Statistics show that many men’s health care habits are as bad as teenagers’ morning behavior: They seem to keep pressing snooze when it comes to getting recommended check-ups.
According to a survey conducted by the CDC, 26 percent of men had no office visits to a doctor or other health professional in the past 12 months, compared to 13 percent of women.
“My perception is that it’s denial,” say Dr. Jonathan Swartz, internal medicine physician and regional medical director for Montefiore Medical Center.
Men’s Health Network, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving the health of men and boys, points at men’s upbringing as one of the reasons guys might be hesitant to see their doctor. From an early age, boys are taught not to cry or complain, and being ill could be seen as a weakness. Dr. Swartz recognizes this behavior.
“What I experience much more with men [than women] is that they tend to deny and minimize symptoms and problems that they are having,” he says. “I will usually start the visit saying, ‘Are we having any problems today?’ [The man says] no, but then the wife kicks in and says, ‘You are not going to tell him about the chest pain you have had every day for the last two weeks and that you can’t climb up the stairs anymore?’”
The Men’s Health Network recently found that two-thirds of men wouldn’t even go to the doctor if they were experiencing chest pain. They also found that more than half of premature deaths among men are preventable.
“High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol don’t have any symptoms, and if you wait until the time that you feel sick [before] coming to the doctor, it’s too late,” Dr. Swartz says. At his clinic and many others, the medical staff are starting a more active approach towards trying to pull patients into care than they did in the past.
“The typical practice over the years was that whoever calls for an appointment comes in and it’s the one in front of me who I’m concerned about,” he says. “Whereas now we are trying to look at the population of patients that we are responsible for — see if they have come in for the regular check-ups, either for preventive needs or, for example, if they are diabetics and they are supposed to be seen every three months.”
One man’s story
Before Robert Torres, 63, was diagnosed with high blood pressure, asthma, heart failure and had a hip replaced, he would go years between his doctor visits, because why would anything be wrong?
“I was always an athlete. I was in great shape and I was never sick. But then I gained a lot of weight and things like that,” he remembers. “I was sick for a while and I didn’t know what was wrong, but I ignored it.”
Torres is a Vietnam veteran and thinks that it’s common for men to avoid doctors and ignore warning signs. “You think it will be all right, that it’s not that bad. And finally when you have problems breathing then you go and you find out that you have so many different things.” He says his wife was a big influence in helping him decide to go.
Torres regrets that it took him so long to find out he was sick and now pushes his sons to remember their check-ups.
“I don’t want them to go through what I went through. Or to find out that something is wrong and it can be too late. I don’t want them to make the same mistake that I did, waiting and putting it off. The earlier you go, the better you are.”