Gentlemen, Check Your Engines: Why Men Don't Seek Preventive Care and Why They Should
Gentlemen: When did you last have a medical check-up?
If you are like a lot of men, you may be skipping this health care ritual of getting "checked out." And if you are a man under 40, you might be missing the opportunity to improve and maintain your health and prevent disease later in life.
As a family practice physician for 33 years, I enjoy treating all the members of a family, of all ages. But I routinely don't see the husbands, dads or male partners unless a health problem arises. Younger men, in my experience, are infrequent visitors to the medical office, and, in general, men are less connected to their health and wellness than women. I sometimes hear my male patients something like this: "My wife's been bugging me to get checked out."
But that's not why you seek out preventive healthcare care. You should go because prevention, health screening and early detection of red flags can have lifelong impact on you, your family, your finances, your work life and play time. Preventive health care is like putting a roof on your house.
A 2016 survey by the Cleveland Clinic found that more than half of men don't talk about their health – but they are happy to boast about a sports injury or a close-call accident. About 42 percent of men go to the doctor or other primary care provider only when they have an obvious medical problem.
So perhaps it's not surprising that men have higher rates of death or disability from heart disease and other preventable conditions, compared to their female peers.
Let's focus on heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States: in 2015, 24.4 percent of male deaths were attributed to heart disease. While genetics can play a role in heart disease, lifestyle, diet and exercise are big factors in heart health. Preventable conditions like, hypertension (high blood pressure, which is more common in men), diabetes and high cholesterol all contribute to heart disease.
If you avoid or skip those periodic preventive visits as a younger man, you may be unaware of your heart disease risk factors – both genetic and lifestyle – that could be lurking in wait, preparing to attack when age makes you more vulnerable. While it’s rarely too late to improve an unhealthy lifestyle, it's also never too early.
In my experience, men don't much like to ask for help. They are "too busy" to make an appointment. They fear what they may learn at a medical office. They rarely bring their kids in for checkups – it's usually the moms. They may have concerns about health insurance. They may simply not have a relationship with a healthcare practice or provider. For some men, teen bravado can last well into adulthood in men.
But a man who doesn't keep track of his health is taking a risk. And the data show that risky behavior is common among men. For men from age 1-44, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death, with homicide and suicide not far behind.
Let's not add "skipping the medical checkup" to the risk list.
Gentlemen, don't place the burden of your health on your spouse, partner or kids. Step up and get checked out. Build a trust relationship with a doctor or nurse practitioner you can speak with in confidence.
You will be glad you did. From here, in an office like mine or those of many other primary care providers, you can take charge of your health -- or celebrate your good fortune that you are a healthy man with a long life ahead.
Dr. Leigh LoPresti is a family medicine physician at CHP North Adams Family Medical and Dental Center.