Written by Robert J Winn, MD AAHIVMS
Medical Director, Mazzoni Center
What does being gay have to do with your health? A lot, believe it or not! Here are ten of the most important health issues for gay men to discuss with their health care providers. Not all of these might apply to you, but it’s smart to be aware of them.
Come out to your health care provider
Does your health care provider know you’re gay? If not, it’s time to share. Your health care provider needs to know in order to give you the best care possible. If you’re not comfortable, or if your provider seems uncomfortable, look for another one. Check the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) website at http://www.glma.org/ to find providers who are sensitive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) health needs. Make sure to find out which providers are in your plan’s network.
Practice safe sex
Safe sex is key to protecting your health. It lowers your risk of getting or transmitting HIV. Talk to your health care provider about what to do if you’re exposed to HIV. You may have options if you seek care right away. If you’re in a relationship where one of you is positive, talk to your health care provider about how to prevent transmission. If you’re HIV positive, ask for a referral to an HIV provider.
Ask about hepatitis immunization and screening.
Men who have sex with men have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis. Hepatitis is a serious liver condition caused by viruses that are sexually transmitted. Hepatitis can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and even death. There are three types: Hepatitis A, B, and C. Luckily, immunizations can protect against hepatitis A and B. These immunizations are recommended for all men who have sex with men. Hepatitis C can only be prevented by practicing safe sex. If you have hepatitis C, talk to your health care provider about new, more effective treatments.
Talk about your diet and exercise habits
Body image issues are more common among gay men. Exercise is a great thing, but too much of it can harm your health. And using substances like anabolic steroids or supplements can be dangerous, too. Talk to your health care provider about your diet and exercise habits, and any concerns you have.
Come clean about substance use
These substances can include alcohol, amyl nitrate (“poppers”), marijuana, ecstasy, and amphetamines. While the long-term effects of many of these substances aren’t known, there may be serious consequences as we age. If your drug use is affecting work, school, or relationships, your health care provider can help.
Get help with depression or anxiety
Depression and anxiety can be more common among gay men. And if you’re in the closet or don’t have much social support, your depression or anxiety may be more severe. This puts teens and young adults at greater risk of suicide. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, talk to your health care provider. You don’t have to feel this way - help is available.
Talk about your STI risk
Some STIs can be treated or cured, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and public lice. Others, such as HIV, hepatitis, HPV and herpes, can’t be cured. Safe sex is your best protection against STIs. And regular testing helps you catch infections early and avoid spreading them. Ask your health care provider how often you should be screened, and how to protect yourself and your partners.
Stay on top of cancer screening
Gay men may not be screened often enough for prostate, testicular, and colon cancer. All men, gay or straight, should be screened for these cancers as part of their routine care. Ask your health care provider if you’re due for any cancer screenings.
Talk about tobacco
Gay men use tobacco at very high rates. Tobacco use can lead to a range of serious health problems, such as lung disease, lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more. If you use tobacco, talk to your health care provider about it. If you’re thinking of quitting, your provider can help.
Get smart about HPV
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is an STI that can cause anal and genital warts, along with anal cancers. Treatments for HPV are available, but the warts often come back, and it’s easy to spread the infection between partners. Safe sex can lower your risk. And ask your health care provider about getting routine anal Pap smears, which can detect early cancers.