10 Common Health Problems To Watch for After Age 40

What to expect—and your best strategies for prevention.

It's possible to hit your fourth decade without experiencing many—or any—major medical events. Maybe you've had a hospital visit to give birth, or a broken limb or twisted ankle from a playground or skiing accident. At annual physicals leading up to your 40s, the biggest event could just be some tsking noises from your doctor about creeping weight gain, a lax exercise routine, or an uptick in your cholesterol.

Once you hit your 40s, this might all change—or not. "The fact is that most 40-year-olds don't have any disease," said David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Most of them are pretty darn healthy."

Still, curious about what to expect healthwise from the 40s, Health asked healthcare providers to share the conditions they often spot in patients at this age. Here are 10 they named.

Overactive Bladder

Your bladder can change as you get older, said S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. "As we age, the nerves that help the bladder might not work as well," and bladder muscles can thicken with age, reducing its capacity, Dr. Ramin said. An overactive bladder and incontinence have many solutions: Kegel exercises can help, as can vaginal estrogen cream and other medications, said Dr. Ramin. "In certain instances, we inject Botox in the bladder, and that works really well," Dr. Ramin added.

Perimenopausal Symptoms

By their mid-40s, some women will begin to have perimenopausal symptoms, said Adeeti Gupta, MD, an ob-gyn and founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York City. While perimenopause isn't exactly an illness, symptoms—including hot flashes, irregular periods, and heavy bleeding—can be disruptive. "Decreased libido can hit some women hard," noted Dr. Gupta, as testosterone levels decline as part of the hormonal changes occurring in perimenopause. Hormone therapy can help alleviate some of these symptoms in some patients, Dr. Gupta said.

Kidney Stones

They may be tiny, often described as "sand" or "gravel," but kidney stones—bits of minerals that can form in your urinary tract—are extraordinarily painful. Often, as people get older, they are more dehydrated, said Dr. Ramin. That, along with other risk factors such as a changing diet, can lead to an increased chance of developing stones in your 40s and beyond. They are more common in men, but women can get them, too. While kidney stones typically pass on their own, surgery may be required to remove them if they do not. Staying hydrated is the best way to avoid this painful problem. Dietary changes can also help prevent reoccurrence.

Urinary Tract and Prostate Infections

Both men and women may experience more genitourinary infections in their 40s. For women, an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) is possible, said Dr. Ramin, due to the thinning vaginal walls and changes to the vagina's pH that accompany aging. Antibiotics are the recommended treatment, Dr. Ramin said. To prevent UTIs, stay hydrated, and remember to pee before and after sex.

Men may experience prostate infections in their 40s, particularly if they have a sedentary lifestyle, said Dr. Ramin. Pain—in the testicles, around the anus, or really anywhere between the pelvic bone and belly button—is a major symptom, along with frequent urination or burning when you pee, said Dr. Ramin. The fix is typically threefold: a prescription for antibiotics, along with recommendations to ejaculate more (really!) and stand more frequently, said Dr. Ramin.

Food Allergies

Food allergies don't just develop in childhood. "Allergists are finding more adults developing food allergies than before," said David Erstein, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist. Shellfish and tree nuts are the main offenders. There's a lot of speculation about what's driving this increase.

Some possibilities include widespread antibiotic use and taking NSAIDs, which can disrupt the gastrointestinal environment, but there is only one instance where the specific cause of an allergy has been found, said Dr. Erstein—bites from the lone star tick can lead to an allergy to red meat.

Other than avoiding tic bites, there aren't really any ways to avoid developing a new allergy, but keeping an eye out for symptoms can help you figure out whether you have one. If you notice signs of an allergic reaction to food–including difficulty breathing, stomach cramps, or hives, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology–Dr. Erstein recommended visiting an allergist to get confirmation.

Osteoarthritis

Around your 40s, osteoarthritis can occur, said Alejandro Badia, MD, board-certified hand and upper extremity orthopedic surgeon with Badia Hand to Shoulder Center in Florida. As cartilage, the connective tissue that acts as a cushion between joints, wears away, achiness and discomfort ensue. "It is very common for those who are predisposed to generalized osteoarthritis to begin their problems in the lumbar cervical spine, hips, and knees, and [in] particular joints such as the basal joint of the thumb, more so in women," Dr. Badia said.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and the best way to avoid it, said Dr. Badia, is with a healthy, balanced diet and weight-bearing exercise.

High Blood Pressure

At your next physical, your healthcare provider may tell you that you have hypertension, or high blood pressure. Managing this condition is important since left unchecked, it increases your risk for heart attacks and strokes. Reducing stress is very important for high blood pressure management, said Sanjiv Patel, MD, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Other important strategies to lower your blood pressure, said Dr. Patel, are to reduce your sodium intake, have a generally healthy diet, and exercise regularly.

Erectile Dysfunction

"Many men in their 40s may start noticing a drop off in their ability to get and maintain an erection," said Dr. Ramin. Often this is due to other medical conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, or metabolic syndrome, which can all result in reduced blood flow to the penis. While medications (you've probably heard of Viagra and Cialis) are available to help, this is a challenging situation for your partner—and you.

One strategy is to broaden your definition of intimacy: Channel younger years and focus on making out instead of penetrative intercourse. This takes the pressure off your partner and can lead to a physically and emotionally satisfying experience. Sex toys can also have a similar positive result.

Skin Cancer

"Skin cancer is one of the major skin concerns I see with age," said Michelle Henry, MD, an NYC-based dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon. Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are caused by your cumulative sun exposure, and melanoma is caused by sun exposure along with genetics, said Dr. Henry.

Your best course of action? Check your moles for changes and keep an eye out for new ones. "Our concern about new moles is increased after the age of 40 as there is a higher risk for melanoma," Dr. Henry said. And, as you probably know already, be a devoted, diligent user of sunscreen. "Sunscreen is the best prevention," Dr. Henry said.

Depression or Anxiety

Most mental health disorders first appear early in adulthood, well before you reach your 40s, said Anthony P. DeMaria, PhD, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist and associate director of adult ambulatory psychiatry at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai West Hospitals in New York City. But adulthood's challenges—financial anxiety, aging parents, raising kids if you have them, and your changing physical appearance—can be deeply taxing.

"These factors—combined with the perceived pressure to have it all figured out—can leave one psychologically vulnerable," DeMaria said. For that reason, stressors in your 40s may exacerbate underlying issues such as depression and anxiety. "As is the case with most things, prevention is better than cure," DeMaria said. That includes talking to friends or seeking out therapy.

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