When it comes to managing personal health, men are missing the mark. Consequently, men are missing opportunities to detect and address medical problems in their early stages, when many conditions are more treatable and less threatening to overall health.
What are they thinking?
Men’s tendency to seek health care services only in “crisis” situations—and to see themselves as strong and healthy enough to skip checkups and recommended screenings—is no surprise to psychologists. Numerous studies have concluded that men of all ages are less likely than women to seek help for problems, including physical and emotional health issues. This is a learned behavior, some experts say. Many men are raised to act stoic, tough, and independent—to stay in control and hide their vulnerability. Consequently, they come to view themselves as immune to disease. Men also may fear that others will interpret their nonemergency doctor’s visits as unmanly or weak, especially if the men around them also avoid preventive medical care.
Screenings men can’t live without
The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force and other medical organizations encourage men to undergo regular health screenings to detect serious health problems early. Men should ask their doctor about tests for the following:
High cholesterol. Beginning at age 35, men should get their cholesterol checked regularly—at least every five years. Men younger than age 35 could benefit from cholesterol testing if they smoke, have high blood pressure or diabetes, or have a family history of heart disease.
High blood pressure. All men should get their blood pressure checked at least every two years—or more often, if recommended by a health care provider.
Diabetes. Men should schedule a blood glucose test for diabetes if they have elevated cholesterol or blood pressure of at least 135/80 or higher. They should also have this test if they notice symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Healthy men should get screened every three years, starting at age 50.
Colorectal cancer. Screenings should begin at age 50, or earlier if there is a personal or family history of colorectal polyps. Tests for hidden fecal blood should be conducted annually. Your health care provider may order additional screening tests, such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Speak with your doctor about the right method of screening for you. The age at which you begin screening depends on several things, including family history and your ethnicity. You and your doctor will decide which screening method (physical exam or blood test), if any, is best for your situation.
Time for a new attitude
Cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, stroke, and diabetes are among the leading causes of death for American men. The risk of developing these conditions can be reduced with a combination of a healthy lifestyle and regular medical care. Many disorders, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are “silent” illnesses and do not cause tell-tale symptoms that may prompt a doctor's visit. Routine checkups and screenings are critical for detecting hidden problems and staying healthy.
Tips for partners
If the man you care about avoids preventive medical visits, don’t give up on encouraging him to put his health first. A spouse or significant other can influence a man's decision to see the doctor.
For men, it’s time to consider demonstrating strength, wisdom, and leadership in a new way. When tempted to delay a medical visit, consider your value as a provider and role model. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of those who mean the most to you.