

Take action

Visit your GP at least once a year. It usually involves a quick chat around early warning signs, a blood pressure check and maybe a blood test if it's warranted.

Eating a well-balanced diet, getting 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week and quitting smoking are all easier said than done. So find a partner in crime, join a boot camp, set some health goals and stick to them. Small changes over a few weeks will turn into habits and drastically reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Dr Abhi Charukonda says your body speaks to you in a language you can understand, if you know what to listen for. Photo / Supplied
Dr Abhi Charukonda says your body speaks to you in a language you can understand, if you know what to listen for. Photo / Supplied

2. Diabetes:

A diet high in simple sugars, being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can put stress on how well your body can use glucose. Excess glucose swimming around can lead to kidney failure, which could require dialysis, nerve damage, which can result in blindness and chronic infections that require amputations. It could also lead to reduced immunity and chronic skin infections that are difficult to treat.

Early signs of trouble:

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Feeling unusually thirsty, peeing a lot, waking at night to go, recurrent urine infections - with associated obesity and family history of diabetes, these could all be early signs of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Take action

Ignoring symptoms or delaying action won't make diabetes go away. It will chip away at your organs, slowly but surely, driving you to an early grave.

Your GP will go through some questions, examine, and ask for a blood test. If you have diabetes, diet and exercise changes could be all you need, and at times medications to help things get back on track.

3. Cancer:

A beast of many faces, although advances have been made, early detection is still the best "cure".

Early signs of trouble:
• Gut. Changes in bowel habits, from going more or less often, to consistency, presence of blood or blackness.

• Skin: New mole? Old mole with more than one colour, changing colour, growing, becoming painful or bleeding?

• Prostate: A sudden urge to pee, only to find a dribble, pain peeing or blood in your pee.

Take action

Any of the above warrants an early visit to your GP. This is especially important if aged over 55 and/or there is a family history of cancer.

4. Mental health:

It is increasingly evident we are in a mental health epidemic. When I was an emergency doctor, it was becoming more common for young people, including males, to seek help in dealing with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. I've lost four senior colleagues in the past three years to depression and suicide. These feelings are rampant and no different to a physical ailment. They require as much, if not more, attention. Ignoring them is frequently fatal, particularly with men.

Early signs of trouble:
• Mood changes: Quick to anger, feeling up and down for no apparent reason.

• Appetite: Loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss or gain.

• Apathy: Difficulty getting out of bed, engaging in social situations or enjoying usually fun activities.

• Trouble sleeping: Disturbed sleep, waking in the early hours, trouble getting to sleep and falling back to sleep.

Take action

Seek help early. Speak to a friend, family member, GP/doctor or a helpline can assist immensely in alleviating some of the burden and setting you on the path to the right kind of help.

Where to get help:

Visit Men's Health Trust New Zealand for all things men's health related. Find tips to achieve better health through simple yet effective changes, and contact links to organisations should you wish to speak to somebody.