Albany Times Union
September 22, 2010
A recurring theme in many letters I've received is the issue of men not going to doctors. "Amy" wrote that her 56-year-old husband, who has a family history of heart disease, has not had a physical in over 20 years!
She, like many of us who are concerned for our fathers, brothers and husbands, wants advice for getting reluctant men to take charge of their health. Not that this is any consolation, but Amy's husband is not alone in his avoidance of doctors.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality—AHRQ for short—notes that "men are 25 percent less likely than women to visit the doctor even though they are more prone to die from serious illnesses including cancer, heart and lung diseases."
There are many reasons why men don't seem to take care of their health. While we "Dr. Moms" are making most of the health decisions for ourselves, kids and parents, we wonder why the guys are so reticent to do the same.
I think one of the main reasons is that men are not socialized to talk about personal issues, especially health-related. Women begin going to a gynecologist for yearly visits at around age 21 and tend to seek medical advice for health symptoms when they arise. Men without health problems would have no reason to have a relationship with a doctor, since they may not have seen one since "graduating" from the pediatrician at 18.
My research has shown that although they might not admit it, many men are embarrassed about talking to a doctor regarding symptoms they are having. They're also nervous undergoing rectal, prostate and testicular exams and fear what might be found.
My dad, the lawyer, took issue with long waits in the doctor's office. Believing that his time was as valuable as the doctor's, he was averse to go during the work day.
And of course there is the most common reason of all—the belief that if they feel fine there is no reason to go to the doctor. In fact, one can feel fine with high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars. And often, even if they don't feel so great, they will tend to wait for their symptoms to go away on their own.
To address this concern, the AHRQ initiated a campaign called Real Men Wear Gowns. In conjunction with the Ad Council, they promote the idea that "real men" should make an effort to go to the doctor and get age-appropriate medical tests. The theme is to motivate men to be there for their family and the future. Research has shown that this is a strong motivating factor for them to actively take part in their own health care.
Since we won't push our luck, try to at least get your guy to consider Mom's Rx for this week:
The key is prevention, which includes regular exercise, healthy eating and getting the right tests. He needs to know his blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, because if they're high, his risk for heart disease and stroke goes up. (High BP may increase risk for erectile dysfunction—you may have to go that route!).
He needs screening for colorectal and prostate cancer, as they are more likely to have positive outcomes with early detection.
Go to www.ahrq.gov/healthymen for recommended ages for testing, tips on talking to the doctor and much more information.
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