Men offer many excuses for avoiding the doctor. But medical experts say the risks of waiting too long outweigh any benefits of avoiding temporary inconvenience or discomfort.
Studies show that only about 60% of American males age 22-65 see a doctor for an annual physical. Other studies show that many men only see a doctor when they think they may have a serious medical condition.
Men avoiding doctor visits often stems from not understanding what happens during a regular checkup with a primary care doctor. Some say they are just avoiding uncomfortable conversations and procedures. Research into men’s health habits shows that those who feel comfortable and informed are more willing to seek care.
You Can’t Hide from Your Body
When men avoid doctor visits, they may be setting themselves up for a serious health problem down the road – or a difficult situation for a spouse or family member, according to UAB Medicine urologist Patrick Selph, MD.
“The main problem with avoiding checkups is that a medical condition may go overlooked for years,” Dr. Selph says. “It’s fairly common for me to see male patients in our clinic who visit a specialist because of a urinary tract infection or erectile dysfunction, and we wind up also diagnosing them with high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. All of those things are likely to have been detected – maybe in their early stages – during a regular checkup.”
Health care experts say that when men finally do visit the doctor with a medical complaint, it often turns out that their condition could have been prevented if certain problems had been diagnosed earlier. By looking at the reasons men often give for not seeing a doctor, it helps explain why they should. Here are some common excuses and reasons why they don’t fly.
- I can’t find time in my busy work schedule. The total time required for the average annual checkup, including driving and parking, is less than three hours. Think back at the number of times you set aside a few hours of the week for anything during the past year. It is unlikely that the time spent was more valuable than a chance to find out if you have any serious health conditions.
- I don’t have a primary care physician. Replace “physician” in that excuse with “lawn care service” or “mechanic”, and suddenly it sounds silly. There are many resources for finding a doctor you trust. You can easily search online and read doctor reviews and ratings. You can talk with family, friends, and colleagues about doctors they recommend.
- I don’t have any symptoms. Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of diabetes or high blood pressure, and that’s the safest time to catch these conditions. After all, high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer”. Many men wouldn’t wait until they hear strange sounds from their automobile engine before getting regular maintenance done, and you should treat your body even better.
- I dread procedures and probes, and I don’t want to have to keep coming back if they find something. “Men need to know that most of the important screenings – for heart disease and cancer, for example – don’t involve much more than lab work and a physical exam,” Dr. Selph says. “As for coming back for follow-up visits, many cardiovascular conditions in the early stages are readily treatable through diet, medication, and lifestyle changes, without medical procedures.” If you’re worried about multiple doctor visits over time, avoiding seeing a doctor only increases the chances that a condition will become more serious and lead to more frequent care.
- I prefer not to find out about a serious medical condition. If you have a truly serious medical condition, you are going to find out eventually. In general, it’s better that your primary doctor informs you of any problems, rather than a paramedic or emergency room physician.
- I’ll just ride out the storm until it passes. “Some men may have a symptom or injury, but if it’s not severe, then they assume that there’s nothing wrong – at least not enough to see a physician,” Dr. Selph says. “The danger is that they may begin to see health problems as only a series of annoyances. You might get away with waiting to heal from a strained muscle, but ignoring frequent gastrointestinal discomfort or chest pains, for example, involves a much greater risk.”
Perhaps the least convincing excuse for avoiding medical care, Dr. Selph says, is the idea that a man’s health is always his own business.
“Men who avoid doctors may not take into consideration that, down the road, they could reach a health event that will place them in the permanent care of a spouse or other family member,” Dr. Selph says. “In that case, they are creating a difficult set of circumstances for someone else to deal with. ‘Caregiver burden’ is an important issue in health care, because the demands of home care often have negative health effects on the caregiver. That extends to the concept of cancer survivorship, for example, because you’re considered a cancer survivor if you are a family member or caregiver of the patient.”
For anyone who is hesitant to get an annual checkup or see a doctor about some new minor symptom, thinking in the long term is the safer choice. And if you can’t find a reason to do it for yourself, see your doctor for those you care about – and for those who care about you.
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