Why Checkups Matter
You’ve heard the excuses.
“I’m too busy.”
“I’m perfectly healthy.”
“I can tough it out.”
Women live longer than men by six to eight years worldwide. In the U.S., men have higher death rates for all 15 leading causes of death, such as heart disease. Men are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior like smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. However, men are 33% less likely to have seen a physician in the past year.
“It can be hard to convince the men in your life to come in for their regular checkups,” says Northwestern Medicine Internal Medicine Physician Alin K. Abraham, MD. “However, it’s imperative for men to see their primary care physician regularly because many diseases, like heart disease, can be prevented or treated more effectively if found early.”
Why Men Avoid the Doctor
Feel Good Folly
“The misconception many men have is that if they feel good, they don’t need to go to the doctor,” says Dr. Abraham. “This is false because many common issues are asymptomatic; for example, you can feel fine and have high blood pressure.”
Having a record of your vital signs and blood work can help your physician detect precursors to major diseases. For example, a slow increase in cholesterol could mean coronary heart disease down the road. Weight gain could mean diabetes down the road.
Many studies have examined the link between masculinity and avoiding medical care. In a 2017 survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, 31% of men self-reported that they only go to their physician if they are extremely sick. Another study showed male athletes are more likely than female athletes to “push through pain and injury” to play sports.
“The idea that men should ‘tough it out’ or ‘man up’ is engrained in our society from a young age,” says Dr. Abraham. “Many male patients think their symptoms are something they’ll have to live with, while simple lifestyle changes may offer an easy fix.”
Afraid of the Doc
From “probe-o-phobia” to the dreaded weight loss talk, many men avoid their physician for fear of what they might hear.
“Sometimes the truth is hard to hear, especially when it’s about a lifestyle change that someone needs to make,” says Dr. Abraham. “But it’s better to change your lifestyle than to have a preventable illness change your life.”
How to Get Your Partner to the Doctor
“Many workplaces have great incentives for their employees to see their primary care physician,” says Dr. Abraham. “Ask your partner if they have incentives through their workplace and use that as grounds to schedule their next wellness exam.”
“I encourage anxious patients to come in with their significant others,” says Dr. Abraham. “This helps the patient develop a comfort level with their physician, and they may leave more willing to make an appointment for themselves.”
Going with your partner to their annual exam helps them get a greater understanding of what’s being tested and looked for, and may help them realize that it’s neither painful nor invasive. It’s also beneficial to have two sets of ears in the room to hear what the physician is saying.
Get a Family Physician
“Having the same physician for your entire family can help overcome the hurdle of scheduling a hesitant partner’s annual exam,” says Dr. Abraham.
This also helps your physician get a better picture of family history, specifically how certain diseases may present themselves in your family and how your family members react to certain medications.
Talk It Through
Talking through what to expect during a wellness exam will help alleviate anxiety.
Here’s what a primary care physician will typically do during a wellness exam:
- Take your height, weight and body mass index (BMI)
- Take your blood pressure and heart rate
- Check your eyes and ears
- Listen to your heart and lungs
- Feel your lymph nodes in your neck, abdomen and groin
- Review your family history to see if you need to start additional screening earlier
- For example, if an immediate family member has had colon or breast cancer, your physician may recommend that you start suggested screening earlier
- Here’s a list of recommended screenings for men at every age
- Ask you about your social history, including smoking, alcohol and drug use, diet, and exercise
- Ask you about any health concerns you’ve had since your last visit
Put It on the Books
“Book your next exam as you leave your physician’s office,” suggests Dr. Abraham. “If you haven’t been to your physician in a while, book an appointment a few months out and put it in your calendar so that you can gear up for it.”
Their Life Depends on It
“I’ve detected heart murmurs while listening to patients’ hearts during wellness exams, which led to early heart valve disease detection. I’ve spotted skin cancers and was able to refer the patient to a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist just in time. I’ve felt masses in patients’ abdomens,” says Dr. Abraham. “These are all lifesaving when detected early.”
The focus of regular primary care exams is to keep you as healthy as possible. “Most patients leave so glad that they got their exam and tests done,” says Dr. Abraham. “Though you can encourage your partner to see their physician more regularly, at the end of the day, they’re not doing it for you: Their health is the greatest gift they can give themselves.”