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Men should make health care a priority

Sunday is Father's Day, and June is Men's Health Month, which makes this a great time to raise one of the biggest questions in medical practice:

Why won't more men go to the doctor?

The medical literature suggests that women utilize the health care system 40 percent more than men do. Multiple studies have tried to explain this phenomenon, but as is often the case, there are many reasons, some of them unknown.

In 2007, Harris Interactive surveyed 1,100 men on their reluctance to seek medical care. The most-cited reason was that there was no need to see a physician unless they were extremely sick. The next most commonly cited reasons were "I am healthy,'' "I prefer to treat myself naturally" and my personal favorite, "I don't have time to see the doctor."

Also noteworthy was the fact that nearly 80 percent of the participants felt they were in excellent, very good or good health. Which may be optimistic, but statistically unlikely, given how many men in this country suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and any number of other common ailments.

"One of the biggest obstacles to improving the health of men is men themselves,'' Dr. Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said at the time. "They don't make their health a priority."

Numerous small studies suggest both psychological and genetic reasons for men avoiding their doctors.

When faced with illness, men may be socially conditioned to try to "tough it out." Traditionally, men tend to try and retain control at all times. Many men also have a stronger sense of immortality and immunity than many women, a phenomenon that has fascinated researchers.

These psychological barriers continue even as women take greater roles in the professional world. Some researchers feel that men are genetically programmed to hide illness while women are more likely to be caregivers, both to themselves and to others.

So, why should men set aside their instincts and go to their doctor?

Rather than waiting for illness to strike, men who think they feel fine would do well to consider how their doctor could help them achieve even better health.

Important medical conditions that can be evaluated during a routine physical exam include cardiac disease, diabetes and several types of cancer. Coronary artery disease is the number one killer of men in the United States; getting a blood profile may help identify risks that can help prevent this condition.

Laboratory evaluations are also the key to early detection of diabetes. As society in general has become more obese and sedentary, this disease has become rampant.

Prostate, colon and skin cancers are more easily and successfully treated if found early in regular physical exams. And especially with our current economic issues and the pressures of day-to-day life, a visit to a primary care physician can be beneficial in getting help for anxiety and depression.

What else can partners and families of men who insist on their own invincibility do to engage these men in their own health care?

• Try to involve the entire family in the process, but do it in the spirit of encouragement, not criticism.

• Appeal to the man's sense of responsibility for his family by stressing that you want to keep him around as long as possible, and that's the reason for healthy diet, exercise, cessation of tobacco use and moderation of alcohol consumption.

• Slip the reluctant man this basic guide to health screenings; they are a general reference only and do not replace a discussion with your doctor, who may want more or different tests based on your family history:

Every year: Check blood pressure, weight, cholesterol.

Age 20: Consider screening for testicular cancer.

Age 50: Start screening for prostate and colon cancer.

Now, get out and make your appointment!

Dr. David B. Brecher is the palliative care physician at the Mease hospitals, an associate medical director of Suncoast Hospice, and is board certified by the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Men should make health care a priority 06/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 5:50pm]
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