The stereotype persists that men must be ‘tough,’ and going to the doctor is a sign of weakness. That is putting men’s lives at risk.
Compared to women, more men avoid going to the doctor, skip recommended health screenings and practice riskier behaviors. As a result, they also live with more years of bad health and die about five years sooner than women.
A national survey by Cleveland Clinic revealed a disconnect between the sexes when it comes to our health. It showed that more than 60% of men have not visited a health care provider even when they needed to. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse.
“Sadly, the stereotype persists that men must be ‘tough,’ and going to the doctor is a sign of weakness,” said James T. Jennings, M.D., family medicine physician and medical director, Norton Community Medical Associates. “And that is putting men’s lives at risk.”
Men need to get a physical every year to keep tabs on their health. A physical includes a review of health and family history, medications, allergies, preventive screenings and immunizations, lab work and an exam.
“Around age 40, we’ll discuss prostate and colon cancer risk, which varies with race and family history,” Dr. Jennings said. “The provider can discuss which types of screenings are right and when they are needed based on these variables.”
For patients ages 20 to 40, a testicular exam should either be discussed or be performed during a physical. Testicular cancer is the most common malignancy in men in this age group.
“Some of men’s reluctance to see a doctor revolves around fear or embarrassment of prostate and testicular exams — and the possibility of pain,” Dr. Jennings said. “I tell patients these exams can be embarrassing but are necessary and only last a matter of seconds — a small sacrifice to potentially save your life.
“If a patient is avoiding all of the other benefits of a routine exam based on fear of the more personal exams, those can be refused. It’s better to get part of the physical done rather than none of it,” he said.
Blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol also will be checked. These are good determinants of heart health, especially since heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men. Having baseline numbers for these starting at a young age helps the provider see changes over time and catch indicators for chronic disease either before they start or early on, when they are much easier to treat.
“Many patients fear finding out bad news if they go to the doctor. The truth is, if there is bad news, it will be there whether you know it or not,” Dr. Jennings said. “My analogy is you wouldn’t count on taking smoke detectors out of your home to prevent a fire, but rather count on them to inform you of a fire before it’s too late to get out safely.”
If you live with a man, you can help!
Did you know that living with a partner enhances health because you help each other maintain diet, exercise, sleep and other lifestyle habits, as well as recover when you’re sick or injured? Many male patients admit to seeing a doctor only after their significant other has encouraged them to go.
If encouragement won’t work, try inviting your male partner to your own physical. This may help him feel more comfortable in a doctor’s office. Explain that they have a mechanic or an accountant or a gym membership to keep many aspects of their life running smoothly, so they also should have a relationship with a primary care provider.
Need care? You’ve got options
A yearly physical needs to be done in person with a health provider, but there are virtual care options for minor illnesses and injuries, from a video visit to simply filling out a questionnaire and getting a callback from a provider.