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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, men don't use the health care system as often as women do; in fact, they're twice as likely to have gone two or more years without contact with a physician.
According to the American Journal of Public Health, the No. 1 reason men don't go to the doctor is the waiting time involved. Apparently, men are deterred by sitting around in a waiting room--but it goes deeper than that.
"Embarrassment is another factor," says Dr. Rambod Rouhbakhsh, a family doctor from Legacy Clinic in West Linn, Ore. "Men find it difficult to discuss emotions, physical problems or sexual difficulties." Also, many men under 40 don't see the point of a doctor visit if there's no emergency.
"This primarily has to do with the way men in our culture are socialized," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. "One thing that's different from women is that by the time most women are sixteen to eighteen years old, they're socialized to get gynecological care every year. Around the time men typically stop having contact with doctors altogether is when women are just getting started."
While there are a number of reasons why men don't get regular checkups, there are many more reasons why they should.
Reason 1: Preventive exams can spot something serious before it turns really serious.
"Going to the doctor is something that's going to keep you healthy and keep you running at maximum capacity," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. And while in later years all men need to get the dreaded prostate cancer screening and colon cancer screenings, testicular cancer occurs most often in young men.
"It is a rare cancer, but not that much more rare than cervical cancer, for which many women get their regular Pap smears. Had he not been regularly screened, Lance Armstrong would not have survived [testicular cancer]," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. "That's something that a young man needs to check for every single year, starting practically from birth. Looking at the testicles for cancer is something you start early on and go up through age forty or so."
Reason 2: Your daily habits could be killing you.
According to a Harris Interactive poll, men, on average, spend nearly 19 hours per week watching television but less than 5 hours per week exercising or working out. "Heart disease and diabetes don't happen when you turn forty or fifty," Dr. Rouhbakhsh says. "The processes that lead you to become a heart patient start very early on. With our epidemic of obesity, we're seeing fatty plaque sometimes in adolescence. So the process that leads you to that eventual heart attack at fifty or sixty starts in your teens and twenties."
That's one key reason why men should get routine assessments of the risk factors associated with heart disease, which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. "Regular doctor visits to check in on your daily habits can be remarkably successful in helping you curb those habits," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. "If you're coming in for your yearly checkups starting as an adolescent, those upticks in weight that lead to obesity won't go as unnoticed as when you go for years without a checkup and suddenly you're forty and wondering what happened to your high school physique."
Reason 3: You could have diabetes (or be pre-diabetic) and not even know it.
The No. 1 risk factor for heart disease is diabetes, which in some parts of the country is reaching epidemic status. Sugar in the blood vessels damages them, and it does so especially in the very fine blood vessels in your eyes, making diabetes the leading cause of blindness. Sugar also damages blood vessels in the kidneys, so diabetics often have kidney failure. And it damages the blood vessels in your extremities, so amputations are common in diabetics. Finally, it damages the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart.
"Once you become a diabetic, your risk of having a heart attack is the exact same as someone who has already had a heart attack," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. And that's something that can be prevented. "If you wait to have your first visit with a doctor in your forties and fifties, you may already be a diabetic."
Diabetes can also take a toll on sexual functioning. The things that cause problems with your kidneys and your heart are the same things that lead to erectile dysfunction. Says Dr. Rouhbakhsh: "If you head these things off, you may not need Viagra when you're forty or fifty. It's a great example of what, with a little prevention, could be avoided or eliminated altogether."
Reason 4: You should treat yourself better (or at least as well) as you do your car.
Getting a tuneup is something that no man would deprive his car, but often they go for years and years without tuning up themselves. "Your body is so advanced that it can take years of the wrong fuel and still adapt to it," says Dr. Rouhbakhsh. And all of the above are the complications that result from not getting that "tune up" for your body.
So if you value your life like you value your car, visit the doctor. Here's a handy guide to the men's health screenings you may need. And if you don't have a primary care doctor, use our Provider Search tool to find one.
About the Author
Catherine LaCroix is a freelance journalist and editor in Portland, Ore. She was the founding editor of LowCarb Living magazine, a publication focused on healthy lifestyles. Her articles on technology in business and education have appeared in Edutopia and BizTech magazines.