Avoid Preventive Health
Care in Sickness and in Health
Maybe it's just a guy thing. Men duck doctors when sick and avoid
checkups when well.
"Study after study has shown that men are more reluctant to face
up to worrisome symptoms or go to the doctor for checkups," says
Dr. Timothy Johnson, ABCNEWS' medical editor. "And that is probably
one big reason why men's life expectancy, which in the early 1900s
was virtually the same for both sexes, now lags behind women's
by approximately six years."
Men are also less likely to see themselves as susceptible to
disease or injury when, in fact, they are more susceptible, says
Dr. Will Courtenay, director of Men's Health Consulting in Berkeley,
Calif., a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and editor of the
International Journal of Men's Health.
A woman's lifetime risk for cancer is one in three, for example,
while a man's is one in two. "Compared to women, men have higher
death rates for all top 10 leading causes of death," says Courtenay.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
So what is it about a visit with a "white coat" that has men
dragging their heels?
Perhaps just what patient David Hutson described to ABCNEWS'
Good Morning America as a typical visit: "Doctor's offices
are so cold, you have to get naked, and then stare at diagrams
that make you feel like an idiot."
"Many say they're 'too busy,' 'they feel good,' and that's there's
'nothing wrong with them,' " says Dr. Neil Coleman, a family physician
with HealthWise Medical Associates in Vernon, Conn.
Others see it as a waste of time and money, a problem magnified
by the fact that "men are less likely than women to have health
insurance," says Courtenay.
"To make sure I'm not dying, I give blood several times a year.
They check my blood pressure and pulse. Who needs the doctor?"
Brian Flynn tells Good Morning America.
Agrees Hutson: "The best thing a doctor can tell you is 'You
are fine.' So, for all the effort, the best result is 'You're
OK', which you probably figured anyway. Why do I need a doctor?"
And finally, there are those like Eduardo Monjardim Pussar,
38, of New York, who opt for the "What I don't know can't hurt
"I don't want to find out I'm going to have to deal with something
that would disrupt my life," he says. "Once I get into a routine
and like it, I don't want to make any lifestyle changes."
The Boy Code
Experts on the male psyche suggest the reason men put off seeing
the doctor is more than time or money, and perhaps a deep-rooted,
inherent sense of what it means to be a boy.
It seems that from the moment a newborn male is swaddled in
a blue blanket, he begins to learn the "boy code," a term coined
by Dr. William Pollack, director of the Center for Men and Young
Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and assistant clinical
professor in the department of psychiatry.
The boy code teaches young males to be rough and tough. "Research
also shows boys are discouraged from seeking help and are often
punished when they do," agrees Courtenay. Boys come to believe
they should slough off pain and just play through it, an ideal
that is hammered in by coaches, fathers and sports heroes.
The Uncomfortable Visits
The men who do put aside their pride and fear to visit the doctor
(often to silence relentless pleas from friends and family) report
feeling "put down and ashamed," says Pollack.
And it's not just the backless gown.
Experts say many men view sickness as a vulnerability, the polar
opposite of masculinity. "A physical problem changes a male's
sense of self," says Pollack. Acknowledging a need to be protected
alters a man's perception that he is the protector.
Women, in contrast, are much more likely to see the doctor because
this decision does not affect who they are. Being cared
for is viewed as "feminine," so it feels more acceptable. Furthermore,
a woman's yearly gynecologic visit may have trained her to understand
the importance of preventive health care.
Pollack suggests that physicians be sensitive to a male's need
to feel strong and in control. The way a man feels after a visit
with the doctor will often determine whether he will follow the
advice his doctor gives. In the end, a doctor's attitude and approach
is "a matter of life or death," says Pollack.
But experts say one approach to the problem is to appeal to
the male's sense of honor and duty by helping family members concerned
about him. A wife may try telling her husband, for instance, that
she and the kids "love and need him around," making him feel he's
seeing a doctor in order to fulfill a familial responsibility.
Avoiding the doctor means that many men miss out on catching
problems that could be prevented with early intervention. So experts
say don't wait until it's too late.
"Seeing your doctor regularly and screening for common diseases
can give you the peace of mind that you're healthy, or worst-case
scenario, that you will have the best odds of beating whatever
you do have," says Johnson.
Reference Source 104