"Men don't go to the doctor."
Chances are that you've heard this or some version of this before—the old saying that men don't go to the doctor or are reluctant to admit when they're injured or sick. But this isn't just a phrase—it's a fact. In 2016, only 40 percent of men had had an office visit within the past year.
For a variety of reasons, primary care for men usually goes to the bottom of their priority list. Men tend put off scheduling annual appointments with their health care provider. Some men are hesitant to discuss their concerns because they don't want to worry their family, while others are afraid of being perceived as "whining" when they discuss bothersome symptoms or injuries. Some men just figure, why go to the doctor if I'm not sick?
This hesitancy to discuss their health can prevent men from getting the timely care that they need. By the time men visit a doctor for an illness or injury that’s been plaguing them, they may have a more advanced diagnosis or require a more advanced treatment than they would have had they consulted with their physician earlier.
"In most cases, men visit the doctor when their pain or symptoms have interfered with their daily life and quality of life so much that seeking treatment is the only option," says Michael Prime, DO, family practice physician at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health. "Of course, it's always 'better late than never' but the sooner we know what a patient is going through, the sooner we can diagnose and treat their symptoms or disease, and prevent complications."
Men's unique health risks (and why primary care for men makes a difference)
"When most people think of men's health, they think about male cancers like prostate, testicular and penile cancer. You might assume that, as long as you're getting regular cancer screenings, you're healthy. That's not necessarily the case," says Dr. Prime.
Because men are less likely to visit their health care provider, they may also be less aware of the health risks that affect men, specifically, including:
- Heart attack – The leading cause of death among men and women is heart disease but, on average, men suffer their first heart attack 10 years earlier than women.
- Cancer – Cancers that are more common in men include prostate, bladder, colorectal, lung and melanoma skin cancer.
- Accidental injury – Men experience motor vehicle accidents, falls and unintentional fire/burns, poisoning and suffocation at a greater rate than women and—in turn—are more likely to die from these injuries.
- Suicide – Men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women, and the rate of suicide is highest during middle age.
- HIV/AIDS – Men accounted for 76 percent of all people living with HIV infection. Men who have sex with men were the most likely to have or be at risk for HIV.
What can you do?
The most obvious and most important thing that you can do to manage your health risks is, of course, make an appointment to see your health care provider. He or she can conduct a thorough review of your personal and family health history, and discuss your health questions and concerns. During your appointment, you can also ask what health screenings are right for you.
Staying healthy isn't just up to your health care provider; it's also up to you. In between annual appointments, there are things you can do to reduce your risk for disease and improve your health:
- Limit alcohol intake
- Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, whenever possible
- Wear sunscreen and look for hats and sunglasses that offer SPF protection
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Make time for exercise
- Find healthy outlets for stress
In addition to these, make sure you talk to your health care provider about annual or semi-annual health screenings, including those for cancer, STDs or depression.
Remember, a primary care physician is like a quarterback for your health.
By living a healthier lifestyle and making time to talk to your health care provider, you're taking an important step towards better health.
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Remember, a primary care physician is like a quarterback for your health. Match with a primary care physician that's right for you.