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Why do so many men avoid or delay going to the doctor? – Dr. Emily Altman

In 2007, WebMD published the results of a survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians, man woman smallerwhich asked 1,100 men why men skip doctor visits.  This survey showed that men tend to go to the doctor when they are extremely sick and skip preventative doctor visits.  The survey found that “While most men — 85% — said they seek medical treatment when they’re sick, almost all — 92% — said they waited at least a few days to see if they felt better before seeking care.”  Scary, isn’t it?  These numbers would include instances like heart attacks when every minute counts in the doctors’ ability to improve or even reverse the situation.

“In the survey, most men indicated that they have health insurance, have a doctor, and feel comfortable talking to their doctor. However, more than half of the men — 58% — said something keeps them from going to the doctor.

Why the reluctance? The survey included a list of possible reasons; the men could select more than one reason. Here are their responses:

  • I only go to the doctor if I am extremely sick: 36%
  • I am healthy, I have no reason to go to a doctor: 23%
  • I prefer to treat myself naturally: 12%
  • I don’t have time to go to the doctor: 12%
  • I don’t have health insurance: 11%
  • I don’t like doctors: 8%
  • I am afraid of finding out that something is wrong with me: 7%
  • I don’t know of a good doctor in my area: 4%

Also, 39% of the men said nothing prevented them from going to the doctor.

Here is some more information from the Wall Street Journal article from June, 2010 “New Ads Try to Shock Men into Going to See the Doctor”.

“About 57% of men have visited the doctor within the past year, compared with about 74% of women, according to surveys by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Black and Hispanic men are even less likely than white men to have routine checkups. At the same time, men are hospitalized at significantly higher rates than women for preventable conditions such as congestive heart failure and complications of diabetes and pneumonia that can be prevented with a vaccination.

While there is no scientific evidence as to why men avoid doctors, many physicians attribute it to a macho culture which equates doctor visits with weakness, reluctance to undergo tests such as rectal and prostate exams and fear of finding out that something might be wrong.

“Most men who are young think they are immortal, and unless they’ve gone to war they never feel their lives are at risk,” says heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, whose medical TV show and website, doctoroz.com, will promote the campaign and link to the ads. In addition to targeting men, he says, the aim is to persuade families to nudge them into getting checkups.”

In his report “Avoiding Doctors: A Guy Thing” in the LA Times on July 8, 2002, Timothy Gower wrote:

“In March, the journal Neurology reported that more than half of all male migraine sufferers never consult a doctor about their pain, compared to only about a quarter of female patients. A poll in 2000 by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York research group, found that American men are three times more likely than women to go a year without seeing a doctor.

“It’s inculcated in men that we have to be the breadwinner, have to be strong, can’t acknowledge weakness,” said Harold L. Pass, a psychologist at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York who specializes in male psychology. “As a result, men tend to minimize medical symptoms when they first appear.”

Male foot-dragging is often fueled by embarrassment, experts say. What if there’s really nothing wrong with me? I’ll look like a hypochondriac, or worse, a sissy. Pass has a friend who waited nearly 10 hours with severe chest pain before going to an emergency room because he thought it might be only heartburn. One little detail makes this story of masculine denial truly disturbing. The guy was a doctor. (He did have a mild heart attack but recovered.)

The pressure to conform to masculine stereotypes begins early. Many men were encouraged to be silent in the face of aches and maladies. If you skinned your knee and burst out crying, you risked being called a big baby, but when the same thing happened to your sister, she probably got a hug and a lollipop. Youth sports coaches often sneer at bumps and bruises, imploring youngsters to “walk it off,” and get back in the game.”

Interestingly, men’s families play a big role and are sometimes the decisive factor in getting their men to the doctor.  I joke with my male patients that unwillingly undress for their full body examination because their wives are concerned about some lesions on their skin.  I tell them that in my office we always listen to the wives.  First they nod and smirk.  Then I tell them just how many melanomas (the deadliest skin cancer and one of the deadliest cancers overall) are found on husbands by their wives.  I also tell them, “She must really like you to look at all your skin marks!”  That brings the smile back.

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