The most well-known physical problems dealt with by gay men are sexually-transmitted infections (STI) such as HIV. Our findings show that they also suffer disproportionately from other physical health issues, such as allergies, migraines and respiratory illness. Furthermore they have higher cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar than the general male population.
Chronic disease is the cause of most illnesses and disabilities in Switzerland. These illnesses generally increase with age. While it is impossible to compare with the general male population when it comes to these diseases since the ESS does not produce the same data, we do see that gay men – mostly young in our sample, are very much affected. While we might hypothesize that the high rate of smoking and popper usage might play a role in the respiratory disorders (sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis), the high migraine and allergy rates remain a mystery unless we think gay men are inherently allergic to a mostly heterosexual society.
Short-term disability is a temporary diminishing of normal functioning. This is a good indicator of the impact of these diseases on people’s health. Even if it only lasts two short weeks, the impact of the poor psychological health of gay men is particularly remarkable.
Sexually-transmitted infections have been historically linked to gay and bisexual men, particularly since the appearance of AIDS at the beginning of the 1980s- When effective therapies against AIDS were discovered at the end of the 1990s, the crisis was over with most HIV-related deaths coming to an end. These new treatments rapidly transformed AIDS into a chronic illness. The consequence of this good news was a relative diminishing of safer sex practices in the gay community. Thanks to preventive HIV treatments, the number of gay men infected has stabilized in Switzerland over the past few years. However, gay men still account for half of new infections. The growing trend of using new prevention methods such as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) instead of condoms sometimes correlates with an increase in other sexually-transmitted diseases, most notably syphilis. This data is from 2002. More recent data can be found on the website of the Federal Public Health Office.
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia), high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol are risk factors for many diseases. The fact that gay men are more impacted by these risk factors than the general male population can put them at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease as they age. Given that they go to doctors more often than men in the general population could mean they are more regularly screened, which could also explain the higher rates.
“Physical symptoms” refers to the experience of pains such as headaches or back pain, insomnia or fatigue whether the person suffers from a known illness or not. Health specialists believe that some of these symptoms, aches and pains have psychological causes, such as stress. Given the overall poor health of gay men and stress which many gay men face throughout their lives, it is normal for them to suffer from physical symptoms as well.