Why men won't go see a doctor

April 14, 2010 1:02:50 PM PDT
***NEWS RELEASE*** They might be considered the man in charge in the boardroom or the man about town on the social scene, but when it comes to taking a personal stake in their own health, men's behavior is more marked by reluctance than that signature bravado. These men, who ignore symptoms or who don't regularly schedule doctor's visits, are taking a gamble with their health, as they put the early detection of several conditions and diseases and the availability of treatment options into peril. Northwestern Memorial Hospital experts explore the trend's cultural roots, and offer tips for how men can keep their health in check.

"Women get encouragement to be nurturers," said Robert Sobut, MD, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and clinical instructor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "A woman is so used to giving and taking care of others it's not too much of a leap for her to take care of herself. For men the act of nurturing can be an unfamiliar concept, therefore they tend to be more neglectful of themselves."

Sobut believes women and men get very different messages early on in regards to their health. "A man is acclimated from an early age to tough it out, so they tend to not like to ask for help," said Sobut. "When they start to feel weak or unwell, it messes with their invincible masculine identity. For women their gender role has much more fluidity."

"Men will take their car in for general maintenance when nothing is glaringly wrong, yet many men won't show that same attention to detail and care when it pertains to their own health," said Eric Mizuno, MD, an attending physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Much more so than women, who schedule appointments on a more regular basis, men seem to only respond to catastrophic events or upon the recommendation of a third party."

Mizuno sees potential danger in this dismissive attitude toward regular checkups. "Men won't be able to prevent the onset of a health issue or have as many treatment options available if they only come in when it's catastrophic or compulsory, such as when they're starting a new job or going out for a sports team."

Experts say there are several ways to improve a man's care for and attention to his own health.

Sobut thinks Mizuno's reference to car maintenance is a fitting metaphor for how healthcare professionals should confront the fear, denial and embarrassment men often face over health issues. "If we let men know up front, at the beginning of appointment, what they've signed up for and how long they can expect to be there, this type of transparency will foster a greater level of comfort for them."

Mizuno also cites the healthcare professional's relationship with his male patient as key to increasing a man's awareness of health problems. "Once a person develops a relationship with a doctor, often through repetitive visits, the comfort level that develops allows men to more freely express themselves. Doctors can also make men aware of the appropriate timeframes for scheduling appointments and routine tests."

Sobut believes that with society's relaxation of stereotypical gender rules and roles, men feel like they have more permission to give into their health concerns. "In general men are getting the okay from society to be more in touch with their feelings, which will figure prominently into their ability to identify and share health problems."

Mizuno advises healthcare professionals to involve the entire family when treating a man. "Healthcare professionals have to appeal to men's sense of familial duty and responsibility when talking to him about his own health," said Mizuno. "Maybe the man hasn't made regular appointments of his own volition before, but if you start talking to him about being around for his wife, for his children's graduations and weddings, you might find greater success. A man can't be expected to be that pillar of strength for his family if he's not taking care of himself from the inside out."

For additional information about Northwestern Memorial Hospital, visit www.nmh.org.

Tips to Get Men to the Doctor

  • Involve the entire family in a man's care
  • Appeal to a man's sense of duty and responsibility to his family
  • Practice what you preach and live healthy as a family -- diet, exercise, regular check-ups
  • Educate men about age-appropriate health screenings

Recommended Health Screenings for Men

  • All ages: Make an initial appointment to discuss your family history and get a thorough physical examination
  • 20's -- 40's:
    • Regular check-ups based on family history and personal health
    • Testicular exam: Starting at age 18
    • Cholesterol screening: Starting at age 20
    • Blood pressure: Beginning at age 21
  • 40's -- 50's
    • Colonoscopy: Beginning at age 50
    • Prostate cancer screening: Between age 40-50 based upon family history and ethnicity

More about Robert Sobut, MD