WHEN Paren Shah thought a 'dodgy' lunch had given his system a shock, he had no idea his life was on the line.
Now, he's fighting to get men to listen to their bodies and seek help when they need it.
It's a vital message considering three quarters of men put off seeing a GP when there is something wrong with them — and it’s not because they are afraid of the white coat.
A phenomenon known as Superman Syndrome has some blokes thinking they’re invincible, just like the caped hero.
But it’s time fellas started taking their health more seriously.
Experts at Leeds University found heart attack deaths soared by a fifth during the pandemic, while pacemaker operations fell by 49 per cent and waiting times for medical help rose by 69 minutes — meaning men need to access advice, whatever the problem, as early as possible.
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Paren, 46, an accountant, thought he just had indigestion when in fact, his life was hanging in the balance.
“Looking back I don’t know why I didn’t recognise what was happening to me,” says Paren, who lives in Barnet, North London, with his wife Rakhee, 44, a holistic fertility therapist, and their 13- year-old twins Shyam and Shivani.
In November 2020 he was struck down with bad stomach ache but assumed it was due to a “dodgy lunch”. The next day he woke up in agony.
"I thought I'd eaten a dodgy lunch. I went outside and tried to make myself sick but couldn't.
“The next morning I woke up in excruciating pain – I thought I'd pulled muscles where I was trying so hard to vomit.”
Paren became feverish but woke up pain free the next morning, until another wave of pain hit at 4pm.
“As I sat soaking in the bath I could hardly breathe. I called my wife and asked her to dial 111."
Rakhee called 111 — who sent an ambulance.
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Paren recalled: “Even when paramedics arrived I kept apologising for wasting their time. I thought I had indigestion!”
In fact, he was having a heart attack, and despite a family history — his dad had had one aged 50 — Paren had not clocked the signs.
“I don’t smoke. I’m a light drinker. I don’t even eat red meat. I’m not obese.
“You’d never think I was about to have a heart attack.
“There is a history of heart attacks in the family. My dad had one at 50.
“In fact, every man in the family has had one except my little brother.
Paren had surgery to fit a stent and spent three weeks in hospital after suffering severe internal bleeding caused by a burst stomach artery.
Even when paramedics arrived I kept apologising for wasting their time. I thought I had indigestion!
“It got so bad I asked my best friend to look after my family,” he said. “I thought I was going to die.”
But he made it through. "I kept trying to get myself well again and in November 2021 I managed the 0-5k.
“Now I look after myself well. I eat healthily and do at least 10,000 steps. I'm planning to run a marathon for charity in October."
By April 2021 he was fit and strong enough to have a second stent fitted and now wants other men to seek the medical attention they need.
“Since it happened to me I've been trying to remind everyone that once you turn 40 you are entitled to a full medical with your GP.
“I wish more people would do it.
“Men are very proud and often don’t like to ask for help,” he says.
“I was the same before this happened.
“It’s time men started to take their health more seriously.”
SIGNS TO LOOK OUT FOR
IN most cases this is perfectly normal, but in certain circumstances it can indicate a problem.
Men can be prone to hair loss, especially if it runs in the family, but there can be other causes which might contribute to it, such as fungal infection and stress.
Dr Thuva Amuthan, founder of the Dr.Derme Skin And Aesthetics Clinic in London, says: “Hair loss can be daunting, especially in your early years.
“If you are losing your hair, it is important to seek help early on.
“Once the hair is lost, it can be really difficult to get back.”
WE often focus on the belly but man boobs might be trying to tell you something about your lifestyle.
They could be down to poor diet and lack of exercise, or you may be drinking too much.
The NHS advises drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – about six pints.
“Men require testosterone to suppress breast tissue, and alcohol can disrupt production of testosterone in the liver, which could lead to man-boobs,” explains GP Dr Robert Lefever.
“Occasionally, there might be a more serious cause, such as liver disease or kidney problems. If you don’t drink and you eat well, it’s worth speaking to your GP to rule out anything that might be cause for concern.”
MEN often push aside feelings of stress, depression and anxiety – but don’t stick your head in the sand.
Dr Steve Robertson, Movember mental health adviser and Emeritus Professor of Men, Gender and Health at Leeds Beckett University, says: “If left unchecked, letting feelings bottle up can result in outward explosions of emotion in the form of violence including self-harm or self-destructive behaviours.
“Engaging in physical activity, especially with friends, has great benefits to wellbeing.
“Take a walk, grab a coffee with a mate or head off fishing with them,” he suggests.
“And don’t be afraid to ask your mates how they’re doing and when you get the usual, ‘Yeah, great’, probe a little deeper or open up about how you’re really doing yourself.”
MEN are more likely to suffer with gum disease, according to dentist and founder of Icy Bear Dental Care, Dr Hanna Kinsella.
“Symptoms of gum disease that often get ignored are red, swollen, sore and bleeding gums,” she says.
“These symptoms tend to be brushed under the carpet in the hope they will just disappear.
“It’s really important to pay attention to these symptoms and take action by visiting your dentist as soon as possible.
“If not treated, gum disease is a serious infection that causes damage to soft tissue and can lead to tooth loss.
“It has also been linked to other health issues including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.”
COVID-19 means that many of us have experienced a cough at some point over the past two years, and probably been concerned about it.
A cough is just part and parcel of life and can take up to six weeks to clear, but if it does not go away, in extreme cases it could be a sign of lung cancer.
“Just because we have a new disease – Covid – it doesn’t mean that the old ones have gone away,” explains GP Dr Rachel Ward.
“If you have a new, persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks, then we want to hear about it.”
BIG tummies mean you are at high risk of heart disease, even if the rest of your body is slim.
“A large waist circumference is a big warning sign for heart problems,” says NHS cardiologist Aseem Malhotra.
“If your waist circumference measures more than half your height, that is a big concern and you are at an increased risk.
“So if you are 180cm (5ft 11in) tall, your waist should be less than 90cm (35.5in).
“If this applies to you, it’s important you see your GP to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and have a diabetes test.
“Even if you haven’t got heart disease now, unless you shift the weight it is highly likely that you will suffer from heart problems in the future.”
CHEST pain should NEVER be ignored. “It doesn’t have to be the sort of chest pain you see on the TV, when someone clutches their hand to their chest and drops to the ground,” Aseem says.
“If, when you are walking, you get any sign of heaviness in the chest, in the arm or if you are feeling breathless, see your GP to get it checked out.
“It could be a sign of an impending heart problem, especially if you are 40 or older.”
BLOOD IN POO
“NONE of us enjoy talking about our bowel habits but if you see blood in your stool or notice your bowel habits have changed, you have lost weight, you have unexplained tiredness or ongoing pain in your abdomen, it might be a sign you have bowel cancer,” warns Dr Rachel.
“Many people put bleeding down to piles and put off getting it checked.
“But as a GP, I am very happy to talk about your bowels – and want you to come forward. It could save your life.”
Everyone aged 56, and 60-74 (and 50-74 in Scotland) is sent a bowel screening home test kit every two years.
It barely takes five minutes, and could catch bowel cancer early on – so don’t put it off when yours comes in the post.
LUMPS AND BUMPS
“MEN can be embarrassed about getting a lump in their testicle checked out and tell themselves it’s ‘just a cyst’,” Dr Rachel says.
“As a GP, no body part embarrasses me. It’s part of my everyday job.
“You can ask for a male GP or for another clinician to be present, if you prefer.
“If you have an unexplained lump – wherever it is in the body – see your GP.”
Men should regularly self-examine.
Roll one testicle between thumb and fingers, then the other – looking for hard lumps, which may ache. Check in the shower, your testicles will be more relaxed in the warm water.
PODIATRIST Emma McConnachie, spokesman for the Royal College of Podiatry, says: “If you experience a change in sensation in how your feet feel, slower healing of cuts or recurrent skin infections, this could be an early warning sign for diabetes.
“Type 2 diabetes in particular can be present for years before signs are detected in the feet and can do a lot of damage in that time.
“Also, look out for increases in thirst, the need to urinate, tiredness and hunger, and a dry mouth, which are also warning signs.
“Routine diabetic foot screening halved in 2021.
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“During 2015 to 2018, 176 toe, foot or leg amputations were carried out every week, with 80 per cent deemed preventable.
“We don’t know yet what the figures are for 2021 but we assume they will be even higher.”
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